Blonde Roast, By Starbucks: My Review

On the Coffee Snob scale from 1 to 10 (1 being lowest, 10 being highest), I am a 7.5.

I like good coffee. I grind it and brew it myself. I’ll French Press some motherfucking bean juice now and again, but I don’t get crazy about it. I don’t require my coffee to be run through the intestinal tract of a rare Sumatran rat-monkey, but if you try to serve me Keurig coffee in one of those little pre-configured K-Cups, I’ll break all your fingers with my back teeth.

(Further, do not ever ever ever never ever serve me decaf coffee. You might as well piss in my gas tank. THAT WAY LIES DEATH AND LASERS. Just a friendly warning!)

Like I said: 7.5 on the Coffee Snob scale.

And so we come to Starbucks.

I like Starbucks espresso drinks well enough. They do fine in a pinch, and make a serviceable latte or cappuccino. If I have no other option and I see the sign for that saucy tail-flipping Seattle mermaid, fuck it, I’m happy to get my fix from the S’bux without complaint.

But their coffee sucks balls.

It’s like drinking coffee brewed from a crushed up charcoal aquarium filter. It tastes like burned gorilla pubes. I drink a Starbucks roast — any roast at all — and I get that first hit of “oooh, coffee” followed by “all I taste is ash and carbon on the tongue, a finish of frizzled scorched briquettes. (They call it “Charbucks” for a reason, after all.)

They seem incapable of a light roast. And a light roast? It’s my favorite coffee. You gimme a nice winey, fruity Ethiopian peaberry and I’m in heaven — plus, a lighter roast has the benefit of having a wee smidgen more caffeine and goddamnit, I’ll take what I can get in the go-go-juice department. And yet, any time Starbucks offers a light roast, I get a cup and it still tastes like I’m licking an asbestos roof shingle that survived a house fire. I have to imagine that in the back of every Starbucks is some diligent pyromaniac asshole with a micro-torch hand-scorching every fucking coffee bean that comes into the place. “I just want to watch the world burn!”

So, it was with some trepidation that I embraced the quest to try Starbucks’ not-so-new “blonde roast.” They’d begun a campaign to push this coffee and all the advertising seemed to contain the subtext of, “We know our coffee tastes like driveway gravel, so here’s this one light roast that’s actually a light roast and just shut up and try it and stop complaining.”

Today, I went into Starbucks.

I ordered a “tall” (fuck you, Starbucks, and your asinine sizing chart) blonde roast.

Then I went grocery shopping and consumed it.

The too-long-didn’t-read?

Mmnnneeh? Muh? Eh? Mmm? Guh?

Like, okay, it’s fine. It is lighter than the traditional “the burned-out core of a supernova star” brew. But even behind that lighter roast still lurks that tang of unpleasant bitterness one associates with amateur hour bush league coffee. This is more of a dirty blonde coffee, or a blonde highlights but technically it’s still dark hair coffee. I’ll admit that the longer I drank it, the more… appealing it became, and by the end (when it had cooled down to luke-warm temps) I started to get those winey, acidy undertones I was hoping to get right from the get-go.

But, for the most part, still a mediocre brew.

Sorry, Starbucks.

Signed, Sort-of-a-Coffee Snob

49 comments

  • As the nearest Starbucks is about 70 miles away – I have no idea what you’re talking about!! (I live in the wilds of Snowdonia, North Wales, UK). Please don’t assume ‘they’ are everywhere…

  • Have you tried the Guatemala Antigua? I find it’s what a blonde actually should be. But I grew up drinking turkish coffee pour overs and spent too many years drinking “field” coffee. Also, be sure when you buy a bag of coffee, you check the date, just like you do milk. As far as getting it made in the store — have the baristas with the black aprons make it. The greenies are typically “good,” but if you’re pickier — get the master baristas to do it for you. Also, try the reserve brews when you’re in a store that carrys them. Very worth it.

    Also, compared to dunkin’ donuts coffee — starbucks kicks ass. Think about the coffee our parents drank Blech.

