January 22, 2012

Blonde Ambition: A Starbucks Veranda and Willow Review

It's said that gentlemen prefer blonds. Increasingly, this is the case in the coffee community. The belief is that roasting a bean deprives it of some essential flavor, and that to minimize that loss, the roast should be as short as possible. But until recently, this was a trend isolated to the specialty coffee community. The larger corporate entities still promised "bold" options (read: dark as hell), with the implication being that lighter was weaker.

No longer. The nation's largest coffee companies (Starbucks and Caribou) are both offering their lightest roasts to date. I'll have a more in depth discussion of Caribou's offerings, probably later this week. Starbucks, for its part, offered up the Willow and Veranda blends.

The former is comprised of Latin American and East African beans. As such, there is a hint of acidity in the cup. It is a delicate bite, however, and will strike the experienced Yirgi drinker as decidedly subtle. But if we assume that the average Starbucks drinker has not ventured far beyond the realm of the green apron, this coffee will probably be an eye opener. Because while it is light in roast, it is not without taste.

The Veranda blend is yet more subtle. The African beans are absent here, and as such, the hint of acid and wine is missing. What is left is a smooth, mellow coffee, but without any pronounced flavor notes. It sits lightly on the palate, and will probably serve as a comfortable entre in to the world of lighter beans for the dedicated Pike's Place drinker.

For me, both coffees pass the "Would I pay for it?" test. My affinity for African beans would suggest that I prefer the Willow, and I do. However, the Veranda is nice as well. Neither will steal market share from small batch roasters, coaxing the character out of single origin beans. In fact, they may well add to it, by expanding the palate of the average American coffee drinker. Thus the expansion to the Starbucks line is, I think, good news for everyone, regardless of preference.


  1. Personally, I'm psyched about this new blonde roast from Starbucks. As someone who is constantly taking road trips and relying on starbucks highway stops to keep me going, it's nice that I can get a large cup of coffee that I can now actually tolerate all the way to the bottom. Previously, I had to choke back regurgitation when I swallowed that last mouthful of coffee that seemed like it had absorbed all the dark burning that had previously inhabited the beans. This milder roast lets me actually finish the cup without wincing. Finally. Of course, I find it amusing that their "lighter" roast, is essentially what counts as normal to most people.

  2. If I didn't have the luxury of working in a coffee shop, and living in a town with many other exceptional ones, I would feel the same way. When I visit family in western Kansas, this will be a big improvement over Pike's Place.

    And yes, their "light" is a more like medium. But their scale is a bit slanted towards black. The name Charbucks wasn't propagated without cause.