Tribute Blend 2012 is here: Fantastic coffee tasting at Starbucks Olive Way

Tribute Blend whole bean coffee officially returns to Starbucks‘ shelves on March 6, 2012.  It is back by popular demand!  This coffee was originally introduced one year ago to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of Starbucks.

I went to a coffee tasting event at Olive Way for the return of this blend, and thought I would share a little bit from that event.  By the way, anyone can attend!  Please go!  It’s free.  Olive Way Starbucks does regular coffee tastings about every two weeks, on Monday nights.  Call ahead to confirm that there will be a  tasting.  Here’s the store address and phone number:

Olive Way Starbucks
1600 East Olive Way
Seattle, WA 98122
(206) 568 5185

Megan, a coffee master in training, put on tonight’s tasting event.  First, she began with a little education about this coffee.  Tribute Blend is a blend of four Starbucks coffees:  Aged Sumatra, Sun Dried YirgacheffePapua New Guinea, and Colombia.  It is a “post roast” blend which means that each coffee is roasted separately, and then the all of the beans are combined and mixed together after the roasting process.  One interesting thing that  I learned is that when Starbucks experimented with this as a pre-roast blend (which is more common) they decided that the Sun Dried Yirgacheffe dominated the flavors.

Megan is a fairly new-ish partner, and I loved her personal story about discovering Tribute Blend.  She said that when Tribute Blend was first launched, she was still a customer.  She went into a Starbucks and tried it, and definitely liked it.  Megan said that the very first pound of coffee she ever bought at Starbucks was Tribute Blend, and she bought the Tribute Blend that was offered in the coffee canister container last year.  I loved her story about discovering this coffee, and it seemed totally appropriate that she should lead tonight’s tasting.  She did an amazing job!

There were about 6 people present, and we were given maps, and colored in the four origin countries represented in Tribute Blend and the coffee growing belt.  My geography is terrible!  Mickey, (aka “Mr. Opportunity”) did a perfect job with his map, so I took a picture of his, not mine!

Megan started out with passing around some of the Tribute beans, so we could all smell and look at them.  I noticed a lot of nutty aromas from the whole beans:

Megan paired a butter croissant with a cherry preserves (which came from Safeway) with the Tribute Blend.  It was such an incredible pairing!  The cherry jam was quite sweet and did a lot to make the Sun Dried Yirgacheffe component of this coffee pop.  I also thought it was remarkable how well the basic butter croissant worked, which brought out the slightly more savory components of the coffee.  By the way, we also tried the new Chocolate Covered Cranberries with Tribute Blend too, and that was delicious.  I want to shine a spot light on these little packages of Chocolate Covered Cranberries:  They are phenomenally good.

Several people in our little tasting group thought that the Tribute Blend was just a little spicier than last year’s.  No coffee is ever exactly the same twice (since it is a food product), and although it is just a shade spicier, it is still a really delicious coffee and does taste very close to last year’s.  One partner commented that he had already tried it iced, and said that it works extremely well as an iced coffee from the Clover.

Thank you Olive Way for a great coffee tasting!

So who else is looking forward to this coffee being back?  How is Tribute 2012 launch day doing at your store?  And is your store doing any coffee tastings with Tribute?

Here are just a few more photos from tonight’s coffee tasting.  I hope you enjoy!

(I took all photos on Monday, March 5, 2012)

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  • kbee

    i actually spent some time talking about tribute last night, especially tribute versus red. my favourite coffees have always come from east africa, so whenever a blend comes out that favourite heavily in that coffee region, i’m excited. the yirgacheffe in this blend it delicious. i’m not drinking it black, right now, but even through the milk and splenda (nom, misto) i can taste the coffee.

    i’ve been drinking a lot of blonde roast, and needless to say, this was a pleasant surprise to take as sip of this morning.

  • Melody

    @Kbee – That is a great idea to do a Tribute Blend misto. I will try that today! Which of the 2 Blonde roasts do you like?

  • Suzanne C

    Tribute Blend all over the store this morning, which I was happy to see. Not a peep out of any of the Partners, though.

    What was revealed to me (in a whispered voice over the counter) was a small price increase. I had to laugh. It was said in such a hushed tone as if the other customers had heard what was said, they would promptly stampede out the door.

