Coffee tasting: Starbucks Kape Vinta and Muan Jai coffees.

by Melody on February 16, 2013

Right now, StarbucksStore.com is offering some of the limited international coffees that are usually difficult to come by.  Currently, Muan Jai, Kape Vinta, and Puerto Rico  coffees are available at StarbucksStore.com.  (This article won’t talk about Puerto Rico blend.  I reviewed it previously.)

If you’re looking for these two coffees at StarbucksStore.com, here are the links:  Kape Vinta Blend and Muan Jai Blend.

Before I go any further, I want to explain briefly what I mean when I talked about the “Starbucks International Series” of coffee.   That’s not the official Starbucks name for them!  I just call them that because it seems to fit.  Starbucks offers special blends of coffee beans for certain countries.  The hallmark of these “Starbucks International” coffees is  that at least some of the beans, if not at all, are grown in the country where the coffee is exclusively sold.  In other words, if you were in a Starbucks in Brazil, you might find “Brasil” blend, which is a blend of beans grown and sourced from Brazil.  That coffee is usually only sold in Brazil.  It’s very rare that these coffees become available elsewhere.  If you were in China, you might find the South of the Clouds blend of coffee, which includes coffee beans grown in the Yunnan province of China.  South of the Clouds coffee is only sold in China.  I’m not sure of the exact number of the international series of coffees, but here are a few that I know about:

  • Brazil – Brasil Blend
  • China – South of the Clouds
  • Mexico – Mexico Blend
  • Puerto Rico – Puerto Rico Coffee
  • Philippines – Kape Vinta Blend
  • Thailand – Muan Jai

I bought Kape Vinta and Muan Jai from StarbucksStore.com, and ran to a nearby Starbucks to do a quick coffee tasting with a few of the store’s partners.  They were definitely game to make a couple of French presses and compare them.  Mark and Aaron at the Fourth and Union Starbucks tasted the coffees with me.

I have to admit, I thought the descriptions on the packaging left something to be desired.  Both Muan Jai and Kape Vinta are described to be “medium” coffees, and both are described as being “spicy.”  However, the Muan Jai also has the words “Bold & Spicy” on its packaging.  And in fact, both coffees are described as pairing well with cinnamon.

Muan Jai:

I have to say, the three of us all agreed that this coffee was noticeably bolder than the Kape Vinta.  This is a bold coffee, and there’s little about it that I would describe as “medium,”  despite that it’s been roasted to a medium roast profile.  Even the aroma had some distinctive black pepper notes.  This coffee was weighty in the mouth, and the flavors seem to hit in the center of the mouth.  One thing about the Muan Jai is that despite that it a complex and spicy coffee, it had a fairly soft mouth-feel.

If I had to do a second coffee tasting with Muan Jai, I think it would be super interesting to compare this coffee to Starbucks Komodo Dragon blend.  I can easily say that when compared side by side with Kape Vinta, it is the bolder of the two coffees.

While Muan Jai is described as pairing well with “cinnamon rice pudding,” I bet it would go nicely with savory foods too.

Kape Vinta:

The aroma of the Kape Vinta was spicy too.  I thought it was a bit like grabbing a variety of spices for a chicken dish.  To that, Mark responded that the aroma had “11 secret herbs and spices!“  I enjoyed this coffee a lot.

This coffee was round and complex in the mouth, and I thought I detected a very light juiciness or tang to it.  I definitely thought the coffee was a little sweeter when paired with the Starbucks reduced fat cinnamon swirl coffeecake.  That was a ho hum pairing.  I would like to experiment more with this coffee.  I was curious about how it would work with savory foods, so I bought a chicken Santa Fe panini and tried that with it.  This was pretty good, however by the time I tried the coffee with the panini, it had cooled down so drastically that I am not sure I got a good pairing experience.

In any case, both coffees were great to explore.  The Kape Vinta is much more squarely a medium coffee than the Muan Jai.

Let me know if you’ve tried these coffees and what you think.  You can order them now at StarbucksStore.com.  (And I’ve included below a few more pictures from our impromptu tasting.)

