Blonde roast: Veranda and Willow Blend coffees coming soon to Starbucks.

Starbucks is making big changes to their whole bean coffee  lineup.  They’re introducing two new blends, both of which are roasted using a  “blonde” roast.  This, of course, is basically a very light roast, which a number of coffee purveyors now regularly offer.

There appears to be a definite demand for a very light roast coffee.  Some people like the thin mouth-feel.  Some people want a coffee where they can’t taste any of the roast profile – very little caramelization of the beans.  And some people like the high acidity which is typically present in a lighter roast coffee.  For me, I’m always going to love the darker roast coffees.  I like the full body, the smoother and low acidity profile, and sweet caramelization flavor in a coffee like Espresso Roast or Verona.  The darker coffees will always be my first choice for my personal cup or tumbler.

So what are the two new coffees?  The two new “blonde”-roasted coffees are Veranda Blend and Willow Blend.  These coffees are even lighter than Starbucks’ Breakfast Blend, which at one time was considered the mildest and lightest coffee in the Starbucks whole bean lineup.  The blonde roast profile is not the same roast profile as the current Breakfast Blend, or the LiteNote Blend of yesteryear, and represents the science of a shorter roast duration and likely not the same temperature scale also  (though I don’t know that for a fact).  Veranda Blend is a blend of Latin American beans, and Willow Blend is a blend of Latin American and Kenya coffee beans, as I recall.

Last month I had the chance to try these two new coffees at a small coffee tasting event at the Starbucks headquarters.  We tasted the two new coffees, and compared and contrasted them with two other coffees:  Italian Roast and Pike Place Roast.  It has been a while since that event, and I realize that I should have been taking notes back then!  The Willow Blend was definitely the winner of the two coffees for me.  As I recall, the Willow Blend had a tremendous amount of origin flavor, and so the citrus-y notes African beans are known for were quite pronounced.  I suspect that the Willow Blend would also be absolutely wonderful iced!  Despite my insistence on drinking a bold roast coffee, I would not turn this down, and in fact, I would choose Willow Blend over Pike Place Roast.  And in all seriousness, I will definitely look forward to giving this a try as an iced coffee from the Clover in the summer months.

Sadly, I thought the Veranda Blend was a little boring.  It reminded me a bit of drinking a Level 1 or Level 2 Seattle’s Best Coffee.  Nonetheless, I have a feeling that Veranda is going to have its big fans.  It is a taste profile that many Americans know and love: the distinctive acidity and bright flavor of a washed Latin American coffee.

With the launch of the two new coffees, Starbucks is updating all of their packaging.  Here’s the new look:

I definitely have some mixed feelings about this packaging.  It looks incredibly simplified.  I have to wonder what is on the sides of the packaging.  I have always enjoyed seeing packaging that provides a wealth of information combined with some romance in its feel.  These doesn’t scream romance and mystique to me.  Maybe it will look better when I see all the packages side by side.  Ah well, somehow when I think of Italian Roast, I still think of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, for those of you who remember that era of Starbucks coffee packaging.

So this is (mostly) great and exciting news!  Blonde roast opens up a huge door of opportunity to attract customers who love that roast profile, and the two new coffees are definitely going to have their fans.  Starbucks is simply expanding and growing their coffee expertise to capture a larger segment of customers, and creating greater variation in the whole bean lineup.  I know for sure that I already love the flavors of Willow Blend.  I think it is a great move to expand their existing roasting expertise into this area, and in any case, many smaller roasters already roast at a level very close to this profile.  The only real downside is that I have mixed feelings on the packaging (eeek!), and I hope that in the process of promoting these new coffees that Starbucks won’t forget their bold coffee fans. I don’t know what kind of promotions may surround the new coffees, and for those of us who love dark roast coffee … well, I just have to trust that we will not be forgotten in the fanfare of these two new coffee offerings.  The number of  Clover Starbucks is still growing, at least creating opportunties to have any coffee at  your local Starbucks.  I definitely think it would be interesting to try these two new coffees from the Clover too.

