A Starbucks partner earns her Coffee Master black apron: A special event!

Today (11-19-2010) it was a complete privilege to get to share in the experience of watching a partner earn her Starbucks Coffee Master black apron.  The Starbucks on the corner of Sixth and Union in downtown Seattle recently went through a major remodel.  To celebrate new coffees being offered, a new store, and to earn a black apron, barista-Andrea put on an amazing coffee tasting.  I previously talked about this event in this blog post here – Check out this link for a few more photos of this store, the store address, and announcement of this event:

This event was open to any customers who wanted to join in.  I arrived at the scheduled time of 1:00 p.m. and met up with two friendly district managers here in Seattle.  (One of whom already knew me, and both appear to be blog readers.)  There was a small gathering of customers who joined in.  We went through the four important steps of a coffee tasting:  We smelled the coffee, slurped the coffee all over the mouth,experienced the coffee (making note of how it feels and tastes all over the mouth), and then lastly described and recorded the coffee experience.

Let’s talk about the coffee tasted today:

1) The first coffee tasted was Pike Place Roast, the Starbucks everyday brew.  This coffee was paired with a chocolate donut.  It was okay.  Pike Place Roast had an even lighter mouth-feel than what  remembered from last time I drank it.  While this was my least favorite of the coffee tasting pairings today, it was a good combination.  The chocolate glazed donut brought out some sweetness to the Pike Place Roast.

2) Next we taste Fair Trade Colombia Asoapia coffee paired with dark chocolate from Chocolopolis on Queen Anne hill.  The dark chocolate was made by Santander Chocolates, and the Colombia coffee was brewed with the Clover brewer.  This was a great pairing.  The Colombia is described as having a pungent herb quality to it.  I could definitely tell it had a lot more body and flavor than the Pike Place Roast.  This coffee is offered as one of the Starbucks “Reserve” coffees – A limited coffee offering for selected Starbucks stores designated to sell Reserve Coffee.  Some of the stores with Reserve line up of coffees are stores equipped with Clover brewers.

3)  After the Colombia coffee, we next tasted the Reserve coffee Organic Ethiopia Ky Kebero.  This is also a limited offering through the program of Starbucks Reserve coffees.  We had these coffee prepared through the Clover coffee brewer.  This was one of my favorite of today’s tasting.  It was actually a light to medium body coffee to me, but had a ton of flavor.  It’s primary tasting description is “citrus berry” though I would say I was picking up lots of lemon notes, which then were heavily accentuated with its food pairing.  Andrea got a lemon tart from Trader Joe’s which was a perfect combination with this.  The two were delicious together and accentuated all the lemon citrus notes back and forth between the two.  This is an amazing coffee!

4) Lastly, barista-Andrea prepared a French press of Christmas Blend, and it was paired with Pumpkin Spice Cake from Trader Joe’s.  This too was an amazing combination.  This may have been my favorite of all the coffees experienced today.  The body of the coffee felt very heavy and rich following the two Reserve coffee offerings.  Barista-Andrea described this as a “that something to go with everything” and I thought that was a great description.  The key characteristic of Christmas Blend is a spiciness which comes from Aged Sumatra beans blended in it.  This particular pairing really brought out the best of Christmas Blend.  Spice notes like clove and nutmeg were highlighted by pairing the Pumpkin Spice Cake with Christmas Blend.

If you want to try any or all of those four coffees listed above, you can order them at the Starbucks store: Try this link here to explore the Starbucks Reserve coffees.  At the end of this event, the store’s manager presented Andrea with her Coffee Master black apron.  This prestigious apron means that she has learned about coffee, and can educate customers about coffees, pair coffees with food, and has coffee enthusiasm.  There is no way to get a Coffee Master black apron without earning it!  I felt a sense of pride watching her get it! There is a great photo below of Andrea giving her store manager a hug right after she gets her black apron. Way to go Andrea and CONGRATULATIONS!

Now some of my regular readers might be wondering how this blog post is different than my many previous posts about “coffee cuppings”.  A “coffee cupping” is not the same thing as a “coffee tasting”.  This event today was a real tasting: Learning about coffee, and even understanding how food and coffee pair together.  Here are two previous blog entries about “cuppings” for those who want to go back re-familiarize themselves with that aspect of coffee education:

This store is a special downtown Starbucks.  It’s had a Clover far longer than most Starbucks.  I first discovered the Clover brewer at this Starbucks in January 2008, and my first coffee brewed with the Clover brewer was Casi Cielo.  At that time, the Clover was at the far end of the store (there is now a wood wall there, and bar-like seating) and I remember that Arabian Mocha Sanani was still on the coffee menu.  For a long time, until the August 2008 expansion of the Clover I would come back to this store over and over again just to experience that very special coffee experience.  I have to admit, that after more stores got a Clover brewer, I started coming to this store far less frequently.  This store though will always have a special place in my heart as the place where I discovered the Clover, and met the then-manager Jesse Kahn who I ended up learning a lot about coffee from.