A big thank you to Aaron and Mark who prepped this impromptu coffee event!  The Fourth and Union Starbucks really has coffee-passionate partners there.  And I want to say a special congrats to Aaron who told me that he just successfully assessed for shift supervisor this week!  Nicely done my friend!

 

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Becky E February 16, 2013 at 6:32 am

Thank you for doing this one, Melody. Thanks to Aaron and Mark too. So great to be able to have an impromptu tasting done for you. I agree about the odd descriptions on the packaging. Just doesn’t really say much and makes the coffees sound a lot alike. I was curious as to whether they really are that much alike or not. I love the beautiful packaging. Thanks again, answered some questions for me and I’m anxious to try one or both myself.

purple1 February 16, 2013 at 7:29 am

How neat that you could go into a store and ask for a coffee tasting Melody. I just do not see that happening here. The designs on the packaging is quite nice. Thanks.

Chgo. February 16, 2013 at 7:39 am

When I saw both the Muan Jai and Kape Vinta for sale at the Starbucks Store awhile back, the first thing that came to mind after reading about the Muan Jai was Komodo Dragon! It would be interesting to compare the 2. Since this isn’t going to happen, as I expect to see neither sold at a bricks and mortar or Clover store, then I will probably never get the chance to try them together. I am however looking forward this months 2 new Reserves coming out next week. The Indonesian Coffees: West Java & Isla Flores.

Chgo. February 16, 2013 at 7:45 am

@purple1 – It is neat. Where I live, the only chance this would happen, is if I did it like Melody. I would have to buy it myself and bring it in the store. I would share! Unfortunately! If I brought it to any local store or the Clover location I frequent, they would rather not be bothered by me asking, so it would be just one big waste of time. I can’t find any partner who gets excited about anything more than a paycheck, even the good ones.

Nick Nelson February 16, 2013 at 7:49 am

Is there a policy strictly allowing/disallowing doing coffee tastes with starbucks beans brought in? Unlike Chgo, and I’m also in the Seattle/Tacoma area, I tend to get great reception at most starbucks I frequent….though the conversations always tend to start with the Metal SBUX card.

Melody February 16, 2013 at 8:15 am

@Chgo. and Nick – I have never had a problem bringing bags of Starbucks coffee to stores for a coffee tasting. I have definitely done this many times before. Though in every case, I have scoped out who is working because I have a sense of who is a fan of coffee tastings around me and who is not. I actually haven’t tried doing this at a store where the baristas don’t know me, and I have no idea if the baristas like coffee or not.

@Chgo – It makes me sad that the baristas near you wouldn’t get excited about doing this. By the way, 4th & Union is a Clover store, but because there’s no setting for these coffees on the Clover, the best way to do this is by French press.

purple1 February 16, 2013 at 8:24 am

Melody I really do have a sense that your ability to do a coffee tasting at a moment’s notice is due to partners knowing you and knowing you have the blog. I really have to again say I doubt I could convince a partner to do a tasting nor for that matter a SM. I find even asking for the basic things can be a chore.

Chgo. February 16, 2013 at 8:47 am

If it’s Iced Willow Decaf she wants, then going the French Pressed method would be a problem. I’m sure it could be done, but that seems like a long expensive process to deliver a Willow Decaf coffee iced.

Melody February 16, 2013 at 8:49 am

@Chgo – Since Willow is a core coffee, it has pre-programmed settings on the Clover. It can easily and quickly be done iced. It would be a problem at a non-Clover store.

Chgo. February 16, 2013 at 9:05 am

The pre-programmed setting for Willow Decaf does not work. It hasn’t worked at the PR store you visited with Denise, Streets of Woodfield or the new River Forest location. What you end up with in the final stage, is not the fine round grounds that resemble a hamburger or a puck. You get what resembles a melted shake with coffee grounds running all over. Which means some of the water is not coming out above the screen with the grounds. It is a mess Which means the Willow is not going to be properly made. The ratios and proportion of water to coffee is messed up.

