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Starbucks Drink Guide: Coffee
I'm a Starbucks barista who's very into sharing my knowledge with customers and new baristas. I've been working on a guide to cover the whole Starbucks menu. The first installment covers terms and can be found here. In the previous hub, I wrote about Smoothies.
Starbucks often updates its menu - whether we're featuring seasonal drinks, introducing new beverages or just trying to find a better way of organizing everything for the customers. Every store gets new menu boards for each promotional launch, which understandably can make it a bit tough to follow. To simplify, we can break the drinks down into five categories: espresso based beverages, teas, blended beverages, coffee and coffee-free beverages.
Each of these headings can subdivide down into even more categories, and they all offer great variety. However, at a glance, I'd say that 'coffee' would be the most diverse. On any day, Starbucks is featuring four different blends of hot coffee and a special blend of iced coffee - that's not to mention the variety of whole bean blends available for purchase.
For the sake of making my guides easy to navigate, I've decided to split my coffee discussion into two sections. In this part, I'll be addressing the coffee that's available to order ready-to-drink. In the next section, I'll talk a bit about the roasting process and what Starbucks has to offer in terms of whole bean coffees.
As I mentioned, Starbucks offers four varieties of hot coffee on any given day. The terms for these are blonde, medium, dark and decaf. Although it may seem a little contrary, I'd like to start by talking about the medium and decaf roasts, because these are always the same.
Every day in every Starbucks, you can get yourself a cup of Pike Place Roast or Decaf Pike Place Roast. This is ALWAYS the medium roast that's available. It's what we serve when someone asks plainly for a cup of coffee. It's definitely a popular blend, though in my experience, it's never been a barista favorite. It's by no means a bad cup of coffee, but it's very middle of the road and it is selected for its ability to appeal to a wide audience. It's often described as well-rounded.
The talking notes of Pike Place are that it has a 'smooth body and subtle flavors of cocoa and toasted nuts.' Compared to the other coffees that Starbucks offers, these flavors are VERY, VERY subtle. Still, if you find yourself attracted to blends that advertise hints of similar flavor, there's no reason you wouldn't enjoy a cup of Pike Place. Given that this roast is named after the place where Starbucks opened its first store (Seattle's Pike Place Market,) and that it's offered all of the time, I think you should feel perfectly safe ordering a cup of it. However, also knowing all of that, I'd absolutely recommend giving it a try in store before you go buying a pound of it to brew at home.
I don't have to say much about Decaf Pike Place. Because of the way the caffeine is removed from a coffee bean, any decaf brew will taste just a bit different than its regular counterpart, but to me, it's a very small difference. Starbucks only ever offers Pike Place as its decaf. If you order any kind of half-caf, keep in mind that Pike Place will be the decaf used to make up the difference.
Dark roast may sound like a new offering, but that's just because Starbucks recently changed their roasting spectrum. Instead of having mild, medium and bold brews, we now have blonde, medium and dark. You may also know the dark roast as the coffee of the day or as the bold brew, and these are also acceptable ways of ordering a cup. If you ask for the strongest cup of coffee, we'll present you with a dark roast.
It's hard to talk too in-depth about the dark roast because it changes from week to week. I can say that a dark coffee blend has been roasted longer than a medium or a blonde. The process leaves you tasting more of the roasted flavor and less of the actual flavor of the bean. That's not to say that every dark roast is like a french (intense and smoky,) but I find that they all have a decent degree of roasty flavor to them. I'll talk more about the different dark blends in a later hub, but for now, if you're curious, ask your barista! Even those of us who aren't coffee masters (yes, baristas can actually earn that title,) are given a couple of talking points about the dark roast we're currently offering.
Like the dark roast, the blonde roast changes from week to week. However, Starbucks currently only has two blonde roasts - Veranda and Willow. When blonde roast was first launch, we featured both of these on our daily brewing roster. However, Veranda has been the breakout star of the two, and that is the blonde we now brew every day.
Blonde may also be ordered as light or mild, but if you've been enjoying Starbucks' mild brews for years, you should know that Willow and Veranda are relatively new. They are the original blonde coffees, and those that were previously called mild now fall under the medium heading.
