Continuing Coffee Education with Starbucks
One of the goals of this blog is continuing coffee education. It is time to revisit this topic. I have previously written about Starbucks Sumatra Siborong-Borong and with this blog post we revisit that precious coffee along with Sumatra Aceh and Timor Lorosa’e. These coffees are produced in very small quantities (please remember coffee is an agricultural product) and sold in limited international markets. I owe a big thank you to @jorda_nn on twitter who mailed me the coffees featured in this post. He is a partner in Australia, which is one of the international markets where Sumatra Siborong-borong and Sumatra Aceh are available for purchase.
On May 22, 2010, I dropped by 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea and asked barista-Matt to include them in his daily cupping. 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea is run and operated by Starbucks, and offers daily cuppings at 11:00 a.m, seven days a week. If you’re in Seattle, this is a must do: It’s free; it’s about coffee education; and it’s a fabulous way to introduce your palate to rare Starbucks coffees. In addition, I suggest that my readers follow 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea on twitter – Their twitter profile is the link in their name.
(By the way, though I write about coffee education, I don’t profess to be an expert or a “coffee master”. I have no black apron.)
This blog has explored the topic of cuppings several times, and here are those previous blog posts, if you want to peruse them:
Your intro to a cupping at 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea – Good starting point to learn what a cupping is.
Combo cupping – Includes tea cupping information
Cupping Starbucks Mexico and Organic Yirgacheffe
First a little background information on these coffees:
Sumatra Siborong Borong:
This coffee comes from the growing region of Sumatra around the town of Siborong Borong. The Batak people have been meticulously growing coffee for a hundred years in this region, passing down the art of growing coffee for generations. The beans are washed, and then sun-dried. This growing region of Sumatra is on the southern shores of Lake Toba, and is high altitude with volcanic soil.
This is a full-bodied coffee with hints of basil notes, and a soft acidity.
The Sumatra Aceh coffee comes from the Aceh province of northern Sumatra. It is extra bold with subtle earthy flavors. It comes from small-holder farms at high altitudes where the farmers traditionally use coffee cherry husks as an organic fertilizer, and use more than 10 different native species of shade trees.
Today at 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea we cupped the following:
- Sumatra (the core coffee found at every Starbucks)
- Sumatra Siborong Borong
- Sumatra Aceh
- Sulawesi Kalosi
- South of the Clouds
- Timor Lorosa’e
As usual, the barista prepared the cupping by grinding about 13 grams of coffee, and brewing the coffee directly into the coffee cup for about three to four minutes. Once the coffee has brewed, the customers “break the crust” of the coffee and scrape away the top of layer of coffee crust that has formed. Next everyone gets a good smell of the coffee. After that, each person uses a cupping spoon and has a good slurp of the coffees on the table. A coffee cupper tries to slurp the coffee, taking care not to consume it, and tastes it and spits it out. This process is repeated for each coffee.
A large part of the fun of a cupping is listening to how every one participating describes the coffee. For example, barista-Matt thought that the Sumatra Siborong-Borong had a very distinct bell peppery-tomato flavor. I noticed that I could really detect that more as the coffee cooled down. I thought the Aceh coffee actually had just a touch of cherry notes to it, and was a little more fruity than the Siborong-Borong. As always, I thought the Sulawesi Kalosi tasted like black pepper. It’s a very bold coffee and not my favorite. A customer who participated was especially fond of the China Yunan province coffee (also known as South of the Clouds Coffee). The Sumatra Siborong-Borong was nearly toe-curling good. I also liked the Timor Lorosa’e coffee though its flavor was a little flat because the beans were not particularly freshly roasted.
Every time we’re all done with the cupping, I look at the table and think we’ve made a bit of a mess, and how much fun I had. 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea is still a visually beautifully store to me, so I am including a few photos taken inside the store today, near the register and espresso bar area of the store. Of course, I talk a lot about cuppings, but don’t forget that a customer can get local pastries at 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea, Mighty O donuts, pour over coffee, a coffee made with the Clover, and a hand-crafted espresso drink made on a La Marzocco espresso maker. This store also recently got a blender, and so it is now possible to get a Frappuccino-like drink at the store too. The menu calls it a Frappuccino, but my understanding is that their recipe is not quite the same as the Starbucks-branded recipe. Also, though there is a blender, the Vivanno smoothie drinks are NOT available at this store.
