In 1972 Gordon Bowker, who was a writer, together with his two friends Jerry Baldwin and Zev Siegl who were both teachers, opened the very first Starbucks store. The name of the brand was a nod to Moby Dick’s first mate who loved coffee, and the mermaid logo was just as rife with literary motifs. There are around 87,000 different coffee combinations you can have at these coffee outlets. So, have you ever wondered what coffee beans does Starbucks use?
The short answer is that Starbucks uses a blend of different dark roast Arabica coffee beans from all over the world. Starbucks sources its coffee beans from many different suppliers, then blends and roasts them to their desired taste/specifications. Since Starbucks has such a massive volume of coffee it needs to produce, it does not use just one type of coffee bean or supplier.
But that’s just scratching the surface on how Starbucks chooses it’s coffee beans and why it uses the type it uses. In this article, we’ll go into detail on the different types of coffee beans there are as well as how Starbucks chooses their beans.
Let’s jump in!
How to Tell Good Coffee From Bad Coffee?
Author Note: Some people might argue that tastes are much too subjective, so it would be impossible to label a certain cup of coffee as good and another as bad. That applies easily to anything where personal preferences are the judge.
However, the counter-argument is pretty easy. Any art form is ultimately a matter of taste, yet, there are some aesthetic rules that set apart what’s exceptional and what’s mediocre. There would always be exceptions, but some things are easy to describe as being superior.
For example, Arabica coffee is among nature’s superior creations. So what exactly does it have that’s so special? And is it always the case that premium quality coffee makes for a premium quality beverage? Let’s see.
The main factors that determine how good a coffee beverage would be are as follows:
- Where the coffee beans were planted
- The farming methods used
- The freshness of the coffee beans/grounds
- The roasting method used
- The brewing method employed
- The barista’s training and special touch!
Hidden Factors That Affect the Taste of Coffee
There are a few other quality pointers that are now commonly discussed among coffee connoisseurs. Some deem a full description of the coffee flavor profile a necessity. Much like perfumes, coffee does have layers of taste and varying nuances of flavors.
Others consider showing a certification that these beans originate from organic ethical farms is critical to its acceptance as a good coffee. Knowing that the source of coffee is benevolent, inspires satisfaction and contentment in the environmentally aware folks.
I also believe that a good cup of coffee needs the right mood. Being in a charming place with nice company makes all the difference. And if that cup of coffee is the first one on any given morning, it automatically feels like magic. It’s very different from the third or sixth.
Consider the coffee beverage you have after a long exhausting day, the taste seems to be richer and deeper. Even though it’s the same as the one you had in the middle of the meeting but didn’t notice anything special about it at all.
And here’s another important factor, the kind of dessert you’re having alongside the coffee beverage. It’s a scientific fact that we love having a sugary snack together with our caffeine shot. Dark chocolate, donuts, and cake make the coffee taste heavenly.
However, most of these factors are hard to quantify. That’s why coffee businesses and coffee connoisseurs stick to the basic parameters of bean types, roasts, and freshness. In the next section, we’ll get into more detail about each.
What Are the Different Types of Coffee Beans?
Beans are classified according to their value and origin. Coffee plants only grow in the tropical ‘Bean Belt’, which is the region around the equator, between the Cancer tropic and the Capricorn tropic.
Around 70 countries worldwide produce coffee, but it’s not all the same type. The altitude at which coffee grows is among the main differentiators in taste and quality. The higher the better.
Some coffee plantations only thrive at high altitudes, require extra care throughout their production cycle, and the lands yield limited amounts of crop. It’s fair to expect these to sell for high prices. Other varieties are far easier to plant, and less costly to produce.
Here are the main types of coffee beans you could expect to see at a coffee shop:
This is considered the top quality coffee, and it comes at a price that reflects this status. It usually grows at high altitudes of 3000-6000 feet above sea level and favors alternating dry and wet seasons.
Brazil is among the main producers of Arabica coffee, as it has the best natural resources, plus the high commercial interest.
Arabica coffee is characterized by its mellow taste and layered flavors. It often has hints of floral and fruity notes, besides a multitude of other earthy and smoky innuendos. That’s why it’s best to give Arabica Coffee a light to medium roast, to keep these flavors and aromas fresh. It’s also recommended to drink a pure brew, unmixed with creme or other add-ons.