    My Starbucks may not have the most product enthusiastic Partners, but they are a pleasant bunch.

  • denise r

    No wonder Tribute was one of my faves ….Yirgacheffe enclosed! They had it out and available at some places yesterday afternoon but I will get some today. and a few other days!
    @SuzanneC: too funny about the whispered price increase!
    am really loving the beauty of the tumbler…I did read and touch and look at it alot yesterday. Can’t get it out of my mind. We’ll see. $40.00 is alot for any tumbler, to me. and I do have quite a collection of Sbux thru the yrs already. It is really beautiful tho.

  • purple1

    I wish my local SB would have regular coffee tastings as the Olive Way store has them. I once asked about doing it and got nowhere. Tribute is all over my local store too and to be honest when I walked in I had to have a partner mention it to me. The new displays just sort of blended in and I did not take notice at first and then I saw a sign saying if you do not like the Via coffee you can get a pound of coffee for free. Also, a new sign on the chalk board but nothing worth submitting for the contest. I have to look for that tumbler because it did not seem there were any new tumblers out there. Suzanne the partners at my local SB are nice for the most part but they too do not reach out to push new coffees, etc.

  • Melody

    @Purple1 and @SuzanneC – I think part of the challenge for the stores is getting customers to come to coffee tasting events. The percentage of customers who really WILL go is small. Just like with almost everything else, what people SAY they will do doesn’t always match up to what they really WILL do. Olive Way struggles to get people to come. I am beginning to think that Monday nights are tough because the work week has just started. Maybe if they did them on Saturday or Sunday mornings. Or Thurs or Fri nights??

    I wish that everyone reading this could take a trip to Seattle – Go to 1912 Pike Place. Go shopping at the Coffee Gear Store, and Go to an Olive Way coffee tasting. It would be a great contest for Starbucks to do! 😉

  • purple1

    I agree Melody that SB should create a contest to have a customer take a trip to Seattle. What a neat idea. Thinking about coffee tastings and attendance- my local SB can be very packed most nights. We often stop by there after we go to the gym and I bet if they tried a coffee tasting, they might get some interest. I just don’t think the motivation is there to do it.

  • Diele

    It is also hard to have the labor to staff a tasting as well. There isn’t much interest in my area. I usually have 1-3 customers show up if I promoted it for weeks. :(

    Tribute was delightful with the cherry pie, which is strange for me to say since I hate cherry. We also paired it with a classic coffee cake which was delicious as well.

  • Supersteives

    Tribute was avail. this a.m. in my store along with the Cherry & Apple Pies. Little mini ones…Cherry is good Tart and crust is wonderful. They also have 2 sorta pop tart looking minis browsugar walnut & chocolate hazelnut tarts. They are also pictured on the website under the menu in the starbucks petites section. I got the apple too but didn’t have that one yet. Nice pairing of the Tribute w/ Cherry Pie…Tart Pie with sweet notes and the Coffee is sort of acidic and spicy…Liked them both.

  • cardiff barista

    It’s going to be a tedious few weeks explaining to all of our customers how Tribute blend is only a US offering this year.

  • Diele

    I didn’t know it was US only this year. :( I can see why, since the first batch took two years to create with limited resources. That is why we were told it was a one time release. Such a shame they can’t produce more as so many people love it.

  • Melody

    @Cardiff Barista – I didn’t know it was US only either. Thanks for telling me. I get what you’re saying – totally – Seems like many customers have no concept that coffee beans are a limited, food resources. Hopefully your customers will take it in stride. Hey do you want me to mail you a pound? A number of my neighborhood stores have asked me to buy Tribute – I have to support my local stores, so I may end up with a little more than I can really use. I would be happy to mail you a bag.

  • Diele

    Melody, I can’t wait to send your package. I think I have most of the things I wanted to send. :)

    Can you order from if you are out of the US?

  • Melody

    @Diele – I don’t think that the coffee gear store site is set up to take orders outside of the US. I think I’ve heard that before. Can’t wait for what you’re sending me! You really don’t need to. :)
    Btw, from my tweets, looks like Tribute is US and Canada…

  • Diele

    I wonder if international markets have their own sites then.

    My store only had roughly 50-70lbs when setting up, so it will be interesting how quickly we sell out.

