Sneak preview of Starbucks Casi Cielo coffee 2012 at a superb Olive Way coffee event

Tonight (1-30-2012), I got a chance to attend a coffee event for the launch of this year’s Casi Cielo, a Starbucks tradition since 2004.  This is truly a fantastic coffee, and I really feel that this year’s offering is even better than last year’s!  It tastes like it has been roasted a little richer, yet it still retains the classic medium notes typical for a  coffee from Guatemala.

Before I go any further talking about the coffee tasting event, I want to recommend to my readers that if you have a chance to visit this store, and attend one of these events, you should!  The Olive Way Starbucks schedules coffee tastings every other week, and they are generally on Monday nights.  You should call ahead to the store, and pencil yourself in for a coffee tasting.  It’s free of charge, and gives you a chance to explore a new coffee that you might want to take home with you.  Their phone number is 206 568 5185.

The store often tweets about their coffee events, so follow them on twitter too:  Olive Way Starbucks

As you can see, I gush a bit when writing about this store.  And my heart loves Casi Cielo.  In January 2008, it was the first cup of coffee that I ever had from the Clover, so this coffee holds a special spot in my love of coffee!

Starbucks partner Jess, (who is a Coffee Master in training) walked us through the four steps of a coffee tasting, and paired Casi Cielo with four different food options.  First we smelled the coffee.  Our little group included about 5 people in the coffee tasting, and most everyone got right away the notes of dark chocolate.  I feel like this year’s Casi Cielo is a little buttery-er than last year’s, and felt like some of that came through in the aroma.  This year’s Casi Cielo really pairs remarkable well with either chocolates or nice savory foods, too.

(For those who need a reminder about the 4 steps of a coffee tasting, as Starbucks describes it:  (1) Aroma – Smell the coffee (2) Slurp – aerate the coffee in the mouth and slurp the coffee.  It’s okay, and in fact encouraged, to slurp loudly!  (3) Locate the coffee in the mouth – Where do the flavors hit? and (4) Describe all that you’re tasting.)

We tried four foods with this coffee:  Almonds, Mediterranean Feta & Pepper Flat Bread, Chocolate Covered Cherries produced by Chukar, and lastly, Beecher’s Beehive Barely Buzzed Cheese.

The first pairing was almonds with Casi Cielo.  The almonds we tried are  available at all of the beer and wine Starbucks (or, at least they should be) and are described as Salted Marcona Almonds.  The beer and wine Starbucks stores have special additional foods described as, “elevated food offerings.”  One person in our group described the almonds as really creating the effect where you get a nutty start to the coffee at the tip of the tongue, but finishing with a smokey finish in the back of the mouth.

Here’s a picture of the cheese, almonds, and chocolate-covered cherries, and I also included a photo of the menu board listing the store’s unique food offerings.  The cheese and chocolate-covered cherries are not part of the store’s “elevated food offerings.”

I really loved the Mediterranean Flat Bread with the Casi Cielo.  For one thing, it’s such a delicious offering available at this store!  One more reason to get yourself to this store.  I thought this year’s Casi Cielo really comes to life with the savory pairings, with even the salt bringing out the body and the flavor of the coffee.  Here’s a picture of the store’s Flat Bread:

When we tried the Chukar Cherries, a number of people sitting around me commented that the cherries brought out some lemon notes in the coffee.  Now, I will have to admit that I was having some difficulty picking up enhanced lemon flavors, but I did wish I had the entire bag of chocolate covered cherries to myself. 😉  (What I am trying to say it that Casi Cielo has some lemon notes to it, and I got that, but for me I didn’t get a huge enhancement of the lemon flavors.  However, it seemed like everyone else around me did, so I think my tastebuds were a little off!)

As we talked about this coffee, Jess made the observation that Casi Cielo works as a great shot of espresso.  I have to totally agree with that.  The experimental Starbucks called 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea (or it was called that at least) briefly used Casi Cielo to pull their shots, and so having tried it as a shot, I totally agree that it makes a fantastic espresso.  I think this year’s especially would be a perfect change of pace if you’re looking for something new to use as your home espresso.

I know I haven’t talked much about the cheese pairing, but that was good too.  I felt that the cheese brought similar flavors to the coffee similar to the Mediterranean Flat Bread.  It was a moist cheese, and highlighted and strengthened the buttery components to Casi Cielo.  Still, somehow I liked the Flat Bread option a little better.

By the way, I took this photo shortly before the coffee event started, and while it doesn’t highlight any of tonight’s happenings, I like the casual atmosphere of the bar area (which is always the place for the coffee events) at this store:

So here are a few more pictures from tonight, many of which are to show off the beautiful store design.  Thank you Jess, Anton, Mikey, Gayle, and everyone at the Olive Way team!  This store really has thrown their weight behind making sure that coffee excellence is part of what they do. If you want to read about other events at this store, take a look at the Anniversary Blend Coffee Tasting (the “butter” tasting), the Aged Sumatra and Ethiopia Harrar coffee event, and the blonde roast launch media event.