My understanding is that these two new coffee blends launch in Starbucks stores everywhere in January 2012, as well as in grocery stores, and will be available as a whole bean, a Via Ready Brew format, and K-cups.

Have you tried these two new offerings? What do you think of all this?

 

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78 Comments

  • denise r

    @Melody: I certainly agree with you about: what if it was VIA, or, certainly, the flavored beans. I would have the same gut rxn…that if he (HS) LOVED any of those (other than seeing them from a business point of view…well, maybe a little VIA altho still……) I would think he was not being so “true” to Sbux origins or certainly his own “taste”. BUT, just my guess. I can speak for no one else!

  • Nate

    Thanks for the post. I don’t agree with your premise that light roasted coffee has a ‘thin’ mouthfeel or body. The degree of roast does not dictate the body or acidity. Many people don’t want their coffee to taste like campfire ash, which is the predominate Starbucks flavor. I applaud the brand for creating awareness of coffee, and sping-boarding me into a love for coffee, but I see the brand as the missing link in coffee evolution. Providing an in-between stage with Folgers on one side, and micro-lots on the other.

  • Melody

    @Nate – I really think of coffee like a food. Some people don’t want their coffee roasted to a tea-like profile. Some people don’t like darker-roasts. But it’s really subjective. Granted, if you want to find the wonderful Starbucks single origins, you’re going to look at the Reserve offerings. I think that for a long time, Starbucks has experimented with a variety of roasts. I’ve been drinking the “small batch” and “Reserves” by Starbucks for a long time, and they are roasting those to bring out origin flavors.

    In any case, the blonde roast seems like a natural extension, trying to pull in people who want that kind of coffee. Personally, a very dark coffee will always be my favorite, but I can appreciate that people subjectively just like different things – It doesn’t matter if we are talking chicken, or coffee – It can be cooked a gazillion ways, and there is no right or wrong.

  • Nate

    @Melody
    I completely agree with everything you wrote in your response!
    My issue is with the notion that somehow lighter roasted coffee has less body or more ‘acidity’ than dark roast. When a company describes a roast as ‘espresso’ or ‘lighter bodied’, it is very revealing. They are using misnomers. There are 2 possible reasons why;
    (1) They know better, but deliberately use these terms purely for marketing purposes or to mislead consumers
    (2) They are ignorant in coffee terminology.

    Unfortunately, the Starbucks reserves are not available in this state, and I’m not about to pay $30+/lb for coffee that is likely not as good, and surely not as fresh as, my local roaster.
    I wouldn’t call my preferred roast profile “Tea-Like”. Coffee strength is determined by the volume of ground coffee used when brewing…not color. The coffees I drink are light to medium roasted, but my pot isn’t the slightest bit translucent :)

  • denise r

    For 40yrs Sbux was what it was, w/out any lighter roasts. seems like it succeeded, just like Dunkin’ and McD’s did, in their own way. I agree all taste is subjective but Blonde roast coffee is not what built Sbux. Of course, will it likely bring in those other customers? sure. could’ve done that 25yrs ago, too.
    bigger bigger bigger. (just doesn’t mean better, to me)

  • kitenarie

    We had our store meeting today, and I had the opportunity to taste Veranda today. The other thing that I had done today was gone to Cracker Barrel for breakfast, and made the mistake of ordering a cup of coffee, which actually worked well for me in this instance, because I had a comparison of not just Starbucks coffees, but another “light” roast profile.

    We compared it with Pike, Breakfast Blend, and Italian Roast.

    Truthfully, those who stick by their bolds (or dark roasts, as they will be termed shortly), probably won’t care for it, but I don’t think it’s a case of Starbucks selling out. It is a high quality cup of coffee. I honestly think it’s everything that Starbucks was hoping PPR would be.

    And compared to the ashy, bitter taste of the cup of coffee I had an hour prior to the meeting, it was wonderful. We also all thought it compared favorably to Wawa coffee (Wawa is a convenience store located in a few states along the eastern seaboard-ish – similar to 7-11). Overall, I think it holds up to Starbucks standards.

