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?