I hope you get a chance to try these great coffees some time. I know that many of my readers might feel frustrated because these coffees are not sold in the United States Starbucks’ market, but I have readers from all over, so I still feel it is worthwhile to talk about great coffees that are offered internationally. Also, the Starbucks Sumatra Siborong-Borong previously was offered at Starbucks as a black apron coffee, so it is still possible that it will come back again as a promotional limited offering. These rare offerings are sold in Australia, and you may recall in a previous blog post, I had a customer in the Philippines mention that Sumatra Siborong-Borong is a seasonal offering in the Philippines.
i just picked up a package of the 3 region blend; that was my checkin at the first starbucks, earlier this week; had to have a reason to run in). it is now in the line-up with some of the rarer coffees from 15th.
i have to say that with all these cool coffees you get sent to try, you may be earning an invisible black apron as we speak.
It is sort of curious that these events seem to be in Seattle. Also, do they do tea cuppings? Since I am not a coffee drinker, it would be nice to have a tea cupping. Those of us on the east coast would sure like to get the events that people in Seattle have. Melody, still no car?
@Purple1 – 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea is operated by Starbucks but functions differently than any other store. They do daily cuppings, which honestly, is part of the coffee culture of Seattle. I’ve never seen another city where coffee cuppings are easy to find: Stumptown does cuppings at 3 pm, and there are at least 2 other roasters that have regular cuppings that I’m blanking out on their names – One on Pike on Cap Hill, and I think there are Cafe D’Arte cuppings. You can’t claim to be a premier coffee company without offering this in Seattle. Each time I get a rare Starbucks coffee, I run to 15th Ave Coffee since they are set up to do this, as above, and they are run by Starbucks. There are also tea cuppings too, and I’ve blogged about one recently, at some point within the past few months. I’ll have to find the link. Come to Seattle!
Melody- I actually do remember your blog about tea cuppings. I have been to Seattle and loved the city. The weather was a bit chilly and rainy, but we had a great time. I know the coffee culture is quite different in Seattle than other places, but it certainly would be nice if SB started this trend at other locations.
One of my favorite post topics that I love reading on your blog are on the coffees that aren’t sold in the U.S. I would think it would frustrate me or I feel that it should as it’s not available for U.S. retail sale…but I’m not. It intrigues me and your descriptive inspires me to try more of the local coffees and not so local that ARE available here. Your posts showcase things that are out there that I wouldn’t get to see or be aware of in my everyday coffee life (yes I had to specify “coffee life” lol) and it’s always a joy learning new things on one of my favorite topics – COFFEE 😀 Also it’s pretty cool to having coffee from Sumatra brought to you by Partner in Australia…it adds to the story of the coffee *smile* ok I’m seriously getting into the coffee LOVE this morning lol. Thank you once again for sharing worldly coffees 🙂
I feel like I’ve been to 15th Ave.C&T through your pictures. Its such a treat to read about these exotic coffees. The packaging is very bright and pretty. Sumatra is one of my favorites, so I know I would love the Aceh. I remember the Siborong-Borong. We received it with an awesome box or giant envelope with lots of info about the farmers. If I remember correctly, a lot of the farmers grew them in their yard like we would have tomato gardens. Their houses were beautiful, too. Huge, steep roofs, which looks like its featured on the bag next to its name.
When tasting coffee it is kind of funny hearing different descriptions from people. I had a new partner describe Italian Roast as lemony. I have no idea where he got that from… but its about identifying its flavors for yourself and your own coffee journey.
I saw Cindy @SbuxExaminer tweet about a Starbucks Coffee College this past week. Do you know what this is? Have you been invited to it?
Thanks again for another great post! I think the coffee reviews are one of my favorite topics that you post about. You get so many exotic roasts and blends to try and because you always give such a thorough description, I fee like I got to taste them too! Also, I’ll have an idea of what notes are in them, so if I ever see them at a Starbucks around here (not very likely but you never know!) then I can grab it.
Thank you for the amazingly detailed, and graphical walk through the cupping, I have (well MilitiaJim does) 40,000 frequent flier miles, when would be a good weather season (I can’t do June, July, Aug, Sept) to do a long weekend in Seattle to catch some cupping and hit around the mercantile stores (any other good Sbux things to do then visiting?) so i can go grab tickets (FF miles tic sell out early and fast), any best day of the week?
And I remember your tea tasting blog post, it made me drool 🙂
Ah here we go!
Teas were done with the coffees!
Also, not sure where you are, but there are tons of places to get a tea tasting (different tea lounges), depending where you are. I recently went to one in NYC for about 15$ per person, 5 or 6 different teas, if you like tea may i suggest http://www.steepster.com ? it’s like facebook for tea peeps
AmazonV thanks for the link again to Melody’s blog on teas. I remembered it. I have been to some really neat tea places where I hsve tasted different teas. I just think it would be neat for SB to do some tea cuppings on the east coast (and of course coffee cuppings as well).
there are actually several great tea shops in the area that will do tastings for no charge (though it is polite to at least buy something afterward).