  • merryncole

    My store was really pushing the Tribute blend this morning. They were great about offering samples to taste to anyone who said they hadn’t tried it yet. I bought a bag, hoping hubby likes it too. :) He’s still working on his supply of Casi Cielo!

  • Stu

    Great read and insight. I so need to get invited to a coffee tasting, they look great.

  • Kristi

    I love the Tribute this year compared to last. It really is great as an iced coffee, no doubt.

    Thank you for sharing such an awesome tasting! It’s so great to see the partners so engaged and informative about this amazing coffee!

  • DadCooks

    I enjoyed my taste of this year’s Tribute vintage this morning. Personally, I think that because each bean variety is roasted to its particular perfection it allows the personality of each of the beans to be present in taste and aroma. I felt that the aroma this year was more (pleasantly) pronounced and the flavor was as bold and distinct as I remember , not overbearing, and a pleasant aftertaste. Worthy of stocking up my “coffee cellar” 😉 .

    My regular Starbucks manager really does not have a clue about coffee tasting. She was doing the new tuna melt panini as a pairing. None of the new tarts/pies in sight. I saw the sign for them shoved behind some stuff on the back counter. I asked about the pies/tarts and she said that they were only for the afternoon. So naturally I asked, “then why the panini now.” The silence spoke volumes.

  • denise r

    Oh boo…I looked at all our food (in my regular Sbux) today to see what was new and noticed NO cherry pies. I just called and apparently they were and are still there…in the petites area. I even asked about one of the (returned) cake pops..the tiramisu, which I don’t remember having white frosting originally….but not a fave of mine anyway. The point is, there was no verbage about the cherry pies (that I saw) and no mention of them as ie: wanna try something new?
    I did notice on the “chalk board” a mention of the 2P promo from 3/8-3/15? starting on 3/8 for sure: you buy any espresso drink before 11A and come back at 2P (or after) and get another bar drink for 1/2price.
    I have not recvd the $1.00 off Refreshers coupon from Sbux yet..and the Refreshers are in all the groceries here that I’ve seen……however, they’re on sale by the store and then there’s a $1.00 off/per drink coupon there with the drinks…so it ends up not really affecting me. On a similar note, did they put out anything (I did not receive) about the Refreshers at all, coming out now? I just happened upon them in the grocery….had no idea they were there.
    Looking fwd to TRIBUTE in the morn as my early morn. at home brew.

    still loooking at that beautiful tumbler (“dipped in a white gold glaze”). The general thought, or word, is most people are not seeing them likely to sell very easily. I do like the new “12 TALL” cups, altho I already have the older one, which is fine. a little more detail on the ones today…

  • Michelle

    Yes, we have Tribute in Canada. My customers were happy to get it today! Though…as seems to be the case, they didn’t buy any beans. We also have new muffins, and a really delicious cinnamon coffee cake. We sold a ton of muffins this morning.

    The most exciting part of my day though… Today, on the anniversary of the launch of the new logo, the signs in my store were all replaced to have the new logo on them! I had absolutely no idea it was happening, some guys showed up with the signs and went to town :) (They’ve got LEDs in them instead of flourescent bulbs so they’re going to save us money on our hydro bill too!) I meant to take a picture before I left, but I was distracted and forgot.

  • Chgo.

    I got a sneak peak of the Tribute last week and it was pretty awesome on the Clover. I had it again yesterday and today and all was good! Maybe because I had it this year on the Clover, it tasted far superior to last years drip. It was good last year, don’t get me wrong, but the Clover is magic.

  • Melody

    @Michelle – I love that your signs were changed today. How fortuitous!

    @chgo – I think a French press of the Tribute is the best way to draw out the cherry notes. I have yet to have it on a Clover yet (except that to do something different, I ordered a coffee misto with Tribute from the Clover, but I should have just had it black). Anyway, this year’s tribute is a home run!

    @Denise – I was thinking of writing an article tomorrow on those $39.95 tumblers. I can’t keep up. Suddenly there are things to write about. I bought one because I couldn’t resist. I am under the impression that most stores were only shipped a very small number of them, probably knowing the market for that item is small. I absolutely like it.

  • adel

    Tribute during the Roman era is what the providences paid the powerfu cemtral govermmenrl to keep from being slaughtered. Keep that in mind while enjoying your special brew.

