Crowdsourcing Starbucks newest coffee: Leslie and the product development story behind Green Apron Blend

After 32 years at Starbucks, Leslie Wolford thinks a lot about the word heritage. She’s had a career that started as a barista near the downtown Seattle public library, a career during which she’s helped develop some of the brand’s most iconic coffees, including Pike Place Roast® and Veranda Blend®.  

“When a lot of people think about heritage, we talk about 1982 when Howard Schultz started, the past, dark roasts, black coffee, all those things,” says Wolford, a lead on the Starbucks coffee development team.  

“That’s why Green Apron Blend is a milestone because it creates a new heritage. It creates a stepping stone to the next generation of partners (employees) about what heritage looks like.”  

“That’s why Green Apron Blend is a milestone because it creates a new heritage."

Starbucks® Green Apron Blend™ is the company's newest coffee, launching in stores May 9, and is unique because it was created by Starbucks store partners (employees). Nearly 24,000 idea submissions from store partners shaped its flavor and roast profiles, as well as which regions the coffee was sourced from, and the look and feel of the packaging.  

As part of Starbucks ongoing commitment to partners, $5 per each one-pound whole-bean bag of Green Apron Blend and, for a limited time, 10 cents per each brewed cup will go to the Starbucks Caring Unites Partners (CUP) Fund, an emergency resource started 25 years ago by partners for partners to help in times of need, such as a family emergency or after a natural disaster. 

“At the end of the day, the partners in the stores are the ones selling the coffee, so we should recognize that they have a lot of opportunity to lean in,” Wolford says. “How great is that when we can build something together?” 

For Wolford, this project was an opportunity to think about coffee in a different way. She acknowledges how times and tastes have changed. A whole new generation of baristas and customers have grown up around iced beverages, refreshers and cold brews, Wolford says, and don’t think about coffee heritage the same way she does.  

Last year, Starbucks reported that cold beverages accounted for almost 75 percent of its drink sales

“Green Apron Blend has to fire on a lot of different levels and not just live on the shelf as a packaged coffee, so how can we reinvent it in different ways and bring it to life?” Wolford says.  

“When you experiment with this coffee, whether brewing it as hot in the Bunn brewer, Clover Vertica or in a coffee press, you really get more of the citrus notes from the African origins and the toasty graham cracker notes from the Latin American components. Then when you introduce it in a cold style such as iced or cold brew, that’s going to be more sweet-forward. It’s super refreshing and it has an energy which I think is really going to be exciting over ice.” 

The input gathering process was meaningful for Wolford as well. Store partners were coming off the isolation and stress of the COVID-19 pandemic when the Green Apron Blend project launched, and while themes emerged about the direction of the coffee itself, partners also responded deeply and emotionally to the open-ended questions, Wolford says.  

“We offered up a bunch of questions: What’s your favorite coffee? How do you celebrate coffee? How do you like to drink coffee? What’s your favorite origin? Really coffee-related,” Wolford says. “But threaded through were all these narratives about self-care, being a group that supported each other, not being left behind, diversity and inclusion.” 

“My takeaway is when we are sharing this coffee and celebrating it, everyone can feel proud. We really wanted to make sure that our partners voices were heard.”


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