  • Melody

    @Kitenarie – I see people make references to Wawa on MSI and the Starbucks-facebook-page and I am always puzzled. I’ve never seen one. And I love what you said about the Blonde coffees being everything that PPR hoped to be – so true. I hope to see PPR put on a shelf, and then how about a blonde and a bold all day? And while we’re at it – let’s go back to longer hold times, it would be easier on everyone! I can’t wait to hear what you think of Willow when you get a chance to try it!

  • kitenarie

    Melody, Wawa has an almost cult-like following in the very few states that have them. I just looked it up – they are in NJ, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland. Also just saw on their website that they sell over 195 million cups of coffee annually (in 4 states), so that is a pretty large share of the coffee market for our area.

    Here’s the about page – http://www.wawa.com/WawaWeb/About.aspx

  • Rebecca

    I love the comment (sorry – don’t remember who made it) that if Starbucks does light coffee well, it’s not a failure. While I have definitely grown to appreciate and enjoy dark coffee (Sumatra, while originally too earthy and intense for me is now my all time favourite!), I began my journey at Starbucks thinking it was kind of pretentious and snobbish of us to offer only dark roast. Especially since I knew so many amongst my circle of family and friends who did not enjoy the intensity/body/etc of a bold coffee. The quote that really stuck with me at our Area SM meeting was ‘It’s only a matter of time before someone reinvents light roast coffee. Why shouldn’t it be Starbucks?’

    I love working for a company that is innovative and listens to its customers. I can’t tell you how many customers get a ‘short medium roast in a tall cup with some hot water added and still room for cream’. The strength/taste of our coffee is what *some* of our customers love, and what some do not :) This way, we can give each what they want.

    I have been concerned by the amount of confusion our customers have been in after the announcement. A couple of them have been telling me how we’re no longer going to brew dark roast, and we’re replacing all our dark coffees etc. I’ve been enlightening those that I can about it :)

    I was super skeptical of the announcement about Blonde coffee, (For the record, I was also skeptical of VIA, ha ha, and I drink it every morning now!) but after tasting it, I was impressed. It was a really good cup of coffee. Not what I look for in a morning coffee (I need that ‘kick-me-in-the-teeth’ intensity to get me going!), but a great, light, refreshing afternoon coffee? Yes please.

    And my mother? She’ll drink this. So will my sister. And my landlord. And my pastor. And and and…the list goes on and on. I’m glad that we’re extending the Starbucks Experience to them too, instead of telling them they’re not cool enough to play :)

  • Pencil to Paper

    @Rebecca—You took the words right out of my mouth! My Mom will actually probably order these new roasts without having to add hot water AND cream to enjoy it, and I’m glad I’ll be able to bring her to Starbucks with me without her having to get her coffee from somewhere else. I feel exactly like your last sentence; happy that the experience is extending to more people, instead of giving off this feeling like if you don’t like the bold dark roasts, you aren’t hip enough for Starbucks. Plus I look forward to any chance to expand my coffee tastes and find new things I like. I, for one, can’t wait to try these blonde roasts!

  • Blondes Just Have More Fun « TheCoffeeNinja

    […] new packaging. This is all leading up to the launch of Starbucks’ new lighter roasted coffee- The Blonde Roast on January 10th, […]

    • AK_Strummer

      There are some great perspectives here about the value of a lighter roast at Starbucks and what effects that might have on their other products. From experience on both sides of the counter, I feel comfortable that bold coffee isn’t going anywhere.

      Sumatra has been one of the company’s top selling sources of whole been for ages. Almost every seasonal coffee is a dark roast (Reserve coffees not included), and even some of the medium roasts wil raise the hair on the back of your neck. Having seen the new brewing schedule that will be in place once this launches, I believe that customers will have greater access to every variety of coffee that the company offers.

