Weekly Kitsch: Starbucks Blonde Roast

by TylerJ

“I have so many cookies,” she told Gary, who was washing his hands fastidiously at the kitchen sink. “I have a pear that I can slice, and some of that dark coffee that you kids like.” – Franzen, The Corrections


It was a cold day. The first official day of winter had long since passed, but this was the first actual day of winter. People who live in the Midwest know what I’m talking about. It’s the kind of cold that causes the body to clench any and all available muscles. Only the heavy layers of clothing–and shame–keep me from rolling up into a ball.

Anyway, it was cold and I needed coffee. I’m not entirely sure when I first heard about the new blonde roast coffee at Starbucks (or, The Blonde, as I’ll be calling it). It might have been a television ad; a newspaper article; or maybe a tweet. Regardless, I can only assume it was the result of some sort of Gladwellian there-but-not-there marketing innovation.

Epistemic concerns notwithstanding, I was curious to try it.

For those who don’t know, The Blonde is Starbucks’ new light roast coffee created, I gather, to fill in the final blind spot in the Starbucks coffee taxonomy: our parents. A blogger for Starbucks explains this taxonomy thusly:

While I love to explore our different coffees, I tend to stick to a balanced cup, like Pike Place Roast. My husband, on the other hand, loves the darkest of dark roasts – the bolder the better. And then there’s my dad, who, while he treasures his morning coffee, typically finds some of our coffees a little too dark for his tastes.

She likes to dabble, but prefers the balanced dependability of a medium roast. He tends toward the “darkest of dark roasts” because it’s the one thrill left in his otherwise tedious existence. Dad finds these sorts of distinctions needlessly complicated and it causes him to become nostalgic for a time when coffee was just coffee. Like the latest Wilco album, it’s light enough to keep dad happy, yet cool enough for his daughter to buy. Everyone wins.

Starbucks describes The Blonde as “subtle, mellow, lighter-bodied, full of flavor, and delicious.” The two initial blonde roast options are “Veranda Blend” and “Willow Blend” and each is to be served “on a sunny day.”

As I walked into my local Starbucks, I had to wait a good four minutes for the fog on my glasses to dissipate. 70 degree temperature differences tend to do that. The Starbucks scene slowly came into focus. College students, all checking gMail. A newspaperman on the phone with cityhall. An insurance agent cold-calling potential customers. A tableful of empty-nester housewives, all dressed in yoga pants and Reeboks. High schoolers sucking gray-brown dregs through giant green straws. In the corner a man mutters to himself about how rude people are. Outside a homeless paces back and forth looking for cigarette butts.

It wasn’t until I was in the middle of placing my order that the semantic concerns w/r/t ordering a “tall blonde” had dawned on me. I’m almost positive the barista witnessed my moment of recognition of the easy pun. For a brief moment as I stood staring at the Tazo tea packets stacked nicely about ten feet behind the barista, the absurdity of the cashier/customer dialectic was laid bare. Realizing this, I fell back upon my years of purchasing training and quickly handed money over and said “thank you.” It was sometime between me thrusting my hand forward and me saying “thank you” that the barista’s smile turned back into her familiar, emotionless smirk.

But at least I had my coffee. My particular blonde roast was the “Veranda blend,” which a nearby poster explained as having “delicate notes of soft cocoa and lightly toasted nuts” and suggested pairing it with chocolate and nuts. Seems awfully redundant, but I know admittedly very little about these things.

So is it any good?

In a word: I guess. My first sip of The Blonde was surprisingly good, albeit scoldingly hot. However, as it quickly cooled it became apparent that The Blonde is really just a gussied up version of a cup of coffee from Dunkin Donuts or McDonald’s. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. In a lot of ways, Starbucks has come full circle. After making a name for itself with espresso and dark roast coffee, Starbucks is now offering the coffee it initially set out to subvert: the coffee of our grandfathers.