Tasting Coffee in Starbucks Headquarters

Posted: March 21, 2014 by jennroig in Chronicles, English, Travels
Tags: , , ,

Starbucks-logoOnce I left Cuba, I have basically found a Starbucks every place I’ve visited. No wonder, the company has more than 20.000 retail stores in over 60 countries.

Whenever I’m in an airport, it’s a relief to find the familiar logo. I’m not saying they sell the best coffee in the world, because there’s no better coffee like the one my mom makes at home, but there must be something about that human thing of finding something you already know. It feels safe, I guess. So, I have developed a preference for Starbucks cappuccino, basically because there’s no way to go wrong with that choice.

(c) Bertie J D'Souza

(c) Bertie J D’Souza

I was recently in Seattle, where Starbucks headquarters is located. I along a group of other journalists got to visit the building and had a guided tour, that included the nice surprise of participating in a coffee tasting.

Our tour guide was Major Cohen, an all-star Starbucks associate who used to be a teacher in Boston, thus his great people skills and ability to explain some things as complex as coffee crops, harvest, roasting, blending and tasting in such easy way.

(c) jennroig

(c) jennroig

My great-grandma had a farm where my mom used to take me a lot when I was a child. There were coffee plants. I remember the red beans and how the branches felt heavy when the beans reached maturity. I also remember the wide yellow nylon cover where all the grain was left to dry under the sun. I also remember my mom roasting some sample in the kitchen, which I hated because the aroma was too intense. The same aroma I learned to love years later.

The best of course was the tasting. The professional way is the old fashion way. The fresh-ground coffee was already inside the glasses, and the water was boiling when we arrived to the room. There were 7 glasses at each side of the table, in each one a different kind of bean.  Some of the bags contained beans from a single country, even a single farm, while others were blends, combinations of two or more coffee crops. I learned that companies like Starbucks make a lot of their business by patenting these blends. So, for sure we had Guatemalan and Kenyan coffee, which turned out to be my favorite flavors. I didn’t feel comfortable with Sumatra’s coffee texture and body, maybe because it felt too foreign or distant for me.

starbucks tour (2)

Again, there must be something human to look for familiar aromas and flavors even when we are trying something new.

The way it works is you pour the hot water in the glass and wait a few minutes for the water to get fresher, and the coffee to brew. The coffee lends the water the flavor, the aroma, and every stimulant quality. After a short while, the ground coffee is at the bottom, and there’s a thin layer on top. Major said we had to break it. I have found very few people so engaged and blessed with the work they do. Major actually doesn’t feel he’s working, he confessed he goes to the office to play every day a different game of mixing flavors and discovering every once in a while something new.

Finally, we could taste. We basically took a spoon and sipped. After every taste the water gets rinsed in clean water and then you move on to the next one. That’s the way it has been done for centuries. I hope that will be the way to do it in the centuries to come.

I learned more facts about the company and the brand, but anything remotely as cool as the tasting session. Maybe getting to see the old logo would come second. There’s something really brave, and creepy, in those mermaid’s breasts.

Old Starbucks logo

Old Starbucks logo

  1. CAD says:

    Starbuck founders started may be based in Seattle, but did you know that its roots are from Berkeley – Peets Coffee? The Bay Area is now home of the “Third Wave Cafe” movement, led by Oakland & San Francisco roasters: Philz, Ritual, Blue Bottle, Four Barrel, SIght Glass…you should treat yourself to a single cup pour.

    • jennroig says:

      Thanks for sharing… I had heard or read about great places in San Francisco where one could have some great coffee, but didn’t know that closer connection to Starbucks. If I find myself in San Francisco one of these days, I will try to find my way to a nice cup of coffee, indeed.

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