The trend towards light bodied, floral and fruity coffee has finally registered with the industry's corporate giants. Just last week Starbucks Coffee announced a series of roasts defined as "Blonde". With names like Veranda and Willow, the shiny metallic packaging promises a "mellow, soft and subtle roast" best served "on a sunny day."
In the interest of staying current on all of coffee, we sampled a scalding hot cup of Starbucks new Veranda Roast matched against the much darker Starbucks Medium Pike Place Roast and -- for comparison's sake -- Sightglass' house Blue Boon blend.
Where the Sightglass 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 has been extinguished with a bucket full of cat urine.
The taste of the Veranda Roast was thin at first, almost watery -- perhaps that is the promised lightness. But that's quickly followed by a stampede of charred, chemical flavor reminiscent of severely burned popcorn or a piece of grilled cheese that has lingered on the cast iron skillet for too long. In contrast, Sightglass's Blue Boon seemed downright ethereal, a cloud of ripe orange and cocoa that evaporated in to a soothing, almost cooling freshness.
Almost an hour after tasting the Veranda Roast, a harsh, acidic bubble of flavor still pooled at the back of the tongue, begging to be cleansed with strong liquor or a fire hose. Paired against its Medium Roast cousin, the Pike Place Roast, the Veranda Roast does seem slightly lighter, but the lightness bears no additional subtlety, as if Starbucks wanted to approximate the general idea of a less toasty roast, but failed to bring any of its flavor attributes along with it.
Though it is refreshing to see Starbucks pushing in a different direction for its coffee (the packaging of the Veranda Roast instructs customers about fresh grinding the coffee and using an accurate measurement of bean and water), the Blonde Roast is an abject 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.