The trend toward light-bodied, floral, fruity coffee has finally registered with the industry's corporate giants. Earlier this month, Starbucks Coffee announced a series of "blonde" roasts. With names like "Veranda" and "Willow," the new coffees come in shiny metallic packaging promising a "mellow, soft and subtle roast" best served "on a sunny day."
In the interest of staying current on all coffee, I sampled a scalding hot cup of Starbucks' Veranda Roast matched against the much darker Starbucks Medium Pike Place Roast and — for comparison's sake — Sightglass's Blue Boon blend.
Where the Blue Boon smelled something like a wispy bit of cotton candy infused with the slightest essence of berry, the Veranda Roast smelled like a tire fire that had been extinguished with a bucket of cat urine. The taste of the Veranda Roast was thin at first, almost watery, quickly followed by a stampede of charred, chemical flavor reminiscent of severely burned popcorn or a piece of grilled cheese that had lingered on a cast-iron skillet too long. In contrast, Sightglass's Blue Boon seemed downright ethereal, a cloud of ripe orange and cocoa that evaporated in to a soothing freshness. Paired against its "medium roast" cousin, the Veranda did seem lighter, but the lightness bore no additional subtlety.
Though it is refreshing to see Starbucks pushing in a different direction for its coffee — the packaging of the Veranda Roast instructs customers about using freshly ground beans and accurate measurement of beans and water — the blonde roast is a failure in terms of taste. Harsh, seemingly roasted alongside a bucket of cleaning chemical, the Veranda Roast does nothing to enlighten the palate, instead announcing itself with all the nuance of a nuclear weapon.