Coffee Review: Starbucks Guatemala Casi Cielo

January 8, 2011 — 12 Comments
Starbucks Guatemala Casi Cielo

Starbucks Guatemala Casi Cielo

Do you remember the first coffee that you loved?  Maybe you’ve been drinking coffee for most of your life, but there was a specific blend or single-origin offering that flipped your coffee-fanatic switch.  For me, I’m not ashamed to say it was Starbucks Guatemala Casi Cielo.  I’ll be the first to admit that Starbucks’ offerings can be far from perfect for the educated coffee intelligentsia, but as someone who was used to grocery grade coffee compost, this whole bean selection blew me away.

The Facts: Starbucks Guatemala Casi Cielo sells for $12.95 per pound at your local Starbucks store.  It’s available during the months of January and February.  Starbucks creates the blend from several single origin farm in the Antigua Region of Guatemala and roasts the coffee into 2nd crack.  It’s definitely not among their darkest roasts, but remember this is Starbucks, so the roast remains in the dark spectrum.  The term “Casi Cielo” means “almost heaven” in English.  A Chef at the Canlis restaurant in Seattle worked with Starbucks to develop this coffee to be served with fine dining desserts.  I believe it’s available year round at the restaurant, but Starbucks offers it to the general public in the first months of each year.  On their website Starbucks mentions the collaboration and explains:

Together, we created a remarkable coffee with a depth and versatility perfect for a variety of gourmet entrees and desserts – particularly those with savory herbs or cheeses, rich chocolate or berries.

So let’s find out for ourselves; is Casi Cielo really as great as Starbucks says it is?

What my nose said: Sweet and cedary.  Medium to heavy in body (this is just an estimate by scent of course) with a smoky, chocolate vibe dominating.  A very faint hint of brightness is detectable as tones of banana, but is barely there.

Starbucks Guatemala Casi Cielo Review | From Mikepedia

Take a close look at the beans; this isn't the darkest of Starbucks' roasts, but it's up there.

What my mouth said: A roast-y medium bodied coffee will smooth tendencies. All flavors here are tenor and bass notes, nothing really in the upper ranges. A very dainty acidity first touches the tongue, and right as you notice it, it’s gone. Then this tenor toned zesty roast flavor comes through, it’s not necessarily burnt tasting, but close to it. Imagine making toast and stopping right before it would considered “burned”. That’s what this is like. The body is silky with medium weight. As the coffee flows off the palette a nutty milk chocolate flavor is left behind, like a Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar with Almonds.

The Big Picture: I really like Starbucks Guatemalan Casi Cielo this year.  As usual with Starbucks, if the coffee tastes good, then the $12.95 per pound price is worth it.  Since this is a blend of many farms in Guatemala’s Antigua region, I would wager that not every bag of Casi Cielo will taste the same.  I know for a fact that this offering changes in quality from year to year.  In 2009 it blew my away, and in 2010 it was a major disappointment.  Fortunately it seems that this year Starbucks was able to get a hold of several great coffee lots for the blend.  That being said, let’s remember what we are reviewing here: a widely available dark roasted blend or Guatemalan coffees.  Sure, compared to Tim Horton’s coffee this stuff is elegant, but it’s no single origin Guatemalan specialty fit for a cupping table.

I’m a huge fan of Guatemalan coffees because they usually flaunt the best of both worlds: tangy, lively acidity, and a muscular, full body.  They tend to please almost any sort of coffee drinker, and can work at a wide range of roast levels.  This year Casi Cielo tastes good enough as a dark roast blend that I wish we could try it roasted to the Full City level, because it would probably be exceptional.

Mike

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12 responses to Coffee Review: Starbucks Guatemala Casi Cielo

  1. Here is my take on Casa Cielo. My wife and I were engaged in 2005 at Canlis restaurant in Seattle where supposedly this coffee was designed for. That is where I had my first cup. Since 2006 I have routinely bought at least two bags of beans of this coffee as it is one of my favorites (I mainly like Costa Rican beans…especially from Stumptown). Something has happened in 2011. The coffee taste NOTHING like previous years. It has lost its characteristic smoothness that I remember. If anyone can help explain what has happened I would appreciate it. Perhaps they changed the roasting process…or maybe I got a bad bag. When I first tasted it I seriously thought someone put the wrong beans in the wrong bag!