    Full disclosure: Starbucks is funding my writer’s life right now.

    • Actually, I’ll offer that I generally like Dunkin Donuts coffee — I don’t go out of the way for it, but for a “quick stop coffee,” it’s usually pretty good. Serviceable and not unpleasant when consumed black.

      — c.

  • I was laughing from “charcoal aquarium filter” all the way down to “dirty blonde”.
    Congratulations on being the only person to write something with the word “Starbucks” in it that doesn’t only not make me want to rip my hair out but is enormously entertaining to read.

  • Well, as a person living in DC, it is literally like in Shrek, where the giant gingerbread doll smashes a Starbucks, and a mob from inside runs screaming *across the street* into another Starbucks.

    Result: I drink a lot of Starbucks. I like them because I like the rewards program. I drink a ton of coffee. Also, my snobbery rating is maybe a 2.5. So I’m not even aware enough to know if what I’m drinking is bad. I don’t personally like the blonde. But that’s because I actually enjoy that crazy hard-core bold blend you hate so much.

    • @emily —

      S’bux isn’t BAD, per se — it’s just, well, really puzzling to me. Like, even their bold dark roast isn’t like I want bold dark to be — bold and dark still shouldn’t be BITTER, exactly. Not unpleasantly? And S’Bux is for me usually bitter. Like, not dark so much as “burned.”

      — c.

  • The fact that they sell a light roasted coffee by the roast rather than the origin is the giveaway. You get away with that with super dark roasts because the flavor of the actual coffee is gone: all you have left is the (admittedly delicious) flavor of the pyrolysis. It sounds like they’re blending it into mediocrity.

    I suspect that part of it is that lighter roasts ought to be brewed differently from darker roasts. I find that they benefit from a finer grind, and I have an inkling that hotter water might help, too.

  • I had the chance to work at Starbucks a few years ago. It sounded good- benefits, decent wage, nice environment, coffee. Then I considered the instant gut churn and colonic cannon effect their espresso sometimes gives me. I thought about who has to clean their bathrooms.

    Had to take a pass on that gig. Might as well work at Taco Bell or a methadone clinic.

  • I used to meet up with a group of people in a Starbucks (ostensibly, we knew each other because we were all interested in writing – in reality we just met up once a month & chatted about everything from Blake’s 7 to PotC slashfic). I always had hot chocolates. They were ok, but you had to be careful they didn’t start adding any of them syrups because then it just got sickly.

    A few months back we were driving down to Devon. Stopped at a motorway services for a cuppa. Discovered Starbucks’ “takeout” cups don’t stay attached to their lids very well. Wished we’d gone to Maccy D’s as at least they don’t try to scald you with cheap drinkware :-(

    In reality though, I live possibly only a few miles from your first commenter *waves hello from Powys* so really it’s rather a non-issue for me, and I’m happy when I find a supermarket stocking something they call “espresso coffee” which is actually an espresso grind, not just a dark roast…

  • It tastes like burned gorilla pubes.

    Somehow I feel compelled to wonder just HOW you know what gorilla pubes taste like–burned or otherwise.

    As for coffee, Starbux is good for frozen icy things. I am a chicory coffee drinker, New Orleans style, or a nice Vietnamese coffee. Or Cuban. Yeah. I live in the dark.

  • “Mmnnneeh? Muh? Eh? Mmm? Guh?” mediocre brew is a 7.5? You sure are generous. Can’t wait to see what a 3 would be.

    • No, I’m not rating the coffee a 7.5, I’m rating my Coffee Snobbery at a 7.5

      The coffee I’d rate at a… 4.5, maybe, or 5.5 if I’m feeling generous, with 10 being highest.

      — c.