The only way to amend it is to put it on another coffees pre-programmed setting. The pre-programmed setting for Willow Decaf is not the same as lets say PPR Decaf. So what your getting is no mess, but Willow Decaf made not to the Willows desired setting, but to something else. The end result, depending on what setting a barista chooses, is either a very week Willow or a very strong one. Either way, it doesn’t taste like Willow. I believe she should just abandon the Willow off the Clover since it doesn’t work right. If she isn’t going to be happy with the result, get something else. I think it’s that hard headed female genes! ;-)

Chgo. February 16, 2013 at 9:08 am

“Which means some of the water is not coming out above the screen….”
Typo: I meant to say the water is coming out above the screen – the complete opposite…

Melody February 16, 2013 at 4:19 pm

@Chgo – I know I have ordered decaf iced Willow from the Clover. It was fine! I am going to ask about that next time I have the chance.

Btw, today I went to a coffee event for a new Indonesia Reserve coffee which launches next week. Purple1 & Chgo, the experiences I have in Seattle are really what Seattle is like. I caught up with partners I hadn’t seen in a while, and I talked about this, and several of them were effusive about doing coffee tastings, and seriously love the opportunity to try something new on a press. I am sorry that your baristas would approach it as a “chore.” The coffee enthusiasm here in downtown Seattle is very real. It’s not about me and the blog. There are a few times the blog opens up doors, but around here it would be easy to find partners excited to try a new coffee – granted, you’d have to wait until the rush is over!

Chgo. February 16, 2013 at 5:05 pm

@Melody – Do tell how that tasting went – PLEASE???

It sounds like you tasted one and not both….. Opinion??? Or is that a topic to be discussed in the next blog subject? ;-)

Melody February 16, 2013 at 5:15 pm

@Chgo – It’s true, this coffee tasting only did one of the two new Reserve coffees. I have not tried the other yet. I’m still getting over a cold (though today I am finally doing much better) and so I had some trouble with the aroma. Just couldn’t smell well. One person thought it was an earthy aroma with a touch of cinnamon. The coffee was paired with See;s Butterscotch Chews –
http://reviews.sees.com/3973/265/reviews.htm

^ There is a See’s store in downtown Seattle, not far from this Starbucks. That was a perfect pairing. Butterscotch is the right flavor description. Even getting over a cold, I could tell that was a good pairing. And it will be a full blog article later, but not everyone reads these comments!

Chgo. February 16, 2013 at 5:34 pm

The Isla Flores is said to have maple and butterscotch flavor, so I am guessing that is the one you tried….. Get better soon!

Devin February 17, 2013 at 12:55 am

Wow, what a coincidence I just got my order of Muan Jai, Kape Vinta, West Java, Isla Flores, and Cameroon in from the Starbucks Store. I have done a tasting of the Kape Vinta in my store paired with both a Cinnamon Swirl Coffee Cake and a Gingerbread Biscotti. I definitely picked up the earthy and spicy notes from the coffee as well as a touch of acidity. Overall the Kape Vinta was well balanced and I would have to describe it as a medium version of Komodo Dragon.

As for finding stores or partners to do a coffee tasting with, the best advice I can give is to get to know your baristas. You can normally tell who is extremely passionate about coffee (normally those wearing the black apron is a give away) and just let them know that you got some coffee in and would love to do a tasting. That gives the partner the ability to find a time when they could dedicate time to do a proper tasting. I hope that helps!

Chgo. February 17, 2013 at 7:23 am

@Devin – The problem is that I do know all the baristas very well. I’ve come to the conclusion that the good ones are few and far between around here. They can’t have the passion for coffee when they don’t have passion for their job. They are all nice people, but that has nothing to do with passion. If I beg hard enough and get there very early, I might be lucky to get them to brew a New Reserve a day or two before it comes out. After all, they have all tasted it amongst themselves. Knowing I’m a Clover and Reserve drinker, I would like to try a specific coffee before I spend $3.50 – $5 on a grande that I may not like. Even if every partner in the store did a tasting amongst themselves, you can’t ask them to describe it to you. They need to read it off the card. Then you get a response like, “Yeah I tasted it, but it taste like coffee!” I don’t care if they do a true tasting or not where they pair it with something. I would be content with just trying it.

Since I don’t drink coffee at home, it makes no sense for me to buy my own and bring it to the store to have an unofficial tasting to share. The part that really bothers me, is that it’s not the lack of tastings that they do (at least with customers). It’s the fact that they don’t seem to care about the coffee at all. There are a lot of people running all over msi that are the same way.

