March 3, 2014

Starbucks Willow/Aria Blend K-Cups Review

 

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It’s been a while since we’ve seen any new K-Cups from Starbucks, but they did promise to expand their line-up and this appears to be the case as new flavors have started popping up on store shelves recently. All aimed at promoting the Blonde Roast (Starbucks’ lightest roast level), the newest flavor to appear is what we’re checking out today and it is also billed as thelightest of the blonde roast series: Starbucks Willow Blend K-Cups. You’re probably wondering what’s up with the Willow/Aria Blend review title, but more on that later.

Brewing these K-Cups resulted in surprisingly lighter aromas than what we’re typically used to seeing from Starbucks coffees… gone was the overly burnt aroma only to be replaced by a still smoky, yet albeit lighter aroma comprised of hickory & molasses notes lurking in the background. 

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Billed as being a blend of East African & Latin American beans, flavor was also rather unexpected as the first thing you get is a light smoke in the foreground quickly followed by medium citrusy notes with a light touch of lemon. Much like the aroma, some faint molasses notes were present in the bottom end with notes of dark bittersweet chocolate as the taste wore on towards the end of each sip. We’re so used to Starbucks coffees having a blown-out, intensely strong smoky rich taste that this completely caught us off guard. So this is what a light roast Starbucks tastes like. Hmmm.

Acidity was obviously present and up played the citrusy notes present in the flavor as most people will find this coffee a lot more sour than what they’re used to with say a Verona or House Blend for that matter. It definitely kept things vibrant throughout the cup. Body was leaning more on the dark red side with some faint golden notes lying in the bottom and again wasn’t what we were expecting. Light roasts usually have a sunburst or vibrant orange-yellow pattern going on, but this Willow Blend was surprisingly colored much like a conventional darker-roasted Starbucks coffee. Mouth feel was very light in texture and seemed a bit watery overall which left us longing for more substance. Finish was dry and almost astringent with some faint hickory notes lingering in the aftertaste. This will be a very tough one to judge but we’ll score it based on how it compares to the remainder of the Starbucks line-up.  

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  • Aroma – 7 – A lot lighter than what we were expecting. You still get some smoky notes comprised mostly of hickory & molasses notes hiding in the background. Considering this is a Starbucks coffee, we were expecting a more pronounced aroma. 
  • Acidity – 8 – On the strong side, brought forward the citrusy notes in the flavor and seemed vibrant enough but overall gave things a rather sour taste.  
  • Body – 10 – A lot darker than expected considering this is supposedly Starbucks’ lightest roast. Shades of dark red were dominant with some golden notes at the bottom.
  • Flavor – 6 – A blend of light smoke in the foreground quickly followed by medium citrusy notes reminiscent of lemons. Some faint notes of molasses were present with notes of bittersweet dark chocolate as the taste wore on. The sour notes unfortunately were the main thing noticeable here. We would have liked less acidity and lighter sour notes.
  • Mouth Feel – 3 – Very light in texture to the point of feeling watery. It left us wishing for something more substantial. Finish was dry and almost astringent with faint hickory notes lingering in the aftertaste.
  • Coffee Drinker – We’re not quite sure how to categorize this one other than to say if you like coffees with strong sour or citrusy notes, you might enjoy this. Those who are most accustomed to Starbucks darker roasts best steer clear of this one completely.

Overall Rating: 84 – Average

There was a lot of controversy when Starbucks first introduced their Blonde Roast coffees a few years ago as most Starbucks fans noted that it just tasted too light or too watery and simply didn’t seem like a Starbucks coffee. There was a huge segment who claimed it was the worst coffee they’d ever had at a Starbucks and while that seems rather harsh, we can see why they might say this. If you’re a Starbucks fan who has grown up with a taste for their strong dark roasts, the bitter sour notes in a lighter more acidic coffee probably seem like a totally foreign concept to you. It would be like trying to get someone who loves the sweetness of chocolate to start enjoying the extremely sour notes in lemons. It simply isn’t going to happen. 

To Starbucks’ credit, there is a niche market for the Blonde Roast as most African coffees do tend to have overly sour notes in them, but the darker roast of their coffees usually helps tone things down rather than amp them up. The fact that phrasing liketaste of juicy lemons is used to describe the product on the packaging proves that Starbucks intended for this to be a sour coffee. They’re also trying to branch out the Blonde Roast line-up even further since the only Blonde Roast K-Cup available until now was the Veranda Blend (which we actually rather enjoyed) and now we've got this Willow Blend along with another entirely new Blonde Roast K-Cup: Bright Sky Blend. This shows that Starbucks are still testing things out in search of a blend that everyone will like. We haven’t tried the Bright Sky Blend yet, but so far, Veranda seems to be the clear winner in our opinion.

As for these Willow Blend K-Cups? As we’ve noted above, they seem targeted mostly at people who enjoy bright, citrusy coffees with a strong sour bite, so if you enjoy that type of thing, this’ll be right up your alley. Those who are more accustomed to conventional Starbucks flavors should give the Veranda Blend a try instead. An interesting side-note, we did a bit of digging around and were surprised to find out that Starbucks have decided to rename all Willow Blend products to Aria Blend in USA, yet have decided to retain the Willow Blend name in Canada. Hence why Aria Blend K-Cups started appearing in American stores around the same time that these Willow Blend K-Cups started appearing in Canadian stores. So… by reviewing the Willow Blend K-Cups, we’re essentially reviewing the Aria Blend K-Cups since they’re both the same coffee, just named differently. This is kind of an odd move by Starbucks but as long as both countries are essentially getting the same coffee, we’re ok with it.

Starbucks Willow and Aria Blend K-Cups work in all Keurig K-Cup Brewers and are available at various retailers & grocery stores across Canada in 12-packs for roughly $10.99 CAD. These K-Cups are also available in 16-packs for roughly $12.99 USD at various retailers & grocery stores across USA but are known as Starbucks Aria Blend K-Cups. Please also note that K-Cups will NOT work with Keurig Vue brewers.

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.

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Posted by Jay Brewer at March 3, 2014 7:52 AM

Recent Comments

I am liking the bright sky morning so far. Though the name could be a word shorter....seems odd and uneasy to articulate. Mostly confusing like I will substitute synonymous words. Anyway about the coffee. The main unusual thing I notice is....almost no aroma. Veranda and pikes place have been my two staple flavors. In bag coffees I was hooked on Seattle's best #3 I think. Reddish orange bag. And then through my first keurig experience I discovered caribou :-)


Posted by: melonie at May 13, 2014 12:57 AM
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