I’m so glad that you enjoyed the Aceh + Siborong-Borong. Last week I cupped these two with Sumatra Lake Toba, Sumatra Mandheling, Siborong-Borong (not Sbux) roasted in Siborong-Borong, Starbucks’ Siborong-Borong and the core range Sumatra.
Sumatra Aceh is very unlike anything else I’ve tasted from that island. It was really really cedary with some nutmeg notes. I don’t know if you’ve tried Muan Jai Blend from Thailand before, but I think Aceh is more similar to MJB or Komodo Dragon than anything else Indonesian!
Personally, I don’t really like Siborong-Borong; it’s too mellow and too green, but I definitely got the green tomato thing too! It was interesting tasting Starbucks roasted Siborong-Borong and the locally roasted one: the local one used smaller, lighter beans harvested from trees that were much taller, and was only ‘cinnamon’ roasted. There was a clear distinction in how refined the Starbucks one tasted – you couldn’t really taste the basil or herbs in the locally roasted one. My favorite was Sumatra Lake Toga which isn’t too far from Siborong-Borong, but it’s a little less ‘backyard’, especially in the drying phase. I just loved how earthy and mellow (without the herbal notes) it was!
Melody, I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed your photography from this post (and every post, really). You captured the overall beauty of the store as well as details I’ve missed, like the small square windows in the clerestory.
Oh, and I think the store on Pike that you said has cuppings is Victrola, I think it’s at Belmont or Summit and Pike.
Thanks for another great entry!
@Jordan and HeidiHo –
Hi HeidiHo! I’m heading to your store very soon! Hope I will see you there. Glad you liked the pics. A cupping story is no good without a few pics to go with! I think you’re right it is Victrola, but I think there might even be another in that same area that does cuppings. Victrola is on Pike, a few blocks up from Boren, but there is another too! Wow we’re a caffeinated town.
@Jordan – These coffees are amazing. I’m drinking the last of the Aceh right now, even though it has been more than 7 days since the bag was opened. I’m having a totally amazing cup of coffee! Thank you again. I have tried Muan Jai because it cycled through 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea once. That’s a very bold coffee! There are some coffees which have ‘pepper’ notes to them – almost like black pepper, and I’m not a fan of that. As I recall Muan Jai has that, and even Sulawesi Kalosi has some of that black pepper flavor. Those coffees are almost too bold for me. This cup of Aceh I’m having right now is soooo perfect. It’s bold but still has a tingly fruit flavor that hits in the middle of the tongue, and it’s wonderful. Oh I’m in love.
Melody- how do these compare to the Aged Sumatra that Starbucks offers from time-to-time? I always look forward to having that offering french pressed when it comes around.
P.S. I’m thinking you need an honorary black apron 😉
I love hearing about your experience cupping these coffees.
One of my favorite parts of doing a cupping is how much aroma comes out when you crack the crust and the huge slurping noises that vary in volume and pitch that come from people’s mouths. 🙂
Melody, I have plenty of free black aprons I decided to never wear again after the announcement of flavored coffee.
@melody I think we have similar taste, save for the Siborong-Borong. There’s another Sumatra specialty we don’t have in Australia yet, Sumatra Mandheling…and it was soooo peppery, it was almost overbearing: I think I coughed when I broke the crust at the cupping! haha. In any case, Aceh is the best coffee I’ve had in quite some time – Im so happy I could share it. Hopefully by the time I come to Seattle we’ll have Lake Toba and Mandheling for me to bring for clover 🙂
I’m a Partner from Germany (Cologne) and I got a challenge from my District Manager, so I need your help! I cannot find a Information about our Coffee packages.
First there ist the Kati Kati with SMR
And the Sidamo Blend with BNA
So what means SMR and BNA
I hope you can help me, thank you
Leave a Reply Cancel reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.
- DEVIN on Compostable Straws Land in Seattle Starbucks Stores
- coffeebeanz on Why do you go to Starbucks less often? (If that’s true for you)
- Willi on You can now buy a Siren statue: $6,000
- Willi on A major revamp of your drink recipe: Testing syrup extracts and cane sugar
- Skip on Why do you go to Starbucks less often? (If that’s true for you)
Melody: you lucky lucky girl!!!! (except for having your car stolen, in your b.day week, no less) I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to be able to have the experence you just described. I do so wish Sbux would EXPAND some of these offerings outside of Seattle.
and, hope you’re having a good Memorial day weekend, you veteran! (I say with gratitude:)