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Starbucks develops a barrel-aged coffee for Seattle Reserve Roastery

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Mary Ellen Shoup

By Mary Ellen Shoup+

Last updated on 20-Mar-2017 at 14:25 GMT2017-03-20T14:25:49Z

Starbucks latest beverage innovation is a oak barrel-aged whiskey available at its Seattle Roastery.
Starbucks latest beverage innovation is a oak barrel-aged whiskey available at its Seattle Roastery.

Starbucks has applied the oak barrel-aging technique typically reserved for whiskey to coffee at its Seattle Roastery.

“Customers are seeking an immersive, sensorial experience that the craftsmanship of barrel-aged coffee delivers,” Duane Thompson, manager for Starbucks beverage R&D team, said.

Thompson had been practicing barrel-aging as a hobby in his garage four years ago when he came up with the idea to apply the technique to coffee making.

“Exploring the potential of coffee and marrying non-traditional experiences and techniques together is something we’re experimenting with daily,” Thompson said.

“We start with the bean first and go from there.”

Coffee with hints of whiskey flavor

Using a small-lot coffee from the Starbucks Reserve brand, the company’s R&D team created a whiskey barrel-aged Sulawesi, sold exclusively at the Seattle Roastery for a limited time.

The process began with an 800-lb batch of green unroasted Starbucks Sulawesi beans that are hand-scooped into “freshly-emptied” American oak-aged whiskey barrels from Woodinville Whiskey Co. in Washington state.

Over the next several weeks, the beans are hand-rotated frequently to ensure that each one absorbs the whiskey flavor from the oak barrel.

Following the aging process, the beans are roasted subsequently burning off the alcohol content. The resulting flavor impart earthy notes mixed with oak allowing the whiskey’s identity to come through, according to Thompson.

“The process takes time, care and patience, ensuring we deliver a distinct experience that stays true to the specialness of the coffee while imparting the complementary, distinguished flavor of the oak-aged barrel,” he said.

Cold-brew heightens flavor profile

The oak barrel-aged coffee is served as cold brew beverage with a carafe of vanilla syrup and a large ice cube.

“The cold brewing allows for more caramel flavor to come through from the barrel, along with the vanilla, for a beautifully rounded beverage,” Thompson said.

“You get the building of the flavors at every single level. It is complex, but not complicated.”

The Seattle Roastery is also offering a hot pour-over of the whiskey barrel-aged Sulawesi.

‘Exciting time to be in coffee’

The Reserve Roastery concept was first introduced two years ago in Seattle and is intended to elevate the premium coffee experience. The company aims to open five Roastery locations by 2018 including Shanghai, Tokyo, and New York City.

Thompson sees the Roastery as a stage that brings opportunity for innovation with its small-lot Reserve coffees, each with their own identity.

“It’s a really exciting time to be in coffee,” Thompson said. “This meticulous process has been rewarding and hopefully it's an unforgettable taste in the cup for our customers.”

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