  • Melody

    @adel – “Like” – :-)

  • Nancy

    Starbucks has been proven its great taste and satisfaction to all of us, no one can defeat the entire satisfaction and service it provides at the time… That’s why I will live high through star bucks wild..

  • denise r

    had my first cup of this yrs Tribute this morning…at home. Really good I thought but it just struck me as a LITTLE more spicey…? …which I wasn’t crazy about. Am not even sure….need another brew to really judge it for myself. I know I LOVED it instantly last yr.
    @Melody: I’m thinking you have had Tribute via Clover..remember last May at “Streets” when they did the 3 different coffee tasting for us to guess? and the last one (which surpirsed us all) was Tribute.??? am pretty sure that was all Clover. ??? (or maybe you were referring to only this yrs Tribute?)

  • Diele

    I know I am not a fan this year, but I wasn’t really last year. If it has Sumatra in it, I tend to not care for it. Not sure what everyone sees in Sumatra.

  • cardiff barista

    I would love a bag of Tribute blend.

    We’ve been struggling a lot with morale at my shop over the last six months, and I think some Tribute blend would at least brighten some people’s days.

    They’ve really killed our whole bean range over the last month, gotten rid of all of my favourites (Sidamo & Yirgacheffe), in preparation for the introduction of the blonde roast.

  • Melody

    Send me an email CardiffBarista! Melody at StarbucksMelody dot com.

  • Rich

    I would love to go to a Starbucks taste testing

  • Adel

    San Salvadoran barrista Carlos Aguire won the 1st, 2nd and 3rd world expresso prize at the same time as shown on you tube. Starbucks could learn a lot from him.

  • Sandra Trolinger

    Came home from work yesterday and saw hubby had purchased a bag of the Tribute Blend and asked him why he bought it since I am the primary coffee purchaser and he said they were offering free samples and he liked it so he bought a bag. I brewed a pot and while I do think it is better than last year’s batch which I did NOT like, it still is just too bland for a Sumatra inclusive roast. I will ALWAYS prefer the Christmas Blend and Christmas Blend Espresso since the aged Sumatra beans have a better overall flavor and darker roast.

    Any input on Starbucks debuting their new single serve espresso machines and Keurig’s stock dropping on the news being released?

  • Diele

    I haven’t heard anything about it. Do you have a link?

  • Diele

    Interesting! I wonder what these will retail for.

  • DadCooks

    Here are some links regarding the upcoming Verismo:

    A Starbucks promo page

    Financial Post article

    Forbes article

    When the Verismo was officially announced on 3/8/12 Starbucks stock rose and Green Mountain dropped.

    Keurig also debuted their new Vue single cup brewer (retail about $250), with Starbucks conspicuously absent from the coffee lineup.

    There is something happening here that could be bad. Starbucks may be getting ready to pull a Kraft on Green Mountain and Keurig. Starbucks silence regarding commitment to Green Mountain and Keurig while making an agreement with a competitor is something stockholders all around need to be wary of.

  • Pencil to Paper

    I am beyond excited about the return of Tribute blend! I love it. YUM.

  • purple1

    There is a promotion starting soon at my local SB wonder if it is regional or national- with the purchase of a pound of Tribute beans or Via you get a free tall coffee whether you have a SB card or not. Any other region have this? Beginning March 22.

  • denise r

    @purple: I haven’t noticed this Tribute promo yet but I am sure now that I really am not enjoying this yrs Tribute as much as last yr. Not as smoothe..? And, the store sales around here are showing that…. as well as what I’ve been told by some baristas and sms…’s not selling nearly as well and I would imagine that’s the reason for the coffee promo you referred to. I’ll check at my ‘place’ today and see if that promo is happening. (or, about to happen)
    I was really REALLY looking fwd to this yrs Tribute return, am very saddened I’m not liking it as much….. :(

  • Sandra Trolinger

    I did NOT like last year’s Tribute blend. I gave it away after brewing it at home and not liking it. My husband bought a bag after he tasted it in store and I brewed it and I like it MUCH better this year. I will be watching for the promo to buy a bag and get a free drink. :)

  • denise r

    @purple: yes, I found out today, the Tribute buy (w/ or w/out a card) is a national promo starting the 22nd, as you said. I was told by my store today that it is really almost not moving from their shelves. I know last yr by this time I had bought a few lbs for home and also a few that I sent as gifts. Everyone loved it. But, it’s not happening that way this yr. I realize, as Sandra T…wrote: if you didn’t like last yrs, maybe you are liking this yrs. I’m just not one of those people…..and I’m sure there’s some issue (not selling) nationwide or they wouldn’t be having the upcoming promo.