      As far as the merit of a blonde roast, some might say that appealing to a greater audience of consumers is greedy or empirical. As @Rebecca stated, there are many customers who feel compelled to water down their coffee when they come in. One of the benefits Starbucks enjoys as a company of such vast scale and resource is that instead of choosing not to offer a blend that meets the need of these customers, it can do just the opposite. Now people who might settle for lower quality blends (that have been sitting in the pot for god knows how many hours) like Dunkin’ Donuts or 7/11 can enjoy a lighter cup of coffee from a company that actually specializes in — wait for it — coffee!

      As a barista and enjoyer of many roasts and blends of coffee (Rwanda Gakenke most recently), I’m confident that the addition of a blonde roast will promote higher standards and greater diversity in every area of the Starbucks whole bean program.

    • Melody

      @AK_Strummer – Thanks for your insights. Overall, I think the addition of the blonde roasts make sense, and it still makes sense. More choices for coffee drinkers. By the way, I too am very impressed with the comments here.I’ve been pretty lucky that this site has stayed a thoughtful and civil community. It might be luck! But thank you to the many people, like you, who write meaningful comments related to the content.
      I can’t wait to try the blondes again! It has been since September since I tried them – I just had that one opportunity at the SSC in the small event there. (PS: Please “like” my blog’s facebook page, if you do like this site.:)) Thanks again! (By the way, I love Casi Cielo, and I’d call it a darker medium roast. I would love to see Bella Vista come back!)

    • purple1

      Today a partner confirmed the arrival of the blonde coffees. Melody it is towards your efforts and excellent blog that make it the way it is. As you can never get enough thanks for this I will again say Kudos to you.

    • Donna

      Just saw a sign in my local starbucks that the Blond Roast will be released in 4 days, that should be Tuesday Jan 10th if the sign was correct. I’m not sure how I feel about these coffees I am a dark roast drinker mostly although lately when forced to choose between Italian roast (my least fav dark) and pike’s place roast (the two offerings at my Starbucks) I’ve gone with the pikes because the Italian just does not go with the vanilla soy milk that starbucks offers. based on your post I’ll try the willow blend, but I didn’t see anything in the store that indicated two blond varieties, we shall see. . . .

    • Donna

      OMG please forgive me I meant Pike Place Roast, LOL. Totally love this blog, this is where I go
      for all my starbucks info. Melody, Thanks for all your hard work, now back to drinking my coffee. Oh yeah Happy Friday!

    • DadCooks

      My favorite Starbucks has been practicing the new brewing routine this week/weak; albeit only brewing 2 “flavors”, Pike and Italian (my Starbucks will only be doing 3 “flavors”). There is a countdown to Blonde on the main chalkboard. IMHO 1/4 batches take a lot more care to brew; collapsing filters and weak coffee (spilling a couple of tablespoons of grounds when filling the basket is very noticeable in a 1/4 batch; do the math to see that the bigger the batch the less effect on coffee quality (still not acceptable).

      I asked if everyone was going to wear a blonde wig next week in honor of the blond rollout. The was much ROTFL 😆

      I can’t believe all the stickers that are now on the equipment, very unprofessional looking and will become soiled and degraded soon due to the heat of the brewing and holding stations.

      Decaf has already been relegated to the airpot. I observe that it is a PITA to fill and a PITA (many pumps) to dispense a cup of decaf. A regular decaf drinker is not happy with the flavor (and he and his wife are not ones to easily complain).

      There is some other dumb stuff going on in the store, but since this is not an open thread I’ll only commit this small transgression 😉

    • kitenarie

      Dad, that’s interesting. We’ve been told that the airpots fit right in the brewer, and that the brewer has been reprogrammed to easily brew this way. I haven’t seen it in action. However, when I worked at Barnes and Noble, all of our coffee was in airpots all day (House at the time, whatever the “bold” was, and decaf House – this was pre-PPR), and I never noticed a difference in flavor between the the urn vs. airpot.

