Ask a coffee connoisseur why they don't like Starbucks coffee and it's a fair bet they'll tell you that it tastes burnt, that it's over-roasted, that it's the world's most expensive and least efficient charcoal filter for water.
They're right, and it isn't limited to Starbucks; the drip coffee at most chain coffeeshops is a bitter, over-extracted, burnt ichor that required several packets of sugar and a quarter of a cup of dairy to render palatable.
Starbucks has heard the complaints, and their response is to market a lighter roast, called Blonde Roast. A fascinating idea, but not a new one: OC's own Martin Diedrich was preaching the message of lightly roasted, Northern Italian-style coffees almost 15 years ago, when coffee for most Orange Countians still meant the giant can of pre-ground Yuban; this is why you can go in to either of the Kean Coffee locations and get a cup of coffee that tastes good by itself.
The promotion of lighter roast coffee at “Fourbucks” started long ago; Blonde Roast was introduced in October 2011, on a rolling basis. Starbucks has recently started a marketing campaign, though, and many stores are setting up comparison tasting booths (dare I say caves de dégustation?) and giving out packets of Blonde Roast to try at home.
Is it an improvement over the hellbrew that keeps most of corporate America going? Yes, absolutely.
Does it taste good? No. While it doesn't taste burnt per se, and you can see through it in a glass mug, it still tastes overly tannic and harsh; it still requires sweetener and milk to take the edge off. It's a valiant attempt, but it isn't going to pull me into Starbucks anytime soon.
Still, if you're stuck in the middle of nowhere–the travel plaza at the northern foot of the Grapevine, for example, or Barstow–and the choice is between Starbucks and the machine in the gas station that dispenses coffee, hot cocoa, and the dubious liquid known as “French vanilla”, then you should go for the Blonde Roast at Starbucks.
If you're at home in OC, though, there's a long list of better coffee places you can patronize.