Why Starbucks Coffee Has That Burnt Taste

Anyone who has ever sipped on a Starbucks coffee that isn't an icy Frappuccino or a sugar-laden latte will have noticed a slightly bitter flavor that often laces its drinks. Now as much as we've grown accustomed to Starbucks' intense java — and there is some comfort to be found in the fact that no matter where you are in the world, your Starbucks will always taste exactly the same — it does make one wonder; why does a Starbucks coffee taste like it's been burnt? Well, it isn't burnt. It's just roasted darker.

There are several reasons why Starbucks roasts its coffee beans so dark that they often taste burnt. For one, dark roast coffees pair better with milk and sugar than light ones, which tend to have more citrusy and acidic flavors that don't gel well with dairy. The complex flavors of a lighter roast also get smothered under the weight of milk, creams, syrups, and sugars, and considering Starbucks' repertoire with these, it may be an important reason why the chain chooses to stick to darker roasts. Plus, dark-roasted coffees brew quicker and can withstand higher temperatures better, making it easier for baristas to pull round after round of espresso from these beans. 

Roasting affects the flavor of coffee

There is a lot of thought that goes into the roast level of a certain coffee bean. While roasting doesn't really affect the caffeine content (just bean size — darker roasted beans tend to be larger), there are more nuanced factors at play. Several elements influence the unique profile of a coffee bean, and you might find that even when sourced from the same plantation, two beans can have very different flavors. A light roast lets the bean's inherent flavors shine better. which though a good thing, doesn't exactly work in Starbucks' favor.

Starbucks originally began to roast its beans darker to give its coffees a bold edge over the watery brews that were the norm at the time. Later, they found that it also gave their coffees a distinct uniformity that made a Starbucks coffee taste the same across the world. This is because roasting them dark dilutes the individual characteristics of a coffee bean and masks disparities, instead giving them consistency while bringing out deeper and more robust flavors that go well with sugar and dairy.

In fact, when one coffee drinker sent an email to Starbucks asking why its coffees tasted so bitter, the reply claimed that "we designed our espresso roast and profile for the primary beverage being a latte, so the flavor came through the milk" (via Medium). That said, the chain did specify that their espresso should have notes of rich caramel rather than burnt and bitter flavors.

Not all Starbucks coffees taste burnt

Just because Starbucks gives some of its beans a darker roast doesn't mean that all its coffees have that same burnt and bitter aftertaste. Bear in mind that one reason why coffee beans are roasted dark is because they go fabulously with milk and sugar, so if Starbucks' coffees taste overly bitter, perhaps you just need to switch to a different brew. Skip the americano for a chocolatey mocha, a syrupy Frappuccino, or even just a flavored latte — or anything with milk, sugar, syrups, and sweet toppings like whipped cream really. If you must have one of its more robust bitter coffees, consider pairing the drink with sweet food, perhaps a chocolate croissant or a slice of cake.

It's also worth noting that Starbucks has more than one selection of roasts on offer and more options have been added over the years for precisely this reason after Starbucks patrons complained that the chain's coffees tasted burnt. In 2008, Starbucks launched medium roast pike place which smoothened the harshness of its signature espresso roast, followed by the launch of an even lighter roast, the blonde espresso, which offered a sweeter java with bright and citrusy flavors. So if you find Starbucks coffees to be a touch too bitter for your liking, simply have your order brewed with a different bean!