Archive for March, 2010

Starbucks 8 Weeks of Bold Coffees

Week 2: Italian Roast

I picked up a tall cup of Italian Roast on my way to the office and for the short drive from Starbucks to work the car was filled with a fantastic aroma that transported me back to Italy, back to a late night café bar on Lido, a piazza in the early morning light in Firenze, yes, even a bustling auto-stop on the autostrada to Roma – and freshly brewed espresso at every turn. It was like being trapped in a box with the scent of Proust’s madeleine.

The flavor profile of Italian Roast is less complex than that of Yukon Blend, with fewer spicy and more sweet notes. It was smooth and easy, with an espresso-like aroma and aftertaste but none of espresso’s verve and swing. Starbucks calls it “sweet, smoky, intense,” and while I agree with sweet and agree to some extent with smoky, I didn’t get the same intensity from Italian Roast that I got from Yukon Blend. American coffee drinkers very rarely truck with tiny white espresso cups and Old World piazzas just don’t exist in this country by the very definition, so you’d have to call Italian Roast the American commuter’s answer to the Italian coffee culture that either drinks standing up in one gulp or lingers for hours in the café – it is a little bit of Italy for Americans on the move.

The aftertaste is what I would call “typical” for bold roasts. It was a little one-dimensional, and a tiny bit bitter. This is usually what has turned me away from bold roasts in the past, that sense of being stuck with “coffee breath” for the rest of the day; the medium roasts I usually drink don’t leave me with the same feeling. Maybe I should have paired it with something to eat, the way I usually pair my espresso at home with chocolate or hazelnut biscotti. Something was missing from the flavor profile that could have been complemented excellently even by the traditional, anise-scented biscotti that aren’t even among my favorite flavors.

If I want a little taste of Italy, a remembrance of things past, I don’t think I’ll be turning to Starbucks’s Italian Roast. Instead I’ll make my own Illy espresso at home, in my Bialetti stovetop espresso pot, and take my tiny white espresso cup and a hazelnut biscotto out to my porch on a morning when the sun is getting up slowly, or on a lazy, still-hot summer evening. And I will watch the world go by, the way I learned in Italy.

Next week: Saving the world with (Starbucks)RED East Africa blend, one cup at a time.


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Item 1: I love coffee. It is robust, flavorful, smells great, and sometimes I just cannot go a day without it.

Item 2: I’ve never really been a fan of intense, bold coffees. I like milk, I like sugar — I don’t like weak coffee, but I enjoy mild coffee.

So when Starbucks started its “8 Weeks of Bold Coffee” tour, it was really the last thing that piqued my interest. I am simply not a drinker of bold coffees. But as the week went on, and I brewed pot after pot of my usual, at-home coffee, I kept thinking about taking the opportunity that lay before me: Try 8 new coffees totally outside my norm, and if I kept up with each weekly challenge, earn a free pound of coffee. The more I thought about it, the more appealing it was. I wouldn’t have to buy a huge coffee, just the smallest size, once each week, and have the barista give me the weekly sticker on my coffee “passport.” I finally decided that if I didn’t try the first week, I’d be out for all 8, so what the heck. I can keep up, or not, if it turns out I hate every single offering.

Week 1: Organic Yukon Blend
“As the legend goes, back in 1971 the original owners of Starbucks crafted this blend for one of our customers – the captain of a fishing fleet who wanted to keep his crew happy in chilly sub-arctic seas.” Well, at the moment, it has been raining hard for about five days, there is a Nor’easter stalled just off the coast, and the sea just outside my home may not be sub-arctic, but it is cold out. So I am definitely in a place mentally to appreciate a coffee meant to fortify the drinker against crashing waves, frigid, ankle-deep waters, and leaky vessels – like the leaky bathroom roof. Organic Yukon Blend is “a hearty, bold, well-rounded coffee that laughs in the face of nature at its most rugged.” Perhaps this is why there is a silhouette of a huge bear on the package, not a fishing trawler being tossed on frigid waves, or a huge cold-water fish (or mammal…like a whale). Outside of one or two very small geographic areas, that image just wouldn’t be as evocative of a rugged, chortling-at-nature blend as a big ol’ bear up on its hind legs. People across the country “get” bears. People outside of the Northeast and Alaska probably don’t “get” sub-arctic seas and monsters of the deep. The big, brown, hulking bear is also an apt symbol for both the lushness of this blend (like a thick fur) and the fluid yet robust strength that lurks beneath.

Did I feel like laughing at nature when I drank Yukon Blend? Maybe…a little bit… It definitely warmed from the inside out, with subtle hints of cinnamon and dark chocolate in the aroma, which hit my nose and made me feel like smiling despite the wind, and the rain, and the sea spray trying to breach the road, and the freezing, ankle-deep puddles, and the two, yes two, leaks in the bathroom ceiling. It was a more intense blend than my usual day-to-day coffee choice, but I think that was good for me. I wouldn’t be able to chug two cups before noon, but the complex aroma and taste of this blend deserve a more leisurely appreciation.

Could I drink this every day? Maybe not every day, but occasionally, when it is cold, and wet, and my phone keeps ringing with coastal flood warning after coastal flood warning – days like we’ve been having in 5- and 6-day stretches for two or three weeks now – yes, I could definitely go for a cup of Yukon Blend.

Next week: La dolce vita with Italian Roast.

Edit: Tuesday AM. Right after I posted this Monday morning I went down to the basement to investigate a sound and discovered an inch of standing water. Excellent! I so could have used a cup of Yukon Blend right about then. As it was I was not in the mood to chortle at nature. We pumped twelve hours straight, got down to half an inch at 3:30 this AM, and at 7:30 this morning all that water was gone. We are left with a vague dampness and a couple of puddles. Wherever it came from, it went back.

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