Starbucks new Blonde Roast coffees are lighter and brighter than any blends that the coffee chain has offered before, designed to appeal to customers looking for a simpler and friendlier cup of coffee. This is a move that other coffee makers, like Peet’s, are taking to appeal to other segments of coffee drinkers, as well. The Blonde Roasts include Veranda and Willow (also available in decaf), and I gave the Veranda a try at a recent coffee tasting. The Veranda is a very mild, bright coffee with a very clean finish. It is mildly acidic, and the flavor does not linger in your mouth once you’ve sipped it. It has a pleasantly grassy flavor to it, but it is not a particularly complex cup of coffee – although I will note that it is much more sweet and refined than your average “mild” coffee from a neighborhood diner.
The Veranda seems formulated do brew best in a drip coffee maker. I was also able to get a cup of it brewed from the Clover, which greatly improved it. The Clover-brewed Veranda was less grassy, much more full bodied and and a longer, more flavorful finish to it. The fullness imparted to the coffee by the Clover made it taste quite like Pike Place, although drip-brewed Pike was a bit more acidic than the Clover-brewed Veranda.
Long story short: this is a mild coffee that is great for drinkers who don’t love a strong coffee flavor (you know who you are!). It is not going to be your favorite if you, like me, prefer Sumatran coffees and other dark roasts. It’s a fine all purpose drip coffee, but get it from a Clover if you can.
Peet’s isn’t the only coffee company to introduce a new light roast in an effort to appeal to an even broader customer base. Starbucks has also jumped on the light roast bandwagon with a new category of light roast coffees: Blonde roasts. There are two coffee blends in this lineup – Veranda and Willow (also available in decaf) – and both are blends of South American beans. They have slightly different flavor profiles, but both are very lightly roasted and aim to produce a bright, mild coffee with a very clean finish.
I was able to attend a coffee tasting at a local LA Starbucks to compare the new Veranda Blonde roast to the medium (formerly known as mild) Pike Place and dark Fair Trade Italian roasts. No surprise: the Blonde roast was much, much milder than the other two, but it was great to have them side by side. Pike Place is a pretty mild coffee, and it seemed much more full-bodied compared to the Blonde Veranda. I personally prefer bolder coffees, though several of the other tasters at the event loved the lighter Blonde coffee.
Spicy gingerbread lattes are a coffee shop favorite around the holidays. Most are made with a gingerbread-flavored syrup, but I find that you don’t get quite as good results as you do at the coffee shop even when you use the same brand of syrup at home. I prefer to make my Homemade Gingerbread Lattes using ingredients that are actually found in real gingerbread instead of some artificially flavored syrup. The results are more gingerbread-y and much tastier.
This gingerbread latte starts, of course, with strongly brewed coffee. You can use espresso if you have an espresso machine. I lightly sweeten the coffee and stir in molasses, along with a pinch of cinnamon, cloves, ginger and nutmeg. Go easy on the spices, as in a small cup of coffee they will add a lot of aroma and flavor. Top off the coffee with hot or steamed milk, as well as some whipped cream, and you’re ready to serve. The drink can be sweetened to taste or with more molasses, for a stronger flavor, but it is definitely a holiday in a mug.
I love a good single-origin coffee, whether from a specific region or a specific plantation, that has been roasted to bring out the very best qualities of that coffee. I’m not going to base my coffee choice on how dark or light the roast is as long as I know that the flavor of the beans has been taken into account and allowed to shine. I have noticed, over the past couple of years, that there has been a real trend for people to think that a darker roast = higher quality when it comes to coffee. I’ve had plenty of seriously over-roasted “gourmet” coffees that just about burned all the real flavor out of their beans.
On the flip side of this coin, I’ve also met many people who won’t touch any dark roast with a 10 foot pole because they believe that they will always been far to strong to taste good (hence why Peet’s and Starbucks are marketing new lighter roasts).
The reality is that a dark roast alone isn’t the mark of a high quality coffee, and it also isn’t the mark of a coffee that is going to make your spoon stand up in it. You can generalize that Indonesian coffees often work best with a dark roast and many Central American coffees work beautifully with a light roast. In the end, coffee should be roasted to bring out the best flavor profile of the beans, whether they’re a unique single-origin coffee or a blend of a variety of beans. As more coffee roasters take the time to promote this fact, more people are going to open up and try new coffees outside of their comfort zone – dark or light – and learn that the color of the coffee bean matters, but only if the color is the best fit for that particular bean.