Though the biggest national presence in coffee, Starbucks is not the only chain. Caribou coffee, spreading from the upper mid-west, is laying claim to the green apron'd giant's crown. Thus, Starbucks rolls out its lightest blends ever, and Caribou produces its own. (Caribou also expanded the other side of the spectrum, producing, quite literally, the darkest bean I've ever seen. I'll talk more about it soon.)
I found the Starbucks offerings quite palatable, certainly preferable to Pike's Place in terms of distinguishable flavor and character. They passed the "would I pay for it" test, with the necessary caveat that I'd only happily do so in a setting where small batch coffee was lacking. This was not a slight, so much as an acknowledgment that mass produced beans can only be so good.
It's this world of presumptions in to which Caribou's Starlight Blend enters. My opinion was further nudged in the negative direction when, upon examining the bag, I could find no mention of the beans used in the blend. I opened it then, and found the beans looking up at me on the lighter side of medium - hardly the crackling bronze I'd imagined.
But the smell was enticing, and so I tried to cast my biases aside, and brew.
*It's worth noting here that my palate skews towards acidity, dominant fruit notes and heavy sweetness. These are the sorts of things I prefer, and as such, inform my views.*
The smell was honest, and the taste delivered. The result was sweet, with a dense layer of acidity. It was, for the most part, exactly what I profess to like above. Your tongue feels the weight of the coffee, and yet it wouldn't be right to speak of a truly heavy body; more like a honey sweetness, syrupy and thick. The comparison I came back to most was that of a good trail mix: Cherries and dates mixed with almonds. And like trail mix, I imagine this will appeal to a broad spectrum of drinkers. It is neither so light nor acidic to displease those who prefer "the dark roast", though it professes to occupy the opposite niche.
This was my first taste of Caribou Coffee, a chain of which I'd heard, but never seen. On first blush, color me impressed. The quality of beans, attention to coaxing out their unique flavors, and then blending them appropriately, is evident here - chain coffee or not.