Love them or hate them, if any part of you believes a coffee revolution has taken place, you owe a little credit to Starbucks. Whether or not it's your cup of coffee is another story—but there's no denying that the explosion of truly progressive, specialty coffee shops could never have happened with as much force as it has without the frappuccino-paved-way laid by Starbucks.
The big green company's latest move smartly takes a page, like many of their shrewdest strategies, from those same little guys who've come in their wake. Acknowledging that there is a market for lighter-roasted coffee than the well-done beans Starbucks has earned various nicknames for, the company launched their new Blonde Roast earlier this month.
And while it's not Debbie Harry blonde, it will do nicely. The newly available alternative to "Bold" (now less ambiguously called "Dark Roast") and the still-quite-roasty-to-this-palate "Medium Roast" like Pike Place comes in two blends. Willow, a so-called "bright and clean" blend, and Veranda, described on the bag as "mellow and soft". A fan of truly bright coffees, I had hopes for the ambitiously labeled Willow, but this "blend of Latin American and East African Coffees" hit pretty much straight down the middle, smelling and tasting exactly like what a canister of "Colombian coffee" may have smelled to you like throughout the entire 1980s. Not unpleasant, and definitely not roasty, but indistinct, at best.
Veranda, on the other hand, tastes less submerged in its intended flavor profile, and glides lightly from the cup. Though it's got that nearly-patented Starbucks nuttiness, it's fruity, more dimensional, and pleasingly acidic, with a little more blossom on the nose than its willowy counterpart. Though they may seem like baby steps to the snob set, these coffees are still a great entree into an understanding of coffee that tastes like coffee as opposed to coffee (see far right example in the above photo) that tastes like roast.
As pacesetters for America's palates, Starbucks has once again done a favor for the entire coffee industry, influencing people to drink coffee of a higher quality as we shed the need for defect-masking maneuvers in production. Not roasting coffee so dark that you can't taste it—what will they think of next!
About the author: Liz Clayton drinks, photographs and writes about coffee and tea all over the world, though she pretends to live in Brooklyn, New York. She is currently compiling photographs of the best coffee in the world to be published by Presspop later this year.