  • Chuck, this is why I started roasting my own damn coffee. http://www.sweetmarias.com has become my new favorite web site. They sell green, unroasted coffee beans. All you need to roast them is a timer and an air-powered popcorn popper. I’m comnpletely serious. A couple of over-done batches to get your timing right and you’ll be making your own City roast in no time flat. Also, the smell of fresh-roasted coffee is A-freaking-mazing. Nothing like it in the whole world. The web site also has all the info you could ever need on how to roast, including many, many, MANY pages of detailed, 5-senses instructions. Highly recommended. And no, I’m not affiliated with them in any way. I just like good coffee.

  • For the record we do not have dedicated pyromaniacs in the back of each store roasting the beans. We have a shadowy cabal of twelve people hidden across the world who decide what coffee is supposed to taste like, and it seems they like it dark. How else can you explain French Roast?
    A few other notes of potential interest:
    Blond was designed to compete with Dunkin Donuts, hence why the ads are all about how it’s not like the rest of Starbucks coffee. They are desperate to convert customers. It isn’t working.
    The burn you are tasting is only partially caused by the roast itself (what the mighty Siren likes to call “European Style”) and is more often caused by apathetic baristas. I swear if I’m not working at my store they never pay attention and will gladly let it sit and burn. And my store is one of the good ones. Breaks my heart.

    Full disclosure, not only do I work at Starbucks, but I am actually finishing up some additional training to be a “coffee master”, which mostly seems to mean I will forever be frustrated by other employees not getting it.

    Oh and Chuck I will gladly work to change your assessment of coffee if you ever happen to be in Utah again. On the house.

    • Sparky, get that black apron. (shakes some green and black pom*poms). When I go in to a Starbucks, I look for who has the black apron and ask for them to make it. Because you get it. I also, hold the green aproned folks feet to the proverbial steam fire if they get it wrong. I’ve not been disappointed. But I also speak the Starbucks language, too. Anticipate. Connect. Personalize. Own. Chuck needs to make those serving him coffee own it.

  • “I ordered a “tall” (fuck you, Starbucks, and your asinine sizing chart) blonde roast.”

    Almost forgot: As much as I detest their sizing and made-up names, it does have a virtue. When I’m standing in a huge long line, I no longer have to listen to some asshole asking “how large is the small” or getting flustered upon asking for a “medium” of something that comes in two sizes and being asked to clarify by ounces, which is apparently like asking someone to do thirty pushups.

    It’s not without precedent, either. I still remember my first time going to a fast food joint in Japan, with the drink sizes listed (S) (M) (L). I ordered using the Japanese word for small, and the cashier looked at me, baffled. I pointed, and she looked at me, pitying, like I was the dumbest dumbfuck she’d ever met who couldn’t even order a Coke, and gently corrected me, “S” (the letter, I mean. Or rather “essu”, the Japanese pronunciation).

  • Well, yeah, OK. To each his own. I’m down with that. Personally, I like dark roast, the dark dark black gritty mud scraped from the bottom of a Mississippi gambling boat type stuff. Starbucks has their “Verona” blend which is super black and if you get it brewed on their new-fangled “the clover,” whatever the hell that is, it’s full of dust as if from a fine grit sand paper. It’s the high “citrus” fruity acid green bean stuff that to me is like dishwater. I miss what back in the olden days (the 1980s) used to be available in any crappy diner anywhere – basic cup o’ joe like the smog scraped off a hubcap – but it no longer exists because now it’s all triple soy skinny latte monkey tango bravo over. Time marches on. Fuck, I’m old enough that a story about my youth is now a fucking “period piece.”

  • I have never really been a coffee drinker. My normal morning drink is a really spicy chai. However, I have started enjoying Mocha’s and Cappuchino’s. I tell my wife that I’m still not a coffee drinker, but she now calls bullshit.

  • I’ll have to agree with you Chuck. The coffee they serve (regardless of the blend) does taste like someone burned dirty socks and added them for the color. I’ve learned to avoid the place unless I’m truly desperate.
    Try the French Market in New Orleans. The Cajuns really know how to brew a cuppa Joe. (Chicory, yum)

  • Yeah. I can’t stand Starbucks Coffee, and when I’m making a trip out to Pittsburgh to visit the family, that’s the only thing going on the Turnpike beyond the tar pit gas station coffee. I get a latte just to cut the vomit taste and I love a dark roast (preferrably Italian). Nothing beats whole beans and a grinder at home. Besides, then you don’t need to put pants on.