I have an old photo from my phone which was taken inside the 6th and Union Starbucks some time in early 2008.  I wish I had more old photos so that I could show you a before and after of this store’s design.  The sign shows off “Fresh Pressed” coffee (before it was called “Clover” coffee at Starbucks) and the store’s Clover brewer and selection of small batch coffees was directly underneath the sign.  Now in that spot there is a wood wall, and an area with bar-like seating.

And two more photos, both of approximately the same space in this store:

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  • Hayley

    That’s amazing to watch a barista earn her black apron. What an awesome, proud moment to be able to share with those that appreciate the craft! From what it looks like (since I’ve never been a barista) earning a black apron is already a great stepping stone, but to be able to have so many people share in your joy probably amplifies that so much more. Congratulations Andrea! :)

  • Alicia @thecoffeeqween

    Thank you for sharing this experience from a customers perspective. I remember receiving my black apron when we first launched The Coffee Master program. It has come so far since then, it makes me proud to be a partner. Congrats to Andrea and welcome to the club:)

  • Tim Holland

    Andrea, GREAT work! It is the coffee masters who remind us of the core of our business each and every day. And thank you, Melody, for being a part of this experience and sharing it with others.

  • AmazonV

    That is such a special and great moment! I am so glad you got the opportunity to share it :)

  • Nob

    She became beautiful papilio protenor from a chrysalis, she can give good experience to Starbucks customer.
    Congrats Andrea Coffee Master!
    Great event. Thank you Melody.

  • Chris Claud Day

    I remember when I got my first black apron. Magical moment haha! Knowing all the hard work pays off is a brilliant feeling and never looked back since! 3 years of black aproning and still going strong!

  • denise r

    Yes, Congrats to one more Black Apron!!! and we need so many more.
    Also, wonderful description of your tastings…… you DO lead a charmed life:)
    (well, mostly anyway….and well deserved!)

  • Laurence Winch

    Andrea, congratulations on getting your black apron! You must be really proud of your achievement. I know I was when I got to put mine on for the first time.

    I love the coffee/food pairings you did for your tasting. Sounds like you really did some thinking about what characteristics you wanted to bring out in the coffee and by the sounds of it, succeeded with flying colours!

    Welcome to the wonderful world of Starbucks Coffee Masters! You will make a fine addition. Well done again and I look forward to seeing more of Melody’s blogs featuring your goings on!

  • Melody

    First off, I want to say a really big thank you to everyone above who congratulated Andrea. This was an important accomplishment and deserves the props!!

    @deniser We’ve had email conversations about how different your Starbucks experiences are from mine in Seattle. It IS absolutely painful to me that the company is not on the same page everywhere. As you can see, since this blog is full of pics, you can take photos in a store. I have a blog post on that somewhere. I know Starbucks can be great everywhere. I see tweets from Cam in Texas, and from Warren in AZ, and I know there is a lot of good happening everywhere. We just need to make sure everyone is on the same page.

  • Diele

    How exciting and what an accomplishment! I have been waiting over two years for the coffee master program to return and I can not wait to finally earn my black apron!

  • camspi

    Yay! Congrats Andrea! I’m working on re-earning my black apron with the new program. Mostly, I want to get people excited about whole beans. To call coffees not just “bold” or “medium” but “Christmas Blend and Pike Place Roast.” :)
    Sounds like an awesome seminar! Lots of delicious pairings.

  • Chanel Milne


    Thank you for attending my Fall Season Premiere Event at 6th & Union. Most importantly, thank you for being a part of my barista, Andrea’s coffee seminar. It was a special moment for me to have my partner earn her black apron and be certified as a coffee master. Also, to start a new era of the 6th & Union Starbucks. My newly remodeled store feels more of a sense of belonging for my customers and partners. I greatly appreciate your attendance here at 6th & Union Starbucks and I look forward to many more.

    Thank you,
    Chanel Milne
    Store Manager – 6th & Union Starbucks

  • Pencil to Paper

    Wow, that’s very cool! Before now, I didn’t really understand the difference in the aprons the baristas wear. What an honor! And I also didn’t fully understand the difference between a cupping and a tasting. A coffee tasting sounds delicious! Not to mention fun! Thanks for sharing the experience with us! It’s the next best thing to being there. :-)

  • Nob

    Nice to meet you Chanel.
    I visit your store every year.
    (Including other stores of the same building)
    I may meet you next month. 😀

  • MB

    I love XMAS blend this year…well, since Sumatra is pretty much my FAV, it figures since there’s plenty of Sumatra in the XMAS Blend 2010.

