January 27, 2011

Middle Age Epiphany

Starbucks is set to turn 40 this year, an age at which, according to the cliche, the now middle aged coffee company ought to look in to buying a Corvette, and perhaps dating a 25-year-old blond.

But far from entering crisis mode, the coffee giant seems to be doing quite well. The numbers, slumping several years ago, are trending upwards again. And the quality is emphasized in a way it may not have been during those "down years" as well. Seattle's Best Coffee, that other brand owned by Starbucks Corp., is stepping out from under the green apron, making a name for itself, establishing a brand, and probably pushing those numbers up yet higher (a subject I'll especially keep my eye on).

So no, this is not a time for middle aged crises. Not when things seem to be going so well for Starbucks. And regardless, birthdays are for celebrating anyway. How, if you're a cultural icon, synonymous with coffee, do you celebrate? Probably by doing a great many things, most of which I don't know about yet. Maybe there will be cake; I don't know. But I do know that there will be coffee.

And as of today, I know what that coffee tastes like.

I'll spare you the details of the circumstance. But suffice to say, there were important people visiting my friendly neighborhood Seattle's Best cafe today. These important people brought with them a sample of this special 40th anniversary blend.

The beans are quality, as you'd expect. And they are sourced from four different regions, each bringing a distinct set of flavors and nuance to the blend: Ethiopia, Columbia, New Guinea, and Sumatra. The roast is dark, as evidenced by the oily sheen on the beans.

I ground the beans fine, and prepared them using a Melitta pour over cone. Several minutes later, the water had done its job, and there was nothing to do but drink. Though actually, that over-simplifies the act of coffee tasting.

First, we sniffed the brew. The smell was deep and sweet, with chocolate and dark cherry hints. Both of those things were found when the coffee was slurped as well. The flavor as whole, however, cannot be simply described as like those two things. In fact, it can't be pinned down with my vocabulary. The coffee is complex, as you'd expect, given the variety of beans used. That complexity yields a bevy of flavors, experienced all across the palate. The acidity is felt widely too, despite the dark roast. The combined effect is hard to quantify, but it is certainly interesting. And it is very, very good as well. It's the sort of coffee that deserves to be sipped and savored slowly, dissected and discussed.

In the not-too-distant future, you'll get the chance to do just that. If I were you, that's a chance I'd try hard not to miss.

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