    • DadCooks

      Kitenarie — today I found out that it was an untrained crew that was brewing in an urn, filling a stainless steel steaming mug, then pouring into the airpot (this could also explain flavor quality). If I had not questioned the practice I wonder how many more days it would have gone on. This store has been operating with only 7 people (usually 12) since before Thanksgiving with an occasional “floater” from another store so no wonder “training” has taken a backseat. Also a new DM that I have yet to officially meet, but seems lost.

    • Diele

      My store actually has the space an extra urn(was located in drive thru), so we just added an extra urn to the rotation. We did a tasting at my meeting out of the airpot and we didn’t notice a change of flavor or temperature. I think a blind tasting would reveal there isn’t really any change at all.

    • Melody

      @Donna – You are so cute! I hadn’t ever thought about how the vanilla soy goes with bold. I think Italian Roast is fine as a black coffee – One of my least favorites is Estima, but I think that is getting phased out?? I haven’t even paid attention.
      I think Veranda is going to be brewed in stores. Give it a try! I got a another try of yesterday at one of my regular Starbucks, and I discovered that right off the Clover, it’s pretty darn good. It hit me in the front of the mouth with a tangy flavor. I am actually looking forward to the blonde launch.
      @Diele and @DadCooks – I’ve seen the air pots sitting on many counters now, but not in use. DadCooks, your neighborhood store sometimes sounds like they need a little work. But how do the airpots get filled up?? A mug? I am already inclined to think that from the Clover is the best way to have a blonde roast coffee.

      I will do another blog post next week on blonde, though it might not be until late Tues or Wednesday. I have sooo much to do at work!

    • Diele

      You place them directly under the brewer to brew and just serve like you would with an urn. I am glad not to have to fuss with them though – adding an extra urn server is much easier.

    • kitenarie

      Oh Dad, no wonder they had a terrible cup of coffee… all that time to cool before it made to the airpot. Gross.

      We had to add both an extra urn and an airpot to accommodate the new brew routine. We have the two brew stations, three urns behind the register, two airpots (for decaf rotation), and an urn at drive-thru… It’s going to be an interesting first few days of the new rotation while we figure it all out.

    • CD

      4 different urns of coffee is going to be very interesting. I was at a store today and there was a lot of confusion with the new layout, even without the addition of a Blonde roast. It will be interesting to see how many times the wrong URN is selected.

      It will also be interesting to see how may customers will proactively select a particular roast – most seem to order “coffee” in their size and only sometimes do I hear the barista ask if they would like PPR or the bold – typically the barista just goes for the PPR.

    • Diele

      My store always asks as many people want the dark roast and assume that is the standard brew. We also state which one it is in case a customer loves it and wants to purchase a pound of those beans. It will definitely take some adjusting as we’ve had to rearrange a bit to add the extra urn. There will be lots of sampling and extra staff to hopefully support the adjustment period.

    • Cd

      @Diele – I always appreciate it when stores like yours take such a proactive approach. I am not a fan of the PPR all day approach as it loses a key differentiator Starbucks has but by being proactive you can help expose customers to the great variety Starbucks has.

      One thing I noticed about the new urns was the small label for the roast. Perhaps a larger one running vertically would make it clearer which pot was which and could reduce potential confusion.

      Best of luck with the launch! I’ll be tipping extra this week as I know it’s going to be an interesting week for the baristas.

    • fahri

      Love blonde roast, more bright and flavory.

    • Rochelle

      I must say, when I finally tried the Veranda blend, I was plesently surprised. I worried it wouldn’t have any flavor, but I loved it! I have found I really like the Tea-like profile. I’ve really never cared for drinking just black coffee and darker roasts are just way too bitter and burnt tasting to me. The Veranda though, I actually did take a couple sips of it just on it’s own and still like it just as is. It’s strange to me that you described the lighter roasts as “acidic” though. I always though of the darker roasts as acidic. In fact, I can’t even drink French roast as it is so dark that it gives me a stomach ache. Might just be my perception. I like a sweetness to my coffee though. I always get the flavored lattes when I go to a Starbucks cafe. I will have to try the Willow blend. Does it taste darker than the Veranda?

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