In an attempt to redefine its image -- and reestablish itself as the ruling coffee empire -- Starbucks has a new story to tell. And it doesn’t involve a Peppermint Mocha Frappuccino (though you can still get one).
ON A RAINY summer night in Seattle, Washington, Starbucks, the hometown megachain, has invited a few guests inside one of the city’s hottest New American cuisine restaurants for a private five-course dinner, at which we presume we’ll talk about the company’s current business affairs. it sounds delightful -- and it’ll get us out of the downpour.
After we walk in and dry off, Starbucks springs a surprise on us: it’s not a business event but a taste experiment. each course will be paired with a cup of coffee.
I look back at my umbrella and rethink my options. Most of the guests, fellow foodies and food writers, are just as hesitant. Coffee-paired courses? Coffee is the classic after-dessert sip or an overpowering cup that goes well with hangovers and eggs. It’s not wine. But Starbucks, along with Palace Kitchen executive chef Eric Tanaka, insists that this meal will make us rethink the taste profile of the company’s artisan roasts. The weight, the scent, the acidity -- they will come to life through our dimly lit meal.
Fresh, local ingredients are at the forefront of our dinner, though the various dishes -- morels and prosciutto, smoked lamb carpaccio -- come off as muted, not spicy or intense, presumably to meet halfway with the coffee. The exception is the spiced duck plate, which is a failure by all first impressions. Almond butter binds the plate together, yet the sauce’s subtlety is dwarfed by the earthy sips of Starbucks’s Arabian Mocha Sanani roast. And the red peppers provide no flavor payoff either.
The diner to my left suggests I focus my tasting on the duck fat, of all things. I give him an odd look and poke at my plate. The main protein’s skin, charred yet oily, peels off in slivers; I spear one with my fork and then draw it to the top of my tongue. Alone, it’s caramelized and slightly sweet. But paired with a sip of coffee, it sets off a chemical reaction. The sip’s floral and tobacco tones collide with the fatty flavor and texture. Somehow, the combination is both fluffy and hefty, like a savory pastry.
This Starbucks, it is delicious.