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April 8, 2008 at 3:50 PM

Slurpin’ with my homies, at Starbucks

In case you haven’t heard, Starbucks is trying to woo you back. Or woo you for the first time. Or make you say “Whoo-hoo!” when you drink a cup of Starbucks drip coffee. And so this morning, ’round 9am, with two mugs of homemade coffee already in my gullet, I went down to Pike Place Market to get a free cup of Starbucks’ new Pike Place Roast, which made its national debut today.

No, Howard Schultz wasn’t there. He was in NYC drumming up business. (I did see him in the Market last week, chatting in front of a TV camera here at Starbucks, but unfortunately I didn’t have my camera handy. And I’ve also seen him — more than once — eating dinner at Lark, but that’s another story.) This morning, there were any number of friendly Starbucks corporate staff on hand, including this woman who works closely with Howard. Here she is talking to the TV cameras while her C.E.O. was in N.Y.C. pitching J.O.E.

While she was talking to the press, I got to talk to this friendly outta-towner:

His name is David W. Roberts, and he’s the deputy mayor of Solana Beach, CA (in June, he’ll be the mayor mayor). He was in Seattle for the American Telemedicine Conference, and thrilled to be in on the new coffee debut. Says he’d never been to the original Starbucks store on previous visits to our fair city, and while watching local TV this morning he heard there was going to be a shindig down at the Market. Plus, he wanted to bring home a Starbucks mug from the original store as a souvenir. And you never know, there might be some TV crews around shooting happy coffee drinkers and corporate office-ers. Or maybe a blogging Seattle Times food writer hanging around with a camera. (Mayor-elect today! Governor of California tomorow!)
Of course, while I was there, I sipped some Pike Place Roast with a certified Starbucks coffee master — who helped put me through the paces. Here’s my master, Mark Diegel, doing his thing:

I followed his lead, cupping my hand over the coffee — the better to take in the aromatics. And yes, we drank it black, though normally I have a little coffee with my half-and-half. Mark told me that at home, if he’s drinking coffee roasted with Latin American beans (as this blend is) he’ll put a little 1% milk into his cup. The rest of the time, he drinks it black. Then he explained how we need to slurp it, letting the fresh coffee spray all over our palate. Concerned about my precious palate, I asked him how I was going to keep from burning the heck out it while spraying it with hot coffee. He assured me that it had cooled down enough while we were talking. He was right. The new blend is being marketed as a great “everyday” coffee, and I’d be happy to drink it every day, if I wasn’t addicted to Caffe Vita’s Queen City Blend. (P.S. the folks at Starbucks would want me to tell you that the beans used to make their distinctive new coffee are “ethically traded.”)
Mark’s tasting notes? He said, “It’s very clean, smooth, you pick up on the cocoa notes.” But then that’s what they pay him to say, right? Well, get this: Right after he said that, some lady came over, accompanied by her son the lawyer, to give Mark a piece of her mind: “I don’t like your regular cawfee,” she said, in an accent that sounded suspiciously like my mother’s. “It’s always too strong for me, and that’s why I always get a latte. But this new blend is not bitter or burned. It’s smooth. It’s delicious!” Here she is, posing with her son, and that delicious cawfee:

“Where are you from?” I asked the lady, knowing full well what was coming next. “Philadelphia,” she said. “Where?” I asked. “The Northeast,” she said. “What street?” I asked. “Near Rhawn and Verree.” I told her I grew up in Montclair, a sub-division near Rhawn and Verree. Yes, folks. It’s a small world. She lived up the block from me in the same sub-division. And if her son, Bruce G. Rosen, attorney-at-law was a few years older, we’d have gone to Joseph J. Greenberg Elementary School at the same time. What’s more, Shelly (we finally introduced ourselves) told me that she used to substitute teach at Greenberg. And that’s when I pulled out my cellphone, dialed my sister Sherry (who lives just outside Philadelphia), put her on loudspeaker, and with TV cameras filming, outtatowners drinking and a certain coffeemaster rolling his eyes, me, my sister and Bruce sung a rousing rendition of our elementary school anthem, whose every word we recall nearly four decades later:
“Our honor, our loyalty and our fidelity. We pledge to thee. Partaking of thy wisdom, we share in thy gloreeeeeeeee. Joseph Greenberg School of today, we ask of thee please show us the way. Scholarship shall be our aim, and we shall all revere thy nammmmmmme. . .” And then, when Shelly asked, “Do you know who wrote that song?” I answered, correctly, “Yeah. Herb Mazer, my sixth grade teacher.”
So, what were Shelly and Bruce doing in Seattle besides schmoozing with the old neighbor they never knew at the original Starbucks? “We were here for Taste Washington!” he said. So, nu? How was that wine-drinking extravaganza? “I love Washington wines!” Bruce said. “Me, too!” said his mother. Stay tuned to this blog and I’ll give you a first-hand account of the Grand Tasting event, held Sunday at Qwest Field Event Center. It was the most fun I’ve had since, well, since earlier today, when I was coffee-klatching with the Rosens!
So, have any of you tasted the new Pike Place Roast yet? What do you think?

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