Starbucks Lightens Up with Mellower 'Blonde' Brew

Starbucks blonde
Starbucks blonde

Starbucks (SBUX) introduced the American consumer to high-powered gourmet coffee, and even somehow convinced us to use words like "venti" when ordering large caffeinated beverages.

Now, the coffee giant hopes we'll become accustomed to a new lighter roast that it calls Blonde.

Do Americans Prefer Blondes?

Starbucks thinks it's worth a shot to find out. There are plenty of holdouts out there who prefer lighter, less robust coffees. The complaint among those who don't dig Starbucks' fare is that the brew tastes "burnt," or in the language of coffee connoisseurs, "bold."

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Even Consumer Reports has busted on Starbucks brew. In August the magazine delivered a humiliation, stating that a cup of Walmart's (WMT) medium-roast Great Value 100% Colombia brewed coffee tasted comparable to Starbucks.

So yes, it might be time for Starbucks to try on something more tasteful. The company says it spent eight months exploring 80 different recipe and roast versions before it hit on what it says its customers wanted: "a flavorful, lighter-bodied coffee that offers a milder taste and a gentle finish." The company also uses words like "mellow" and "approachable" to describe the new Blonde roast.

Starbucks blonde
Starbucks blonde

Battle of the Brews

Starbucks isn't just aiming for its own loyal customers with the Blonde roast, which will be available in its own cafes as well as in grocery stores. That would just be preaching to the caffeinated choir. It's really trying to turn all those people who prefer rivals' coffees to its own. The company will have the chance to see if Blonde has what it takes to attract new business this week during its "Find the Roast You Love the Most" tastings Thursday through Saturday.

Then again, this isn't just a taste test. Dunkin' Brands (DNKN) and McDonald's (MCD) coffee drinkers probably have another reason they stick with their lighter brews -- the price. It's going to take a really good cup of joe to convince the more budget-minded coffee drinkers to switch to Starbucks.

Motley Fool analyst Alyce Lomax owns shares of Starbucks.

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