Johannesburg Review | A Starbucks SA Coffee Tasting

Starbucks SA: A tasting, a launch and a lesson.

Starbucks SA

I have never considered myself a coffee connoisseur. Wine and gin tastings have been more in line with my interests, and besides my newly found love for the convenience of Nespresso machines, I definitely have never considered myself a coffee snob. Until now, maybe.

It was a bone-chilling Saturday morning in Johannesburg when I walked into the Melrose Arch Starbucks. With just a few people out bustling in the cold morning air, I was looking forward to being warmed from within doing a coffee tasting and to learn more about what is behind the bean. When I walked in, I was welcomed by the comforting aroma of roast coffee, where I would be treated to a one-on-one tasting and pairing of some of the iconic Starbucks SA coffees.

The South African Starbucks Range

My first interaction with Starbucks was on a rainy day in London many years ago, and I was grateful for every hot aromatic drop on that freezing day. The South African stores have quite an expansive range, but not the variety we might expect to see abroad. Here, we have the Main Range, which includes one blond roast, five medium roasts, and two dark roasts. In addition, there is the Single Origin series and Reserve series, part of changing seasonal ranges. Every two to three months, new flavours can be found at any of the five reserve stores in South Africa. (More on this below).

Starbucks SA

My Starbucks SA Tasting

Starbucks SA offers free tastings at any of their five reserve stores in South Africa for both small and large groups. Walk-ins welcome, but best to arrange with the store in advance.

My tasting started with the Veranda Blonde. Its roast colour is a little darker than what most people would expect from a light roast. I found it to be a well-balanced and easy-drinking coffee, definitely paired well with their chocolate chip cookie.

Next up was the Guatemala Medium roast. This coffee had a lively and bright flavour but was probably my least favourite of the whole tasting. It is a little more pungent on the nose, getting a slightly roasted bitterness. Recommended pairings include the Starbucks SA chocolate cake or muffin.

We ended the main range tasting with the Sumatra, one of their Main Dark roasts. I would describe it as more bold and rich with a deep caramel sweetness and a more rounded flavour than the previous two. It is recommended to be paired with cheese (or Starbucks cheesecake) to round out the richness. Personally, I enjoyed the Sumatra.

Starbucks SA

Launching the Starbucks Reserve Collection

In addition to the main roasts Starbucks always has on offer, they also have the Single Origin series and the Reserve collection. The Rwanda Umushanana (Single Origin series), Nicaragua La Laguna, and the Rwanda Sholi (both Reserve collection) hit stores on the 15th of June, and will be available for a few months.

Umashanana is a traditional ceremonial dress of women in Rwanda and is depicted in the illustration on the bright blue coffee packaging, all to celebrate the women of Rwanda. Upon tasting Rwanda Umushanana, I first experienced a delicate flavour of underlining sugar with a milk chocolate richness. But then it was paired with a slightly heated gluten-free orange chocolate brownie and the whole flavour profile transformed.  Suddenly an amazing citrus freshness became evident! The orange brownie is both Halaal (like all Starbucks SA baked goods) and gluten free, and was absolutely ‘melt in your mouth’. Not at all like a chewy brownie some might expect, but it worked amazingly with the flavours.

The Nicaragua La Laguna would be paired with something like a buttered croissant, but nothing with bold flavours. The Rwanda Sholi, on the other hand, was very tropical, with pineapple notes, and would go well with the Starbucks SA lemon poppy seed muffin.

Starbucks SA

Starbucks SA

Starbucks Lesson 1: Rwanda Farmers 

My tasting experience at Starbucks SA taught me more than just coffee flavours. During the tasting process, they explain that the origin (particularly related to Rwanda) means it’s more than just a cup of coffee. It’s about the meaning and story behind it.

Starbucks aims to help the healing process coming from genocide though coffee farming. This is not the first campaign that Starbucks has run in relation to outreach in Rwanda. Last year, they had a similar campaign were they were able to raise money to give back to farms, working with partners such as “Send a cow” in promoting reconciliation.

Starbucks Lesson 2: Caffeine Content

Another lesson I learnt was about the caffeine content myths around coffee. Contrary to popular belief, lighter roasts are generally deemed to have higher caffeine content. This is because, in the roasting process, caffeine burns off to a certain extent. But the brewing method is mostly where the caffeine content is influenced. The longer you brew coffee, the more caffeine is extracted from the beans. If you drink anything that is made from an espresso base, it will be quite low in caffeine as there is a short contact time with the coffee. This means you will only have 30 minutes to 1 hour of caffeine in your system. Filter coffee, on the other hand, can brew up to 4 minutes. This means there is a lot more extraction – and way more caffeine!

Starbucks SA

My Starbucks SA Experience

My experience at the reserve branded store really gave the impression that this world superchain is offering more than just the mass produced coffees they have done in the past. Instead, they’re also focusing on rare singular coffees that may never come around again in a more artisanal premium service bar setting. I walked away feeling like a world of coffee knowledge was imparted on me. And I will definitely be pairing my Rwanda Umashanana with a chocolate citrus dessert of my own the next time I host a dinner party.

Visit Starbucks SA

There are various Starbucks stores around South Africa, Western Cape excluded (for now). Starbucks reserve branded stores can be found in Johannesburg at Melrose Arch, Menlyn Main, and Rosebank, or, alternatively, in Durban at Florida Road. For more information on Starbucks SA and to find your nearest branch, visit their official channels below.

Starbucks SA


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Written by Valerie Joy Robinson

Article Date: July 2018


All information correct at time of publication. We do not accept any liability caused by errors, including, but not limited to, changes in price, menu, opening times, address, or other contact details.