Starbucks skullduggery

Starbucks Pike Place Roast

About halfway through my commute this morning I realized that I’d left my fresh bag of Counter Culture’s Kuta coffee sitting in my kitchen. I was tempted to turn back, but not wanting to be too late for work and knowing that Starbucks’ new Pike Place Blend is at least drinkable, I decided to be a good employee and pick up coffee at the Evil Empire instead.

Normally when I go to a Starbucks I’ll only get brewed coffee, since the bags of beans aren’t marked with a roast date and there’s no telling how old they are. But waiting in line today I saw that they had half-pound bags of Pike Place for sale, and with a roast date hand-written right on the package. “Freshly roasted on: 5-12-08,” it said.

“Wow, that’s fresh,” I thought. “Way to go, Starbucks.” But wait a second. Isn’t today the 12th? I’m no roasting expert, but I really doubt these beans were roasted in the middle of the night, cooled, packaged without resting, delivered to a store in DC, and placed out for sale by 9:30 am.

So what’s going on here? Isolated mistake or pervasive skullduggery? Anyone else notice impossible roasting dates on Starbucks coffee?

[Thanks to Caleb for photographing with his pricey Apple impulse purchase.]

Update 5/13/08: Former barista Baylen says in the comments: “The date on the bag is the date they scoop the beans in the store, not the roast date. Not sure why it says roast, but it’s disingenuous.”

Second update: Mystery definitively solved. Thanks, StarbucksGossip. The label applied to my bag was made for the 5 lbs. bags. The smaller bags are supposed to have “scooped on” labels instead. I’m glad to know this was an innocent mistake, but as Jim points out, who the hell cares when a coffee was scooped? If they have the roast date available, they should just put that on the label.


13 thoughts on “Starbucks skullduggery”

  1. I am guessing that they cheat somehow, i.e. by roasting the beans a month ago, shipping them out, then having a regional place merely re-heat them and bag them and call that the roasting date.

    Or it could just be a mistake.

  2. I work at Starbucks, and the label used was a mistake… the large labels (pictured above) are to be put on the five pound bags that are on display in the store. There are smaller labels that are used on the one pound and half-pound bags that say “freshly scooped on:________” that are to be filled out each morning, when the beans are scooped. It was clearly a mistake…

  3. I’m a starbucks manager in Denver. The sticker that was used on your coffee is supposed to be placed on the 5lb packages of pikes roast. These have a roasted date on them. We put the roast date and the location that roasting took place. The stickers that they should have used on the 1/2lb and 1lb bags say freshly scooped by. We put our name and date that they were scooped on. They are scooped from our valve locked bags. Once opened the coffee is recommended to be discarded after 7 days. Before opened however the coffee stays fresh for approximately a year. The valve allows the CO2 to be released from the beans but does not allow oxygen in which is the killer to flavor. Anyway, probably way to much info, but wanted to respond.

  4. To answer your question, I appreciate the label mentioning when the bag was scooped because it reminds me of how long I’ve had that batch of beans sitting in my canister. I end up not drinking as much coffee at home sometimes, so for forgetful folks like myself, it’s helpful.

  5. matthew, the scooped on date would be helpful in determining freshness if it meant anything at all. it just tells you when you bought the beans, but nothing about how fresh they actually are. if your bag had a roast date, you could say “oh, these beans are 2 1/2 weeks old, I should get some fresher beans”. with the “scooped on” date, all it’s telling you is how long it’s been in your house. the beans that have been sitting on your counter for 4 days could have been sitting in that store for a month and a half.

    the specialty coffee industry standard is noting roast dates. why would starbucks choose to mark bags with scooped on dates except to mislead people into thinking their coffee is fresher than it actually is.

  6. The scooped on date is important since whole bean coffee loses its freshness after being exposed to air. I agree, however, that this date is not as important as the roasted on date. (I also think that the “scooped by” box is silly, but that’s a whole other story.) It is also easy to find out the date a retail bag was roasted based on the scooped on date, but a customer must ask to find out.

  7. Why would stores be supplied “Roast On” stickers at all? Shouldn’t that be completed and applied at the roasting facility? Or is this another attempt to pull the wool over consumers eyes? And this statement is absolutely wrong “Before opened however the coffee stays fresh for approximately a year.” I guess that tells you how ‘educated’ $tarbucks managers really are.

  8. No actually, he is accurate. Our coffees stay fresh for about a year after roasting, provided that they remain in the bag in which they were packaged.

    Part of what caused Starbucks so much initial success is the method of packaging that, as stated before, allows CO2 to leak out of the package without allowing O2 in.

    Once the coffee is opened (or scooped), the coffee is fresh for about a week. So the scooped date tells you that the coffee will cease to be fresh one week after.

  9. I work for starbucks coffee in florida. seemly pike place roast coffee is so much a good blend, the first it came out. I was so amazed with the aroma & flavor it had in it, when I added cream & sugar. which I added it in there, Im not a plain Black coffee drinker. I so am enjoying the pike place coffee, in which it brings people back eveyday for coffee of there choice.

  10. Starbucks coffee is stale. All Starbucks coffee is stale. I usually look for the bags that are dated at least 7 or 8 months ahead. At least that’s something, but even those bags are stale. Just roast some yourself and do a cupping with the Starbucks along side your fresh roasted. The fancy packages do not keep it fresh.

  11. Also, they roast so dark that the oils are covering the beans, and the oils become rancid. Plus, how do you scoop it without letting the air in the bag from which you scooped ?

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