    And for size? I say give me the biggest vat of coffee you have. We have a big gulp for soda but not coffee. What the fuck is up with that?

  • I hadn’t thought about the distinction between the coffee and espresso drinks, but I guess that explains more about why some people dislike it so much. I’ve always liked Starbucks, but I always stick to the espresso drinks.

    Well, and the refreshers now. I think they should get a Nobel Peace Prize for the cool lime refresher. (You have to get the large, though, otherwise the flavors aren’t right.)

  • Wow. I didn’t know that light roasts have more caffeine than dark roasts! Why in the hell have I been drinking dilute roofing tar all these years? Next time I buy coffee, I’m definitely finding me some blond beans, but I don’t think I’ll be buying them at Starbucks :)

  • The trouble with Starbucks is they’re roasting giant batches for long-term storage. More delicately roasted coffee, when a roaster is paying attention to the roast (which can vary a lot based on the individual batches of beans and the conditions of the environment and position of the stars plus moon phase and proximity to Jupiter while you’re actually roasting the stuff) and working with a batch they can manage, is pretty volatile in the tasty-stuff and good-smelling-stuff departments. It doesn’t keep. It doesn’t ship to thousands of stores across the nation. Granted, other national chains somehow manage keep a little more of an even keel, rooting themselves in the ‘kinda bland but not horrifically offensive to the senses’ department. I don’t know their secret.

  • Starbucks tries to be Cuban roast, but it just tastes like pureed asphalt. In Tampa, you can find a few Cuban diners that roast their own beans in house, then mix it into Cafe con Leche – the finest coffee drink and writer’s crank north of Havana. If you’re in Tampa, the best breakfast ever can be found at La Teresita on Columbus.

    Since visiting Boston, Dunkin Doughnuts coffee has been my take out standard. I wrote my first book in a Dunkin Doughnuts and once that extra large hit my palate, I’d knock out 1000 words and still have half a cup left for my dreaded day job.

  • It is terrible. Scorched is the word I’d use too. Being a good Canuck lass, I must say, if you ever again in the True North, Tim Hortons is our answer to the S’bux. It’s (apparently) addictive and if you are from here, you MUST drink it or the shadow people from the gov’t find you and tickle your feet until you urinate. But I’m here to tell you the secret ingredient: Laxatives. Seriously, one cup and you will MOVE, Baby. It’s a Canadian thing. We like a clean colon. We find it polite.

  • I like dark roast. Some people talk about how nasty Starbucks coffee tastes and I have to wholeheartedly agree. It’s like they don’t know the difference between smokey, earthy, goodness, and burnt beyond fucking recognition with that back flavour of roasted skunk anuses dipped in Satan’s ass. This is why I don’t buy Starbucks.

  • Starbucks tried to come to Australia but it didn’t work out for them. Australia seems to have a higher ratio of coffee snobs than elsewhere, so we’ll go out of our way for a good coffee.

  • Hilarious…I am concerned though that you appear to know what burnt Gorilla pubes taste like, but hey, whatever floats your boat. I am going to shamelessly plug my blog off the back of yours because I wrote about Starbucks a little while ago, and although I don’t know what burnt Gorilla pubes taste like I would imagine it would be something like Starbucks.

    There are also some reviews there for Costa Coffee and Nero, which for American’s are other coffee chains here in the UK. Cheers for the laugh.

    http://beansahoy.wordpress.com/2012/11/15/the-battle-of-the-big-boys/

  • Rest assured that if you ever visit me in my flat to kick my ass into writing more, I’ll hide the Keurig and buy a french press. Just for you. JUST FOR YOU. That said, the K-cups are okay in a pinch for single-serving coffee; I rarely drink an entire pot all by myself and I tend to be up at radically different times from the missus.

