Wednesday, January 11, 2012

PRODUCT REVIEW: Starbucks Blonde Roast

Starbucks is making a big deal out of their first light roast, and rightfully so. This is far and away the lightest roast that they have ever produced. In fact, I think that they went further than they needed. Most people would have been happy with a coffee that was merely not charred to a crisp.

This shift in strategy is coming in response to huge pressure from McDonald's and Dunkin Donuts, both of whom offer lighter coffee that, in many taste tests, is significantly preferred over Starbucks house roast, and, as near as I can tell, universally preferred over Pike Place. I have never been a fan of the 'Bucks' blasted house roast, and Pike Place is too bland. Blonde, specifically the Willow Blend, is much better.

The light brown appearance and healthy, undamaged beans bode well.
The roast is such that there is little-to-no oil on the surface of the bean and has a very light-brown color. Compare this to oily-as-hell and nearly black beans of Starbucks' usual selection.

This bloom is slightly down from its peak. Not bad.
I liked that the beans appeared to be fresh, with a much better scent and bloom during brewing. I don't know how well the beans will hold up after sitting on a grocery shelf for awhile, but perhaps Starbucks was forced to use fresher beans because they couldn't hide low quality with an obscene roast.

The nose is significantly better than anything else Starbucks makes, both from the beans, grounds, and final brew. Talking about flavor notes in the coffee is not an academic affair like with everything else at Starbucks because the terroir of the beans has not be cruelly executed.

The initial flavor profile is obviously very similar to Starbucks' ordinary roast, but there's more of it there. Notes of toasted bread, berries, and small amounts of caramel, peanut butter, and chocolate are all noticeable. It is a much more interesting and pleasant roast to drink.

There is a huge caveat to this, though. The coffee brewed in Starbucks locations is weak, watery, and lacking all punch. The Veranda blend is partly to blame: it isn't as punchy as the Willow blend; but that's only part of the story.

Both home preparation methods produced wildly superior cups to what I got at-location. The siphon-pot (3:30 heat, no cold compress) brought out acidity to the detriment of the coffee. It gave it way too much bite and an astringency on the finish that was not hidden by milk. I didn't bother with an espresso double, but the espresso single worked well. I certainly would not opt for this method, but it wasn't bad.

The sweet spot was hit with pour-over, specifically the Clever Coffee Dripper (4-minute steep). It brought out every drop of rich flavor from the beans and produced none of the biting acidity of the siphon pot. There is much more body hidden in these beans than Starbucks' preparation method would indicate.

The brew at Starbucks is not something that I would buy. It is adequate, but compared to the drip coffee available from smaller cafes, and even sometimes McDonald's, it doesn't justify its higher price. The whole beans in a bag, on the other hand, are something that I would certainly buy. While, as always, I recommend finding a local roaster for maximum freshness and quality, both critical for good coffee, blonde is some of the best coffee that you can buy on the shelf. It more than earns its recommendation.

Starbucks Blonde Roast: RECOMMENDED

1 comment:

Noor said...

When it first came here to Saudi they were giving a bag away free with any other bag you bought so I tried it and thought it was okay. I bought some yesterday to make in my aeropress over my usual house blend (blonde cost more) I wish I did not buy it bc I do not remember it tasting so funky before and I have felt sick since I had not sure why its a lighter roast.