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June 2010

Espresso Roast, Crafted for Excellence

In my time at Starbucks I have lead dozens, and possibly hundreds, of coffee tastings. There have been quite a few celebrities that have come through here, and in most ways I eased into these cuppings with the instantly recognizable personalities.

My first tasting here at Starbucks corporate headquarters was one of the most stressful. I was a barista at the time and was asked to come in and lead a Roaster Event for Espresso Roast. That was pretty exciting and fairly easy. As a partner who had four years’ experience in our stores at the time, there was no coffee I knew better than Espresso Roast. I couldn’t be more prepared.

Two days before the event I got a call from Jason of the Coffee Engagement team asking if I was ready to lead the cupping. I answered easily “absolutely.” Then I was told that the other guests would bea famous Seattle restaurateur and the original creator of the blend, Dave Olsen. About 700 people showed up for the event!

I tossed out my original idea to talk about how much Espresso Roast means to the company with metaphors about heart, body and crema. Those are things every store partner knows, so in the end I just talked about the flavors we love – great caramelly, roasty sweetness.

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We’ve Blended a Free iTunes Summer Music Mix

Last month we put together a unique music playlist that played in stores for Frappuccino® Happy Hour. We carefully selected songs we thought were fun, upbeat and complementary to your customized Frappuccino® blended beverage. The response was overwhelming. And so, as a gift to our loyal Frappuccino® blended beverage fans, we’ve created this really cool digital music playlist to enjoy outside of our stores. The Frappuccino® Beverage Music Mix features artists such as Frightened Rabbit, Goldfrapp and Hot Chip. Guys, this is fun. Ten great songs, all for you, all for free on iTunes, all from your friends at Starbucks.

Check it out and enjoy! (Sorry, but we can offer this to U.S. and Canada customers only.)

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Great Decaf is Worth the Bother

I’ve sometimes heard decaffeinated coffee referred to as the “why bother?” coffee. I’ve never understood this comment.

Decaf coffees can lose their flavor during the decaffeination process. But a good decaf coffee should offer all the flavors and aromas one would expect from a regular cup of coffee. It takes the right bean to withstand the process to ensure the flavor and nuances of the coffee stays intact.

Our Decaf Sumatra goes through an innovative natural decaffeination process. Using carbon dioxide and ultra-pure water, we’re able to remove the caffeine in the shortest amount of time – leaving all the flavor and aroma intact. And the beans we use are perfect for maintaining the herbal, spicy, full-bodied flavor one would expect from a Sumatran coffee.

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What Summer Means to Me

Summertime: the time of long days, barbecues, fresh fruit and iced coffee – specifically, Gazebo Summer Blend™!

The first time I tasted this coffee was five years ago at Starbucks corporate headquarters in downtown Seattle. The coffee was served hot and paired with lemon bars. I thought, “Well, this is interesting,” and was prepared to move on to the next coffee. But the second tasting – that is what captivated me about this coffee.

The second tasting was served on ice, and the coffee was paired with a raspberry-lemon bar. The bar was homemade and, unfortunately, I never got the recipe. But with this pairing, the citrus and floral notes burst from the coffee and I was hooked.

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Zen and the Art of the Musical Mix

There’s nothing like the gift of a personal music mix. I’ve made mixes since I was in short pants and some odd three decades later, I’m still making them, personal ones and some as part of my job.

When making a personal mix, it helps to know your audience. Even if you don’t know someone’s exact taste in music, it helps to have a gist. A mix tape for your own listening pleasure is much different than the one you’re making for someone you’re just getting to know romantically or the one you intend for Mahatma Gandhi. For example, you shouldn’t automatically assume that Gandhi’s gonna be down with the generally leftist political bent of Rage Against The Machine. Though he might’ve agreed with their emphasis on social justice and equality, he still might have had a problem with the content of their song “Killing in the Name.”

In the same way, you might not want to put an AC/DC song on that Mother’s Day mix for your mom. Now, she may indeed be hip enough and have the same taste as a 13-year- old boy, but try a little harder to challenge the woman who birthed you in her listening endeavors (and failing that, simply have the Iron Man 2 soundtrack handy as a backup plan).

Making compilations for Starbucks also requires that one have the gist of what you all might be interested in, even if we take chances sometimes. Our Peggy Lee Come Rain or Come Shine opus collection was a big hit and our World Is India compilation was a modest hit. Potentially quite different audiences, both however featured a nice mixture of songs that we thought our customer might particularly enjoy and might not have heard before.

