Late to the Party: Starbucks Pikes Place Roast - Thoughts

Okay, so I like the fact that their stores have taken on a new "Coffee-centric" appearance. I like the fact that the big bags of this blend have a roast date. The signature on the bag is for God knows what, and it doesn't do a thing for me.

All of the huge bags I saw of this stuff (is it just me, or does their 5lb. bag look 1/3 larger than most others?) had a roast date of April 11th. Today is the 23rd, so the coffee should be reasonably fresh.

Initial taste was carbon, wood, earth, and a little bit of an intense sweetness that I couldn't quite place.

We kept hitting the short cup time and time again trying to place it. Trying to figure out where this coffee came from, and what exactly they screwed up. (this is subjective, of course, and it must be stated that I am calibrated primarily to light and/or medium roasts)

The carbon taste. Obviously, the roast level is much darker than I care for. This flavor dominated.

The sweetness was present, but fleeting. It seemed that it lasted for only two seconds before it vanished and the dark roastiness was all that remained.

I've often found that adding just a little sugar can help inherent flavors to find a spring-board and make themselves known. So.. back to the condiment bar we went (the coffee and I). Just a little bit of sugar, mix it in.

Okay, now for more tasting. A little sweeter, but there's now a bit of a mustiness. I couldn't help but think that it reminded me of post-crop green. I don't know why. This doesn't make sense considering the volume that Starbucks goes through. I wouldn't think they would even have the time to hold onto green coffee for long enough for that to be a factor, but maybe I'm wrong, or maybe this batch was just really badly stored somewhere along the way. Or maybe the reposa period was poorly executed. Whatever the reason, the green tasted to be of sub-standard quality, and I know it's not because Starbucks likes to buy bad green.

After deciding to let the cup cool for awhile (this, after having added the sugar), we taste again. Two distinct fruit flavors. Banana. Peach.

Of course, the carbon was still there from the scorched bean, and sure, the starchiness effect from the banana tells me that the coffee was internally underdeveloped. (i.e. - roasted too quickly) But this coffee had potential.

There are times when I think I understand the Starbucks method of doing things, but there are other times, such as this one, when I really don't understand at all how roasting a what could have otherwise been a really good coffee in such a way that destroys the quality cup characteristics.

Pike Place Roast is far from "the best cup of coffee I'll ever have had", as I have better on an almost daily basis. Best cup of coffee? Far from it. It benefits well from a healthy dose of half & half and sugar. For the average drip drinker, that's a good quality to have. For me, it falls short, yet again, of what could have been a great tool for educating consumers.

It's a marketing gimmick, and nothing more.

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Comment by Jason Haeger on April 27, 2008 at 10:46am
The bags I saw were dated at less than two weeks at the time of visit.
Comment by Swag Valance on April 26, 2008 at 10:52pm
OMG! Starbucks serves *coffee*?!?!? Call Mike Wallace!
Comment by Brendon Parsons on April 24, 2008 at 1:41pm
An 8-min run to 1st crack sure would explain the overabundant pitting and cracking of the beans. On my home roaster, I typically reach 1st crack around 11-13 minutes, depending on bean density and roast profile. If I'm not mistaken, the first 5 minutes of roasting should be at moderate heat to evenly dehydrate the bean, then drive up the heat to drive the roast chemistry. I frankly don't know how they can do all of that in 8 minutes. The ashy flavor of Pike Place Roast is suggestive of over-roasted Brazilians.
Comment by Jason Haeger on April 23, 2008 at 8:43pm
Oh, please don't get me wrong. I have much to say in the way of Starbucks glorification, but roast profiling definitely isn't one of them.
Comment by Shawn on April 23, 2008 at 8:41pm
As a Starbucks manager for 3 years I often times defended Starbucks' roasting profiles and did little to educate myself outside of reading the company materials. Now, as an independent roaster-apprentice, one difference I quickly picked up on was how quick Starbucks reaches the 1st crack (around 8 min. in the manuals and recently confirmed on Starbucks' PPR webpage).

As I understand the roasting process, a great deal of flavor development occurs before the 1st crack and the 8 min. mark seems to cut that development short. I imagine that the flame and heat generated to roast Starbucks-sized batches to 1st crack at 8 min. are too high for many beans to handle.

*For reference, I roast 15-20 lb batches on a San Fransiscan and approach the 1st crack at around 10 min, 30 sec.
Comment by Ben Salinas on April 23, 2008 at 8:35pm
One of the shops in Boston (which also has a Clover) had stuff that was roasted March 17th or so, when I was walking by the shop a few days ago.

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