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A Tribute to 40 Years of Coffee with You

It was around this time last year that Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz met with our team to discuss a special coffee for our 40th anniversary. He challenged us to create a blend unlike anything we have ever offered. Make it unique. Make it speak to our heritage. Make it encapsulate everything we stand for. And make it speak to the next 40 years and all that is yet to come.

We walked out of his office a little afraid … and very, very excited to get to work. We started at once. We gathered just about every kind of coffee we’ve ever roasted, from every corner of the globe. Nothing was off the table – and I mean that literally. Our tables were jam-packed with potential components for our yet-to-be-named celebration blend. Coffees from all three of the growing regions: Latin America, Africa/Arabia, and Asia/Pacific. We had sun-dried coffees, semi-washed and washed coffees. Myriad places and flavors from which to choose. Where to begin?

We began playing with many different components, blending them together, a little of this and a little of that. Before we knew it we had some 30 different blends put together in our tasting room. Some of these blends were really quite good and some not as much. But of the blends that we liked, we just didn’t feel there was “the one” – a blend that was worthy of marking 40 years with you.

We took a step back. We thought about what we’ve done over the years that truly speak to our heritage. Then Dub, our senior vice president of coffee, had a great idea.

“Two things we are known for,” he said, “are Aged Sumatra and sun-dried Ethiopian coffees.” And he was right. Aged Sumatra is the cornerstone of two of our most popular offerings, Christmas Blend and Anniversary Blend. And some of the most respected coffees in our past have been the sun-dried Ethiopian coffees from Harrar and Sidamo. He suggested we go with those two coffees as a starting point. It turned out he was onto something.

We’d never tried these two coffees together in the same cup before. When used in a blend, both of their flavor profiles are so powerful that they tend to be the dominant flavor. So to have both at once would take some work on the part of the other blend components.

We looked at all the possibilities. We knew we needed coffees that would fill the spaces between the powerful, spicy notes of the Aged Sumatra and the bold, cherry notes of the Sun-Dried Ethiopia. After many concoctions, we came across two coffees with promise: Colombia and Papua New Guinea. These two coffees added the brighter top notes we were looking for to bring all the flavors together. We were excited. Starbucks Tribute Blend™ was born. Or at least we thought it was.

When we create new blends, we start with small samples roasted on the tiny roasters in our tasting room. After we land on the blend components, we test the blends in our larger-scale roasters used for production. Each of the coffees in our lineup goes through this process so we can be sure to find the specific roast for the specific flavors we want.

So when we did the initial large-scale test roasts for Starbucks Tribute Blend™ we found that the lighter-roasted batches highlighted too much of the Sun-Dried Ethiopia flavor, leaving the Aged Sumatra component as an under-developed afterthought. And the darker roasts brought the spicy-cedary characteristics of the Aged Sumatra too much to the forefront, burying the Ethiopian flavors. What to do?

Some of the blends in our lineup are post-roast blends, meaning that they are blended after roasting to bring out the specific flavor characteristics. So, with not much time to spare, we found that by roasting the Sun-Dried Ethiopia separately and slightly lighter than the other three components, we could hit all of the flavor markers we wanted. The result is the Starbucks Tribute Blend™ you will soon have in your cup. It’s in stores on March 8, but you can order it early in whole bean or Starbucks VIA® Ready Brew.

We’re very excited to share this special coffee with you. Here’s to the last 40 years spent in our stores, in your homes, and in all of our communities – and to the next 40 years together. Cheers.

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