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.
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.