The address is 1600 East Olive Way, Seattle, WA, 98102.  Once again, the phone number is 206 568 5185.







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  • purple1

    Oh gosh Melody bring this store here! I love reading about the coffee tasting and there is absolutely nothing like this at any of the area SB locations. I love the fact that they paired food with the coffee. The partners sound so passionate. I still do not understand why it is so hard for SB stores around here to do these type of tastings.

  • Michelle

    This is such a gorgeous store, I feel lucky that I was able to visit it when I was in Seattle last summer (Thanks Melody for suggesting we meet there!) No coffee tastings the day we were there, but still – great partners and delicious drinks.

    purple – I suspect the difference between the culture in Seattle and everywhere else is that Starbucks started out there as a coffee roaster and whole bean retailer, and has been able to maintain that culture there. While, when it expanded outward it was more about lattes and other things to those new locations. We had a coffee tasting event for customers in November after Christmas Blend launched for the season and the partner who ran the event did a really good job. The turnout was less than what she’d hoped for, but those that were involved really enjoyed themselves. I think that if a store doesn’t sell a lot of whole bean this can be a good way to start opening up the lines of communication about the product, but it should also generate some sales. I know you mentioned the Roast You Love the Most events, did you get the opportunity to go to one of those? I’d think that depending on how well that event went over in your local store, the team there would be open to hosting more coffee tasting events. (Those events were very different from what Melody describes at Olive Way though because they were comparative tastings, which are done without food so that the coffees can be compared directly to each other)

  • purple1

    Michelle it was not me that went to the Roast You Love the Most event and as far as I know there has not been such an event at my local store. It is hard to tell how the whole bean sales are at my local store. From my angle it does not seem that many bags are sold. I also understand that outside of Seattle the SB stores are very different as well as the culture. On another topic just saw they are going to open SB stores in India!

  • BCav

    This sounds like a fantastic coffee tasting! I actually pressed some of this years Casi yesterday. I have mixed feelings right now (I only had the one cup) about it. It might be because I’ve been drinking a lot of Blonde Roast lately, but I thought it was a darker roast profile than I’m used to. We paired it with a heated double chocolate brownie though and the flavor of dark chocolate jumped out (as usual). It’s my favorite coffee of the year, so I’m very excited about it, I’m just unsure of how I really feel about it yet. Thanks for the post, Melody!

  • cardiff barista

    I did a coffee tasting a few weeks ago with Casi Cielo and our salted caramel & pecan squares, which is one of the few food options that the US doesn’t seem to have. The chocolate and the saltiness from the pecans & caramel really brings out the different aspects of the coffee. Caramel is always a good match with Guatemalan coffees, not that I remember why.

    Personally, I really need to work to find the lemon flavour in the coffee. But I have a whole bag in the kitchen to work with :)

  • Dave Wakeman

    Seeing this Starbucks makes me homesick for Seattle.

    I got a pound of the Casi Cielo last night and my wife was really into it. So the stuff is excellent.

  • Ciaran

    Is this only out now stateside ? its been available for over a month in Ireland

  • Anthony

    It’ll be a while before I can get back to Seattle, but when I do, I have GOT to go to this Starbucks! It looks amazing!

    I’ve said this here before, but I love Casi Cielo, so I’m looking forward to some.

    I’ve also said this here before, but I really wish Starbucks would do more tastings and coffee education out here.

  • purple1

    Tale of two stores- Last night I ran into a partner from the local store I often go to but not on a regular basis and she was happy to chat and I asked her about this coffee and if they were going to do a coffee tasting (this is the store with the two clovers) and she said in a very excited voice oh yes she was speaking with the SM and they probably would do it being such a great coffee, etc. This morning at my local SB I asked the SM about this coffee and doing a tasting (no clover or reserves coffees here) and his reaction was totally different. Maybe sort of interested but it seemed like he was just being nice. Very interesting to see the difference.

  • Melody

    @Ciaran – I’ve meaning to get back to this thread but too busy. Sorry! Casi Cielo is usually a January coffee at Starbucks, but the launch of it was delayed so that it would not be competing with the blonde roast in the stores. I know from seeing pics in my twitter stream, the international markets definitely got this coffee way ahead of the US>

  • Melody

    @BCav – This year’s Casi seemed darker to me than in the past too – Maybe it is because we’ve just had a lot of blonde coffee!
    @Purple1 – I find that even here in Seattle the level of partner enthusiasm for coffee, and even for the brand, can be all over the place. If you’ve got a Clover, it’s much eaiser and faster to do a tasting, so it’s easier to get inspired about it. No french press to clean up! One thing that was interesting, Jess, the coffee master in training at this event, talked abou the importance of comparing brew methods, and still making a french press even though in a Clover store. I was impressed for sure. Just think Olive Way really gets it!

