January 6, 2011

Pick a Number

Seattle's Best, you may have heard, has a new "levels system" of coffee. The old blends are gone, and in their place are blends given a number, 1-5. It is simple, perhaps too simple for some. But for others, it is no doubt a welcome respite from the sometimes esoteric world of coffee. One need only assign themselves a digit, corresponding with roast preference, and that is that. Your coffee destiny is sealed.

For most customers, that will be good enough. They will assume they like the darker roasts, because most people do. But there is nuance and subtlety to coffee -- even these coffees -- beyond that. And so I feared that we would simply have the same flavor profile, roasted five different ways, and thus only the appearance of variety. This would have been, if not an outright tragedy, something close.

But this is not the case. Despite the simplification of the naming system, the blends have been given more variety, certainly, and possibly more flavor too.

One is bright and crisp, acidic and sparkling. It's seltzer coffee, if such a thing could exist, or perhaps a marriage of those breakfast staples, coffee and orange juice.

Two is not so biting, does not fizz on the tongue. But it is citrusy as well, sweet and light, refreshing like good lemonade. It is, if I'm being honest, my favorite of the bunch.

Three is the middle, and tastes like it. There is nothing much I can discern as far as flavors go; it strikes such balance in every way as to be noteworthy in none.

Four is spicy, and sweet too, just a little dark, and just a little rich. Though it's dark, there is not a hint of bitterness, the flavor notes being struck too soundly for that. It is an interesting coffee, with things to pick through on the tongue. Very good, and in my mind, the coffee I would recommend to most drinkers.

Five is a French roast, and has all the character one would expect given that. It makes no effort at moderation, striking instead for the fringe of darkness, roasted to the point of oily black. It is bitter, and it is stark in its lack of much else. It is thus precisely what it wants to be, and what fans of such a blend desire.

Though I could be more excited about the new blends, were they named something, anything really, I have to say that I'm generally pleased. One can have quibbles with the marketing, but not, I think, with the taste. In that regard, these coffees are an improvement over the old.


  1. I'm really not sure what I think about the number system. I like it because it does make it easier for the non-coffee geek consumer to try different coffees. However, it also feels like kind of a short cut when part of Seattle's best job is to inform the consumer, to help them find the coffee that they like. Did the packaging say anything about where the coffee beans came from?

  2. No. Though the bags don't say so, Seattle's Best coffee is now limited to Latin America. Granted, that can still mean a lot of flavor variety; but it certainly is limiting. That is one of several things about the re-branding that I am... less than thrilled about. But again, the coffee does taste good.

  3. Alex, that is a really complete review! I like it. You actually made me hugely curious about coffee #1. A Latin American coffee with a lot sparkle can be delicious. Once in a while Starbucks has offered a seasonal Bella Vista coffee which has a ton of sparkle. You also bring up the good point that is all Latin American beans. I meant to mention that when I was writing a review, but somehow my review already was too long.