I somehow missed the newest Starbucks promotional blitz. It consisted of handing out free cups of their new Pike’s Place Roast at stores all across the country from 9 to 9:30 AM Pacific Time. They also handed out cards good for 1 free cup, each Wednesday for 8 weeks, and will be touring the country with special “tasting vans.” This is shaping up to be a major turf war with Starbucks expending serious effort to lure back former customers and create a whole new market for coffee. For junkies of The Wire, think Avon Barksdale trying to take back turf from Marlo Stanfield, with Marlo standing in for just about everyone else in the coffee industry (The Starbucks stands alone.)
Sucker that I am for free stuff, I meandered over to my local Starbucks around 3 PM thinking that I might be able to finagle a taste. The nice, or perhaps just super savvy, barista did me one better and gave me a full cup of the stuff with a wink and a nod, “Just this time.”
The logo on the cup fits into Starbuck’s newest plan to return to its roots. It features the brown, more revealing, seductive mermaid logo (naked and pulling her two tails up over her head?) used in the seventies up through the mid-eighties. It also includes the phrase “fresh roasted coffee.” I may have missed it, but I couldn’t find any references, either in the store or on the website, as to just how freshly roasted this coffee is compared to Starbuck’s ordinary coffee. I also noted repeated use of the phrases, “fresh scooped,” and “hand scooped.” Again, I’m not quite sure about the meaning of this phrase which seems more fitting for ice cream than coffee. I think they mean to say that there is actual human labor involved and that the process is not automated, but that’s only a guess. The one thing that did make sense and that should matter is that the coffee is freshly ground and made every 30 minutes.
Does all this matter? Well, you probably won’t be surprised to hear that there are no surprises here. I tasted mostly over-roasted coffee, but not as over-roasted as it could have been. When I squinted and thought about it very hard, I did detect faint traces of caramel and brown sugar peeking out from behind the char, but nothing to give the coffee anything remotely resembling complexity. It was drinkable, perhaps a bit more so than Starbuck’s usual lot, and gives me hope that I might find a semi-drinkable cup of coffee next time I find myself stuck in the Airport or somewhere in suburbia.
No this isn’t about the Slutbucks campaign as amusing (and inevitable) as that saga is. Since my original post, I’ve had two chances to re-visit my earlier review and have a couple of thoughts to add.
First, I had an opportunity to taste some PPR at home and included those results here.
Second, I’ve been thinking a lot about my original rating. Not that the coffee has improved, but I wanted to revisit whether I was being fair. Certainly this roast-centric coffee is drinkable enough; a “2” rather than a “2-” rating might be more in line with other coffees in its class. But I discovered recently that sealed the deal on the PPR’s ranking: it’s not available at all Starbucks locations – the Oakland Airport for instance still doesn’t haven’t and probably never will (although they do now re-brew every 30 minutes). What good is this new coffee pushed by a major global chain if it only has limited availability? I can certainly understand if this decision is tied to freshness, but from what I could tell, freshness didn’t matter that much and why doesn’t that rule apply to the rest of Starbucks coffee. The great marketeer has missed a golden opportunity. The one place where more demanding coffee drinkers like myself are finally captive to Starbucks and we can’t get the one coffee they’ve tried to market to us.