Melody February 17, 2013 at 8:09 am

@Chgo – I think that one thing I hear saying (let me know if I’ve got this wrong) is that part of what’s happening is that your stores don’t do coffee tastings with customers, and partly as a result, there is no way to sample a new Reserve to know if you’ll like it. And that reminds me, there are always a milliion ideas on MSI about customers saying there should be more sampling going on in the stores – and that is true. It is not hard to brew a venti cup of a new Reserve, pour it into sample cups and then let customers try it. That there should be more sampling appears to be part of the message to get back to Starbucks.

purple1 February 17, 2013 at 8:54 am

Melody as I have said before there are so few samples at my local store and when they do have them it is hard to guess for sure why. Re coffee tastings- HA! Since my local store does not have a clover and it is not too big a space, these tastings are nonexistent. I am sure if the time allowed there might be a partner or two that would do a tasting but it would be hard for me to get them to agree.

Chgo. February 17, 2013 at 8:54 am

You are correct Melody! That is basically what I am saying. In all fairness…. I don’t drink coffee later in the day anymore. So I have no idea what goes on inside the stores between 4pm and closing, but I know some of the partners who will work an evening and close, then open the next morning. I know this because they tell me they are tired from closing last night, while stopping in on my way to work. I never hear about tastings with customers in the evenings. I may actually show up for one. I know they have tastings amongst the partners, so that they can convey how the Reserves taste when they come out. I have never heard one partner that bounces from shift to shift ever say to me that they were having a tasting in the evening if I wanted to try a New Reserve. A tasting before 2 or 3 pm? Not unless I can work some magic at 6am. On the couple of rare occasions where I was able to beg my way thru having them make something new to try, I know the other 2 or three customers waiting on their coffee appreciated trying the latest Reserve. It’s as if nobody knows that a tasting or at least a sampling is normal at some stores. I believe that every Reserve should at the very least be sampled at different times a day (maybe 2 or 3x a day) a day or two in advance of coming out. Or on the day they come out……

Nathan February 17, 2013 at 4:04 pm

I have not tried these coffees but would like to. Unfortunately they are not available on the Canadian Starbucks Store. Also, just so you know, the Mexico Blend has been discontinued.

Melody February 17, 2013 at 4:05 pm

@Nathan – Thank you for the good information. I didn’t know that the Mexico Blend had been discontinued. :(

Kaori February 17, 2013 at 7:00 pm

This article is great, I love that I always learn something new from your coffee tasting posts! Our new spring promo in Japan just started and Muan Jai is always sold during this season. I’m hoping to give it a try when it’s COD :D

kitenarie February 18, 2013 at 12:40 am

I’m almost more interested in the comments than the information about the tasting! The truth is that those coffees have flavor profiles that aren’t particularly my preference, so, good for tastings, but not especially for home brewing for me.

If this makes any sense, I both do and don’t understand the disconnect in terms of customer participation in coffee tastings. I deliberately try to host any coffee tastings that I perform right in the sight lines of customers as they walk in our store… pretty much so that you *have* to walk by to get to the register to place your order. When someone displays body language that indicates interest, I offer the opportunity to join us, and explain. I’ve really only had a few joiners, but I think that this will grow with time, especially now that I won’t be the only black apron in my store before long.

But I also know that there are partners in my store who feel like it’s just another part of the job. I love tasting coffee and I love talking about it, speculating what pairings might be better or worse, how a seasonal blend is different from previous years, etc, but not everyone shares that love and understanding that it can be FUN, if you let it. It’s become my little baby project in my store, to get more people excited about coffee again.

Ana February 18, 2013 at 5:53 am

i’m glad you enjoyed Kape Vinta! Part of the coffee is ethically sourced from the Philippines, so every bag you purchase helps our coffee farmers.
Good thing that the International offerings are available at starbucks store. You can finally enjoy these coffees without traveling a lot.

Organic Fair Trade Dave March 23, 2013 at 10:23 am

It’s been my experience that customers, and partners alike, do not want to appear ignorant, or worse yet stupid, about coffee which is why they pass on coffee tastings. I’m with you, I love conducting tastings. It’s the best part of the job for me. Are you your store’s Coffee Master?

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