    • Oops. Typo. I meant Casi Cielo.

    • Hey Kenny, thanks for commenting! There are a few big factors that could be causing your perceived change in Casi Cielo. First of all, I would say that our palettes are highly subjective. Within each year that goes by between Casi Cielo tastings, what your palette desires and perceives could change quite a bit. For example in the last year you could have been began to drink some other coffee that has much more of that smooth character than your old pal Casi, and now it just doesn’t wow you like it used to.

      Second, we have to remember the variability of coffee as an organic crop itself. Coffee that is grown on a particular farm in a particular country could taste quite a bit different from one year to the next. Then, when you take into consideration the huge demand that Starbucks must fill with it’s coffee, it becomes obvious what they mean when they call Casi Cielo a “regional blend from Antigua”. To get all the coffee they need, Starbucks must have to buy several lots from different farms in that region each year, and then they rely on the skill of their coffee blending experts to recreate what everyone remembers Casi Cielo tasting like last year.

      Those two points are my best guesses on why it could seem so different to you. There are also all the other variables such as brew method, dose, and the water source used, and to be honest it doesn’t seem like Starbucks’ supply chains are optimized for freshness. I’ve seen Casi Cielo arrive at a starbucks retail store a week before the coffee is “released” so it just sits there — from this we can assume the coffee is at last one week old, which is really “great” in terms of freshness. In summation, there are really just a ton of factors that come into play on something like this.

      Anyways, those are just some thoughts, hope that helps!

  2. Casi Cielo coffee is naturally blended in a clover, press or drip-brewed. The beans of Casi Cielo come from the four farms of Antigua region of Guatemala. It is a perfect partner for the winter season especially Christmas time. The brewed flavour and boiling temperature of the coffee satisfies ones taste and heat needs of a person to fights the cold weather.

  3. I stumbled on this while I was googling like a crack fiend trying to score some Casi Cielo since my local Starbucks-at least about 18 of them here in Indy-are now sold out completely and Tribute just doesn’t do it for me…Would love to follow you on FB-why don’t you have a link? Do you link Twitter posts to FB? Please e-mail reply.

  4. Kenny is right! Say what you may Mike, but 2009 was a great year for Casi Cielo. The smoothness was incredible! This year was definitely not the same. Still a good cup of coffee, but several levels downgraded from the 2009 batch. I’m keeping my fingers crossed 2012 is a banner year for Casi Cielo.

  5. Looks like Starbucks discontinued Casi Cielo. I’m hoping it’s just Starbucks putting the status as discontinued when it’s not in season. In the horrible chance they really did discontinue it, do you know of a coffee that is like Casi Cielo? I mean, REALLY in the category of Casi Cielo? Not what Starbucks recommends (Guatemalan Antigua or Cafe Verona) which were not at all close!

  6. Casi Cielo is my fav coffee from starbucks.i buy as much of 5 lb bags of whole beans as i can get..:)

  7. LOVE Starbucks Guatemala Casi Cielo I had this for the first time this year (Jan 2011) and CANNOT wait until next month to have it again!!!! Rest assure Erica – I believe it says discounted on the Starbucks website b/c it is seasonal. Currently that is a Tradition Tour http://www.starbucksstore.com/Traditions-Tour/TOURTRADITIONS01,default,pd.html?start=8&cgid=coffee available for purchase on their website and #1 in January is Casi Cielo!!!

  8. Wow… I apologize for the typos… in my previous comment…

  9. I literally just bought the last 3 lbs of this gem in Broward County, FL. Took 3 different starbucks trips to find it. Ecstatic and saddened at the same time. I think the 2012 mix is pretty fantastic. Then again, I wasn’t underwhelmed by the 2011 batch either.

  10. I fell in love with that Casi Cielo, and I am sad that Starbucks is no longer brewing it. I literally just bought a pound of it from ebay, (how sad) but I have a question. What is a coffee that I can purchase that has that dark rich cocoa flavor to it? I gotta have it!

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