  • Melody

    I find it interesting that the articles I write that people say they like, are very often things like this, the store reviews, and coffee reviews. The articles that get the most comments are topics where people have differing opinions about some hot topic and people start nearly arguing in the threads. To get more comments, I need to have some kind of controversy? But readers tell me all the time they like articles like this one??

  • purple1

    Interesting point Melody. I guess every blog post people respond in their own way and it is a very subjective thing, however, the one nice thing about the comments here are that they are civil, informative and bring new discussion. Thank you for creating a forum for the positives and the negatives.

  • DadCooks

    Okay Melody, maybe I can start some controversy/discussion (after I say that I enjoyed this post :-) ).

    I got an email over a week ago that Casi Cielo was at So the next day I asked my regular Starbucks when they were going to start selling Casi Cielo as it was available online. I was informed that they had received their shipment, but no sales before February 6 and no plans for an early tasting.

    I guess that the MBAs at Starbucks do not realize that product does not sell when it is in the backroom (where is their concept of cash flow?). Since Starbucks has a fairly good distribution system that gets a new product to all stores within a couple of days of each other I can see no benefit of Starbucks all too common practice of holding back most products (particularly when it is just a coffee blend).

    About the only time Starbucks needs to time releases is around Thanksgiving/Christmas. But even then, Thanksgiving Blend was sitting in the backroom for a couple of weeks; it could have benefited from an earlier release. And there would be nothing wrong with selling Thanksgiving and Christmas Blends side by side for awhile.

  • Skooter McGoo

    I’m loving the new chicken sausage wrap too. It’s nice to have a high protein tasty treat for a breakfast choice. Folks started asking a month ago when Casi was coming back, it’s a core coffee favorite.

  • Hayley

    I am excited for the return of Casi Cielo! It’s a fantastic coffee! Hearing that it seems to have a darker profile than usual is even better; I think you’re right about having too much blonde lately.

  • denise r

    @Melody: re what readers of your blog say they like (ie: store reviews) and what gets commented on tne most. Personally, I like a few store reviews…that’s always interesting but I don’t have alot to say about most of them..however cool and intersting and fun to see. Unless there’s something REALLY unusual (?) about a store..?…I just don’t have much to say.
    I’d rather be talking or hearing about things going on (or not going on) with corp.Sbux. Personally, I don’t think I’ve ever said I’d rather see more store reviews, but I do read that….people say that. And, as you said, they’re not necessarily the threads with the most comments.
    I don’t know……just my opinion;)

  • DadCooks

    Melody, I like denise r’s suggestion on what is going on at SBUX Corp.

    I realize that you probably know many things that you cannot discuss because of literal or implied Non-Disclosure Agreements, but I am sure there is some “fly-on-the-wall” stuff and “Barista Buzz”.

  • the wicked noodle

    This is so intriguing! Sounds like an event that would be right up my alley. I’ve never tried that coffee but I’ll be on the lookout now!

  • LatteRose

    Casi Cielo is one of my favorites! And re: the chicken sausage breakfast wrap – seems to be very popular – I hear at least one order for one every time I stop in lately.
    (And yes, I like the store reviews too!)

  • Diele

    Starbucks always has launch dates for whole bean and product – I get frustrated that you can get it online first though!

  • Michelle

    DadCooks – I’ve worked in retail for a long time and anyone that has worked for me has heard me exclaim “we can’t sell it from the backroom!” In fact, I’ve had people tell me after I moved on to different stores that they would go in for their shift, see books in boxes in the backroom and immediately start unpacking and put them away because “Michelle says we can’t sell it from the backroom!” It drives me batty when things are clogging up the backroom that could be otherwise displayed. It’s not as easy at Starbucks as it was when I worked at the bookstore. Pounds of coffee don’t stack as nicely as books do.

    To your point – we had hundreds of pounds of blonde roast in our backrooms for weeks before the launch. I had nowhere to put it and it ended up sitting on the floor in boxes and lost me points on my QASA audit…which happened on launch day. The frustrating thing is that one day later and we’d have been fine!

  • MagicKat

    I love this post about the coffee tasting event! I love hosting tastings, but I haven’t had much opportunity at my current location – one hurried french press here and there… All of that is, I hope, about to change. I’m due to start the new coffee master program in two weeks and *hopefully* there will be some time built into the training hours for seminars and/or we’ll be able to make time for it. If we can boost whole bean sales by 10% this year the coffee tastings will pay for themselves! I am so excited! I wish that we had a Clover, but in a busy drive thru it’s just not an option. Luckily the store down the hill has one and they always save a bag of the really yummy reserve coffees for me.

  • Barb the French Bean

    I so badly want to go to a coffee-tasting after reading this. Oof!

    Now I’m in the mood to make myself a cup of café cubano, and it’s almost 11 p.m. in my neck of the woods. 😛

  • Eric O.

    Just picked up a pound of the 2012 Casi Cielo, and it is MUCH MUCH darker than usual. It is usually one of my favorites, but this year it’s just too over roasted. :(

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