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Real Food Simply Delicious, One Year Later

June 29 is an important day for the food team at Starbucks – it’s the day we celebrate our one-year anniversary of “Real Food Simply Delicious”! RFSD means we removed all that unnecessary stuff from our food in our U.S. company-operated stores. So no matter what you are looking to eat – a breakfast sandwich or yummy apple fritter – you can feel good about the fact that it has no artificial flavors, artificial dyes, artificial trans fats or high-fructose corn syrup.

I sat down with Lisa B., our manager of food research and development, to get the inside scoop on how she and her team made it all happen!

Question: Why did Starbucks make these changes to our food recipes?
Answer: We wanted a new approach to Starbucks food – one that celebrates real ingredients and focuses on simpler recipes that make our food even more delicious. We baked and tasted hundreds of recipes in our test kitchen to improve the quality of our food and proudly serve it alongside our coffee.

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Kenya and the Mug of Authority

Kenya was the first Starbucks coffee I fell in love with – and it’s returned that love back to me. Because if it weren’t for Kenya, I might not have the job at Starbucks that I have right now.

The story begins in 1990. I’ve just graduated from college, and I need a job to support my very broke self while taking an internship at an advertising agency in Seattle. So I call on this small-but-growing (almost 100 stores!) coffeeshop called Starbucks.

As a newly-aproned barista, I learn that I don’t know squat about coffee. You mean coffee comes from different countries and has different flavors based on where it’s grown? Wow, who knew? But I’m eager to learn, so I try all our coffees to see what I taste.

And Kenya is the first coffee that makes me think Wow, I get it! Because it has this really pronounced jammy, grapefruity taste and wine-like body that totally stands out from other coffees. I’m able to nail it in a blind tasting, which impresses my manager, and so I become our store’s unofficial whole bean expert. I learn more and my love of coffee grows.

I’m at Starbucks for 15 months. I really like the place, but I’ve got an advertising career to get underway. So after my internship turns into a real job, I hang up my apron. But before I go, I buy a mug with our Kenya coffee stamp on it to remind me of my first love – and because it’s on clearance for 99 cents! (Hey, I’m still paying college loans!)

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Wishing for Happier Times on Blue Bayou

The catastrophic oil rupture in the Gulf of Mexico has again called attention to a ravaged region that’s still reeling from the impact of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina.

The horrid impact of the oil spill upon the region’s economy and ecosystem is inescapable. And, indeed, we shouldn’t avert our eyes – as much as we’d like to. But the word “environment” has multiple meanings. Beyond its ecological definition, it applies to the social and cultural forces that give a place its identity.

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Heatin’ Up with the Sounds of Summer

Summertime is the Beach Boys, the Ramones, reggae and R&B, whether it’s classic or contemporary. It isn’t northern Scandinavia joik, neo-classical chamber jazz or Tuvan throat singing. “Fun, Fun, Fun” and “Rockaway Beach”? Yes! Penderecki’s “Anaklasis for Strings & Percussion”? Not so much.

Granted, it’s not an exact science, but there’s something about tone and tempo that makes a particular song appropriate for hot days as ice tea and open windows.

Which brings us to our annual summertime CD. Known internally as the “BBQ Beat” project, it’s the ever-popular counterpart to our other solstice standby, the holiday compilation. (One of the oddities of these two discs is that, due to the length of time it takes to assemble the completed packages, the summertime set is completed when the weather is cool while the Christmas mix drags into the dog days.)

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From the Blue Mountains of Jamaica to Seattle

Coffee in barrels? You may have thought barrels are for wine and coffee always comes in burlap bags. But no – it turns out that world-famous Jamaica Blue Mountain® coffee also travels in wooden barrels, and we’re delighted to see some land in our cupping room.

Jamaica Blue Mountain® beans

Right from the moment we opened those barrels, we knew this coffee is something special. The beans are a beautiful, slightly blue-green color. In the cup, this coffee is balanced with soft sweet citrus notes and a classic creamy milk chocolate finish. To carry the Jamaica Blue Mountain® name, the coffee must be grown in one of the island’s Blue Mountain parishes at altitudes of up to 5,000 feet. It is processed under strict quality control guidelines set forth by the Jamaica Coffee Board.

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