The caffeine content of Arabica Coffee is rather low, as it grows on high altitudes where bugs seem to be reluctant to go. Caffeine is the plant’s natural defense against pests, and since it’s not in high demand, the plant ends up with much less of it.
Actually, Starbucks is known to use that type since its earliest days.
Robusta is a less demanding variety that grows at altitudes between 600-3000 feet above sea level. Indonesia is the main producer and has been in that status for more than three centuries now. Java coffee has quite the reputation.
This type of coffee is far more bitter than Arabica, and it doesn’t contain the sweet fruity or floral notes. In addition, the caffeine content in Robusta Coffee is more than double that of Arabica. Considering the high defenses this type of coffee plant has to put up against pests.
Author Note: Robusta coffee is widely produced and retails at affordable prices. That’s why it finds its way easily to supermarket shelves, instant coffee, office coffee pots, and regular coffee shops.
It’s also used as a filler for some Arabica coffee roasts. To cut down the costs a bit, without compromising the coffee’s quality entirely. This practice is quite often associated with large scale roasters and coffee brands. Does Starbucks do that? We’ll see!
This is a rare variety of coffee beans. It’s quite demanding when it comes to climatic conditions, and growing requirements. Thus, farmers aren’t too enthusiastic about producing it.
It’s a treat though, and should always be brewed in its pure form. Light roast, few additions.
This is an even less abundant type. It’s among the favorites of coffee elite drinkers, as it has a tart and explicitly fruity flavor. Interestingly, the fruity tones remain in the brew regardless of whether the beans get a light or dark roast.
How Exactly Does Roasting Coffee Beans Affect the Flavor?
The roasting process affects the final taste of the coffee beans significantly. It’s a complicated series of steps that go from drying to browning, then development, and finally roasting.
The time taken for each stage, the temperature used, and the type of roasting apparatus are also variables that add to the complexity of the roasting formula. Fun fact: there are about 19 people only in Starbucks allowed to do the actual coffee roasting. One of them is Howard Schultz himself.
Lighter roasts tend to bring out and maintain fruity flavors, while darker roasts tend to overshadow them. The overall taste becomes a bit more bitter as the beans become darker. Curiously, darker roasts are more laborious and costly than light ones.
What Coffee Beans Does Starbucks Use?
Author Note: Starbucks is known to opt for dark roasting Arabica beans. There were some claims that they use a mix of Robusta beans along with the Arabica to decrease costs.
The quick scaling of Starbucks businesses worldwide is among the reasons people suspect that they blend in other coffee types. They theorize that it would be impossible to get a sufficient supply of Arabica coffee to cover the ever-increasing demand.
The dark roasting thing is also thrown into the mix. It tends to neutralize the distinctive floral and fruity flavors characteristic of prime quality coffee. That’s why, some folks assume that it’s done to even out the flavor of all its coffee, despite their type or quality.
These claims, however, are easily nullified by the simple fact that Starbucks hasn’t compromised quality for gains at any time throughout its 50 years in the business. In the early 1990s, Starbucks actually lost money as preparations for expanding were underway. The spendings on equipment, labor, training, and maximizing quality far exceeded the revenues.
It’s also worth noting that ever since its beginnings, Starbucks had opted for dark roasts. Gordon Bowker, who is one of the founders, wanted to sell a beverage similar to the one he liked a lot in his visits to Italy. This is the polar opposite of other chains (like McDonald’s who uses medium to light roasts).
Starbucks has operations in 70 countries worldwide, with more than 30,000 outlets. The creators of frappuccinos, loose leaf tea drinks with the fanciest names, and pumpkin spice lattes are certainly global icons. When Howard Schultz came into the picture in 1982, Starbucks expanded into unprecedented proportions. The three visionaries, who shared a deep affection for dark roasted Italian coffee, carried the company far and wide.
Millions of people buy this coffee first thing in the morning in an unbreakable ritual. It’s thus fair to ask what coffee beans does Starbucks use? And the answer is pretty simple. The best types of dark roasted Arabica coffee.
Stay caffeinated friends!