  • Sandra Trolinger

    To be honest, I think last year’s Tribute Blend moved simple BECAUSE it was supposed to be a ONE time 40th birthday event. To “bring it back” was simply a marketing move. It was simply not that good last year in my opinion and maybe this year’s slower sales reflect the buyer’s remorse. You can’t usually just return an opened bag of coffee because you didn’t like the flavor. (Ok, I have done it on occasion! LOL)

  • Diele

    The promo is coming up and it will be interesting to see if it helps move some coffee off our shelves(it will work for ALL whole bean varieties).

  • DadCooks

    @Sandra Trolinger — you have a point regarding the perceived uniqueness of the 2011 Tribute. I did buy more than usual due to the thought that Tribute would be a “one shot”.

    Amazingly, since Tribute 2012 was released it has been the dark brew most days and seems to be very popular with the regular dark brew drinkers and even the dedicated medium and blonde brew drinkers. Today my regular Starbucks was sampling a press of Tribute paired with the Chocolate Covered Cranberries. I thought it quite interesting the extra citrus notes that came out of the Tribute after eating one of the Chocolate Covered Cranberries. Several customers bought the cranberries, but no Tribute.

    Personally, I am not going to buy as much this year not because I don’t think that it measures up to 2011’s but because I am having to watch my bean budget. I can buy some very good locally roasted beans for 1/2 the price of the Starbucks dark beans that I like (Tribute, Sumatra, and Komodo, in that order).

  • Melody

    I have heard about the promo too – March 22 through March 25. It’ll be interesting to see if it moves the Tribute Blend.

    I agree with a lot of the comments above @DadCooks and @SandraTrollinger – Starbucks hasn’t really figured out the fine art of scarcity. It is so true that when an item is scarce, it’s value goes up. Remember the craze for the cold tumblers, and they were selling on ebay for very high prices? And then when they finally produced them in huge quantities, they moved so much slower. The white gold tumbler will become very valuable, assuming that the stores are not auto-shipped a million more of them. I get emails almost regularly looking for certain Starbucks collectibles – The things that are super scarce – like the 1987 to 1992 logo on ANY Starbucks item — are expensive.

    In any case, I do like this year’s Tribute Blend, and it’s great as a Tribute Blend Misto, but it’s missing the feeling of “just once and never again” to it now. And given that there have been a number of GREAT Reserve coffees (Harrar and Sidamo), I’m spending less on the large one pound non-Reserve offerings.

  • Sandra Trolinger

    My all time favorite Starbucks coffee is still Christmas Blend, Christmas Blend Espresso, Komodo Dragon, and Mexico Shade Grown Organic. The Komodo Dragon Blend I have referred MANY people to as I used to drink it when it was home delivery only and not available in stores. I practically CAMPAIGNED for it to be in stores when Starbucks stopped their bean delivery program and called countless times asking for it to be in stores. When it FINALLY arrived I had my husband buy BAGS of it as it was supposed to be seasonal. Later, they FINALLY made it available in all stores I was thrilled.
    I loved CB (Christmas Blend) in 2009 and even bought a bullet bag of it off ebay.
    When CBE (Christmas Blend Espresso) rolled out in 2010 I LOVED it better than CB.
    Last year the CBE and CB were sub par and I did NOT like the CBE enough to stockpile it. The store manager asked why I wasn’t buying bags of it and I told him it was NOT as good.
    The Shade Grown Organic Mexico Blend was so good and it became a favorite and I was buying a bag a week. Then suddenly they discontinue it and with no warning…UGH! I wish I had warning when Starbucks decided to quit making a blend. :(

  • denise r

    I “get” the scarcity” idea and all that. But, for me, I am pretty sure that’s not contributing to my ‘less-like’ of it. It is the taste.

  • Diele

    I wasn’t fond of it last year or this year. I personally liked Casi Cielo this year better than Tribute.

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