March 18, 2013

Review: Starbucks Tribute Blend K-Cups

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Each year, one of the fan favorite coffees from Starbucks which most people look forward to would have to be Starbucks Tribute Blend. It was originally released as a limited edition but there was so much demand that Starbucks decided to add it as a regular yearly seasonal coffee much to everyone's delight. Culled from a blend of coffees from several different growing regions, Tribute Blend is a blend of Ethiopian, Sumatran, Colombian & Papua New Guinea coffees which come together to form a balance of fruity, spicy, nutty & herbal notes paired with Starbucks signature smoky taste & aroma. 

Unlike previous seasonal K-Cup flavors, Starbucks decided to move away from flashy foil designs and have gone back to plain painted designs instead. We get the usual silver Starbucks logo paired with this year's angular abstract background design. As with some of their recent seasonal K-Cups, they've also decided to include the "vintage year" of 2013 on the packaging & lid. Something which sort of ads collectability if you're someone who prefers to stockpile your K-Cup stash vs. blowing through them all at once. To be honest, we didn't even think we'd see Tribute Blend K-Cups this year since our local shop only had small half-pound bags of whole beans available for the first week of March and these K-Cups only appeared within the past few days. Needless to say we're glad Starbucks decided to continue releasing their seasonal coffees in K-Cup format and look forward to more releases over the coming month.

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Brewing these K-Cups resulted in strong smoky aromas with chocolate notes and mild hints of spice in the background. Flavor was a similar mix of smoky flavors blended with strong notes of dark chocolate. Closer inspection revealed more notes of mild molasses and after much searching, some faint hints of cherries started to develop. Body was dark brown in color with deep shades of red when held in front of a light source. It reminded us of the mild cherry notes present in the flavor. Acidity was a bit on the stronger side this time around as you immediately notice a slight sour note on first sip which carries through to the somewhat dry finish. Mouth feel was still pleasantly smooth despite the stronger acidity while finish seemed dry and mildly astringent like a black tea. Things finished off with a smoky aftertaste that yielded faintly sweet cocoa notes.

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  • Aroma - 8 - Nothing too different from the norm this time around with the exception of spicy notes clawing their way through the smoky chocolate notes which dominated the cup.
  • Acidity - 8 - On the stronger side with a noticeably sour bite at first sip which carries through to the finish. It almost masked some of the cherry notes lurking around in the background.
  • Body - 10 - Dark brown in color with deep shades of red when held to a light source. Reminded us of the mild cherry notes detected in the flavor.
  • Flavor - 8 - Similar to aroma with smoky flavors blending with strong notes of dark chocolate and milder notes of molasses. It took a bit of searching, but we finally detected very mild cherry notes in the background. Going by the description on the packaging, we were expecting the cherry notes to be more pronounced, so we were a bit disappointed in that regard.
  • Mouth Feel - 10 - Surprisingly smooth with a silky texture that had a dry finish with more smoky & mildly sweet cocoa notes in the aftertaste.
  • Coffee Drinker - Suited best for those who like strong smoky coffees with predominant dark chocolate flavors tinged with mild cherry hints in the background. Despite the packaging, don't go into this expecting a cherry-flavored coffee. Should still please your average Starbucks fans nonetheless.

Overall Rating: 94 - Exceptional

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Well, all good things must come to an end we suppose. After 3 repeat Excellent scores with the past Starbucks seasonal K-Cups, we were a bit naïve to think we'd get 4 in a row. While not perfect, this is still a pretty solid offering from Starbucks and we're glad to see they're still committed to releasing all their seasonals in K-Cup format. Do we wish the dark cherry flavors would have been stronger and more evident after reading the packaging? For sure, yes. Do we think this coffee isn't worth trying? No. It's still a solid choice amongst Starbucks fans and since nobody experiences coffee tasting the same way (people don't have the same taste buds, after all), it's possible that some of you may discern flavors that we missed. With a multitude of choices for this flavor (whole bean, VIA & K-Cups) you can still pick whichever format you think suits you best and achieve completely different results.

We would be curious to see what could be achieved with this coffee had it also been offered in Vue Pack format. With the higher brewing temperatures and the strong button, we think there's a chance we could have achieved what we were originally looking for. Time will tell if Starbucks & GMCR decide to release seasonal Vue Packs, so in the meantime, we'll have to take what we can get and make the most of it. As a matter of fact, we bought a half-pound bag of whole beans earlier this month and intend to try them in a French Press to see what we can achieve. If you'd prefer something less messy & more convenient, you should still give these K-Cups a try.

Starbucks Tribute Blend K-Cups will work in all Keurig K-Cup Brewers and are available at both American & Canadian Starbucks shops for a limited time in 12-packs for roughly $12.95 USD & CAD (Pricing may vary).

A special thanks to SH for providing this Single Serve Coffee staff review. We would also like to note that we purchased a box of these K-Cups on our own for the purpose of this review.

Read More in: K Cup Reviews | Keurig & K-Cups | Reviews | Starbucks Single Serve Coffee

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Posted by Jay Brewer at March 18, 2013 7:23 AM

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