    Also, as mentioned above, Tim Horton’s is the bomb and your coffee snob taste buds are Hiroshima.

    If french pressing is good for single servings, I will have to check that out.

  • I like my French press, but they’re a pain to keep clean, so I often use single-serve drip brew for my morning cup. (If you don’t keep it clean, the coffee oils cling to the mesh and the glass and turn rancid. That’s true of any coffee-making equipment, though)

  • As someone who owned/operated a coffee shop in a suburban Chicago Metra train station, offering quality joe was important to me. I was impressed with Seattle’s Best which was a “higher end” coffee that couldn’t be found everywhere. I offered 4 different types: Seattle’s Best (regular roast), Henry’s Blend (darker roast), Seattle’s Best Decaf and a flavored java which changed every day of the week. Water quality, filtration and keeping the equipment clean all modify flavor. And yes, Seattle’s Best is now owned by Starbucks so let’s not go there. There is one thing I can attest to – everyone has their favorite perk and you can’t convince them otherwise. You couldn’t get a guy to unclench his Dunkin to try something new and you can’t convince someone to find a new go-to when they prefer the motor oil they brew at home. Tastes change though. I couldn’t stand strong coffee but now I seek it out. Don’t listen to us. Find your own beloved brew. Stick with what you like cause trial and error will cost you bucks. As for Steam’n Joe Junction (the name of my cafe), I closed it after a few years. Seemed the homeless people preferred to use my place of business for their “place of business.” Mix that with all the other “personalities” that are drawn to a train station, there was enough material for a book…and I still kick myself in the papoose for not writing it all down when I had the chance. For example, a customer to yours truly, “What do you do when your wife wants to leave you and you want to go home and kill her?”

  • You, sir, managed to sum up my views on Starbucks nicely! …and I even like the roasted-to-a-crisp style of coffee, normally. Not their kind, though. Sadly, the chain is starting to establish itself here in Sweden now, but I have yet to try a cup from them. These days I just stick to espresso if I need caffeine from a coffee shop. Less hassle, less gambling.

  • Tim Horton’s, like a lot of fast food coffees are made for the masses. I buy Tim Horton’s when there’s absolutely no way I can grind and brew my own or get Crimson Cup coffees. They’re too weak. They’re made weak for taste buds not mine. Most fast food coffees (this includes TH’s) is an insult to my taste buds because they don’t use the right amount of grounds. However, TH’s is better than most other brands. But still, if water, creamer, and sugar are the first things I taste, in that order, then it’s not brewed right.

  • When it first came here to Saudi they were giving a bag away free with any other bag you bought so I tried it and thought it was okay. I bought some yesterday to make in my aeropress over my usual house blend (blonde cost more) I wish I did not buy it bc I do not remember it tasting so funky before and I have felt sick since I had not sure why its a lighter roast.

  • The sad truth is that Starbucks NEEDS to roast their coffee to a char. coffee is an extremely delicate agricultural product. Every roaster/sourcer will tell you that no single coffee is sustainable forever due to many climate/economical conditions. Because Starbucks cannot ensure consistancy of any single origin or blended coffee over many mannny years -they are forced to push the roast to a point where the indescrepincies between batches is blurred, and the actual roast itself becomes the dominating flavor.The roast is the only thing they have complete control over and they utilize it to ensure consistancy.

  • I grew up drinking real, home made Turkish coffee, so that’s pretty much the only coffee that I drink on any regular basis. But I really don’t get why so many people get upset over coffee. I can’t tell the difference between the roasts or the different origins. It’s funny how people get so upset over something so meaningless.

  • Good Starbucks Blend! However, not all Starbucks location brew it well. Some are just too watery! If you know a Starbucks location that brews Blonde Coffee consistently Good or Bad, please let me know at this blog site: starbucksblondecoffee.blogspot­.com 

  • July 22, 2014 at 11:11 AM // Reply

    This review is hilarious. I drink the Starbucks blonde roast because I have a naive palate and most days it tastes pretty good. I also don’t know where else to get a blonde coffee.

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