    This seems like a really great experience. When you see her, send our congratulations!!

  • Mermaid

    That’s super cool, I had no idea they did this for Starbucks and actually just learned the importance of it on Hell’s Kitchen. Congratulations Andrea, job well done!

  • Melody

    @Mermaid -Welcome to the blog! Nice to meet you here! This “Coffee Master” program is entirely a STARBUCKS program from start to finish. The Starbucks headquarters comes up with the rules on how to get a black apron, and then the baristas have to work hard to earn it. The very last step of getting the black apron is the big coffee tasting, just like what you saw in this blog post! And it is indeed a job well done Andrea!

  • merryncole

    I know there are black apron baristas in my local Starbucks, but they never (or at least very rarely) wear their black aprons. I also rarely see tastings, much less good tastings with pairings in my local store. I think Melody is right – Starbucks needs to be on the same page everywhere. Starbucks customers everywhere should be getting the experience we read about in Seattle Starbucks.

  • purple1

    Melody just got a chance to read this thread. As others have said what a totally neat experience. Nothing like that here. I also wish they would do tea cuppings. That would be so neat. I haven’t seen the district manager for ages where he used to come into the store.

  • Andrea

    Thank you all so much for your support and attendance! I am encouraging other baristas in my store to pursue the black apron, so keep your eyes open for more coffee seminars at our lovely new store! I’m already planning more topics: coffee and chocolate, coffee with savory foods, flavor identification, etc. And perhaps, I can work my dance company into the mix. Thanks again!

  • Melody

    @Andrea – Thank you for dropping by the blog. Hope you’ll check out some of the other articles and the community here. Lots of people are very proud of you and your coffee tasting. Thank you for making it so perfect! I am very curious…which of the four was your favorite pairing? Might be hard to pick!

    Have a Happy Thanksgiving! Tell your friends to come by too. 😉


  • Darkkatpouncing

    It’s wonderful that there is a place that chronicles starbucks happenings. I know you aren’t the only one who blogs about starbucks, but I always feel like this is especially local community centric. Well it’s sorta worldly too with all the fun posts from your readers all over the world…I guess with posts like this celebrating coffee master accomplishments and our local home starbucks – it’s just very warm.

    I had my first coffee cupping with you so now I’m looking forward to trying a coffee tasting! The cupping was a very educational experience and helped me define my coffee tastes – the TASTING…pairing it with nibbles sounds delicious! I’m looking forward to that 😀 YUMMY!

  • mindi

    Andrea … your coffee event looks like lots of fun! Congrats on the black apron! I’m stoked to hopefully get my own in the next few months!

  • French Bean

    Wow! This is like the black belt of Starbucks coffee-making! 😀

  • Hater

    I was a long time partner. Right before I left I was told I wasn’t allowed to wear my Coffee Master apron anymore. We were told that we needed to be recertified and then regain our black aprons. (I saw “we”, however I was the ONLY coffee master in the store.) In order to become recertified I needed to have open availability and work “fulltime” to promote bean sales. I think it’s messed up that I was told to give up my Coffee Master apron just because I work less than 30hrs a week and do not have open availability. Neither reason make me less knowledgeable about our beans and incompetent to sell coffee beans with a black apron on. I never helped another customer with beans after that memo. I let the “fulltimers” take care of it and lol when they don’t know how to answer any coffee questions. (Which I could prob do in my sleep) Fuck Starbucks and their Coffee Master program. Hopefully they won’t make you give yours up seven years form now for no good reason!!

  • Melody

    @Hater – It’s clear you’re angry and feel a bit knifed by Starbucks. I can really see how if you are passionate about whole bean then it would feel incredibly offensive to feel like your black apron was ripped off of you. I nearly didn’t approve your comment not because you dont have a right to feel angry, but rather I feel there isn’t a reason to drop the F word in comment. (I may still edit the foul language out when on a different computer). I would hope there would’ve been someone you could reason with, above your DM. I sort of think though, if you love whole bean, you’ll want to encourage “grind brew share” no matter what your attire.

  • Cat young

    I’m a 4.5 yr partner and take pride in my black apron! Please comment on how you feel about the new program! We worked very very hard for our black aprons ….there has to be a better solution for those of us that have a black apron and still work at Starbucks!

  • Denitsa

    Very well done. Congratulations to Andrea!
    Earning that balck apron is just a wonderful experience. I remember when I earned my coffee master apron, and it felt so good. Congratulations again, wear it proudly, because it’s well-deserved

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