Blonde roast beans have been roasted the least amount of time and what you're tasting in a blonde is the clear flavor of the bean. Since there are only two at this end of the roast spectrum, I'll share the talking points with you. Like Pike, Veranda is said to have subtle hints of cocoa and toasted nuts. I find those notes much stronger than in Pike Place. Veranda has made it onto my favorite list - it's definitely got a lighter feel to it than any of the dark roasts, but I think it's a well-balanced cup of coffee.
Willow, on the other hand, is not a favorite of mine. It's described as bright and clean and keeping with the name, breezy and graceful. I've heard it often called mellow and smooth. It's a big hit and the only blonde also available in decaf, so don't let my dislike of it discourage you from giving it a try, especially if you're a fan of lighter roasts. For me, I pick up too much on the bitter notes in this coffee to really enjoy it. However, everyone tastes things differently.
If you can't stand Pike and don't like the blonde or dark roast that are being offered, but would still like a Starbucks cup of coffee, we can prepare something called a French Press. A French Press is a tool used for brewing coffee, and it's what we use in training to taste the different blends. It's often described as one of the purest ways to brew coffee - it really brings out all of the flavor. However, a French Press isn't the sort of thing to order if you're on your way to work in the morning. It takes a few minutes and does cost a bit more than ordering just a cup of coffee, but it's a pretty excellent choice if you've got your heart set on a specific brew and are planning on spending some time in the cafe. Any coffee that the store has in stock can be made into a French Press.
Pour Over Brew
Another brewing method I'd like to talk about is the Pour Over Brew. I'm sure that it varies from district to district, but in the stores I've worked in, we stop standardly brewing our blonde, dark and decaf roasts at about noon. From then on, you can still order a cup of something other than Pike, but we'll do it on pour over. This is just a different way of brewing coffee - it's a brew-by-the-cup method.
In the interest of offering our customers variety, we are happy to brew a cup of any of the roasts we carry in this method. It takes a little bit of prep time, because we only have our staple offerings ground and ready - the blonde, decaf and our current featured dark roast.
The pour over brew gets a bad wrap, but I learned from my store's resident coffee master that it's actually a better way of tasting the coffee than our standard brewing method. It does take a couple of minutes to brew each individual cup, but it's not much longer of a wait than a latte. The coffee will definitely taste different than if it were prepared using our standard method, but I encourage customers to give it a try. (In my book, it's better than settling for a cup of Pike if you're not a fan of Pike.)
It seems fitting to address the caffeine content of the different roasts of coffee. It's impossible to give an exact count of how much caffeine is in each cup because it's so variable, but I recently learned from our coffee master that the difference between the blends is incredibly minimal. It might seem logical to think that the dark roast would have more caffeine than the blonde, but that isn't true. The titles of blonde, medium and dark refer only to the roasting process and the flavors that elicits from the beans.
Although the difference is minimal, blonde roast does contain the most caffeine of all of our coffees. Our dark roasts contain the least.
Finally, let's talk about iced coffee. Some stores offer both decaf and regular, but it really depends on the demand. If a store doesn't prepare decaf iced coffee, it's a good bet that the barista will offer you a decaf iced Americano for the same price, because chances are that people don't order decaf iced coffee on even a daily basis.
Starbucks used to call their iced coffee blend Teraza. They haven't changed the blend, but we now just refer to it as our iced coffee blend. It's available for retail purchase now, which I think is great. We brew our iced coffee double strength to ensure it doesn't taste watered down - this is why we only offer one brew iced. You can get an iced Pike Place if your heart is set on it, but I don't encourage it, because there's a chance you'll end up with a very watered down product.
The iced coffee blend is a dark roast that is definitely bold in flavor. You can dress up your iced coffee however you'd like, though, which makes it just as popular as the hot coffee - at least in the summer. If you want something exceptionally sweet or milky, I'd recommend trying out a latte instead, though. Starbucks' iced coffee is definitely not for people who don't prefer the taste of coffee.
I hope you feel better informed about the coffees Starbucks serves! Keep an eye out for more coffee talk in later installments. Thanks so much for reading!