Starbucks new core coffee is inspired and created by trailblazing women of the coffee industry
There’s a story behind every cup of Starbucks coffee.
It begins at the farm, with the hands that pick the ripe coffee cherries with care. The harvest passes through many more hands, baskets and buckets to the mill, and on to drying beds and patios. Then the green coffee is bound up in burlap bags and heaved onto cargo ships destined for the roasters, who skillfully bring out its full flavor. Back in Seattle, a team of experts at Starbucks headquarters taste cup after cup to create new blends that are brewed and served millions of times each day around the world.
Starbucks newest core coffee celebrates the women who contribute to each step of coffee’s journey. Starting Sept. 24, Siren’s Blend™ will be available in U.S. Starbucks stores as a year-round packaged whole-bean coffee to brew at home. It will also be available brewed in some stores. To celebrate its arrival, Starbucks will donate 15 cents to organizations championing women in coffee-growing communities for every cup of brewed Siren’s Blend purchased from the day it debuts through National Coffee Day (Sept. 29) in participating U.S. Starbucks stores.
Let’s follow the bean and the lives of the women it touches across three continents — from farmer to roaster to cup.
Rwanda: On the farm
The Gitesi coffee farm in Rwanda is a farm run by — and for — women. After the 1994 genocide, women came together to rebuild their communities and coffee farming was an endeavor they could take on with a shared goal. These women, formerly on opposing sides of a violent conflict, worked side-by-side to return their communities to prosperity.
“After the genocide we joined together to farm coffee,” said Mukandoli Immaculee. “We did not segregate, we worked together. Now coffee farming is the most important thing to all of us.”
Gitesi is one of thousands of farms verified by Starbucks C.A.F.E. Practices for its sustainable farming methods. “C.A.F.E. Practices gave me technical advice for running my farm. They taught me all aspects of coffee farming from start to finish,” Immaculee said.
Starbucks and Conservation International have been working for over 20 years to empower women to conserve nature and to sustain the long-term production of coffee in Rwanda and other countries. “When we’re thinking about the future of these coffee landscapes, we have to involve women because they are thinking about the future of their families and their households and their coffee communities,” said Bambi Semroc, vice president of Sustainable Markets and Strategy for Conservation International.
Shanghai: Achieving the perfect roast
Roasting coffee is an artform — a delicate dance of temperature and time. Green coffee destined for Starbucks stores is shipped in burlap bags to roasting plants and Starbucks Reserve™ Roastery locations around the world. Anita Zhang, roaster at the Shanghai Roastery, is part of a select team at Starbucks whose job it is to use their knowledge, expertise and artistry to bring out the best in every bean.
“I will say that first, I am a woman — and then I am a coffee roaster,” said Zhang. “If you will taste a good quality coffee — it won’t identify if a man roasted the coffee or a woman roasted the coffee. Just good quality coffee.”
Seattle: A new blend is born
Just as a chef carefully combines ingredients, Starbucks experts blend coffees from different origins to create new flavors that highlight each coffee’s distinct characteristics. While women have long been integral on coffee farms, it has taken longer for women to break into leadership roles in coffee’s trading floors and cupping rooms.
“In years past, I was very surprised by how many women were employed in fields and mills and plant nurseries but very few in other areas of the supply chain. Male-dominated is an understatement. Today things have really changed,” said Mary Williams, a 30-year veteran of the coffee industry who led Starbucks green coffee purchasing, roasting and blending for more than a decade starting in 1993.
Mary Mayorquin, senior manager of Global Coffee Strategy and Development at Starbucks, was inspired by Williams’s blend from the 1990s called Siren’s Note. Williams established the path for economic transparency and C.A.F.E. Practices in all of Starbucks supply chains. More than 20 years later in 2019, Mayorquin reinvented the blend to honor the contribution of women in coffee.
“We first tried to recreate the blend exactly how it was in 1998, but flavor in origin evolves over time just as coffee-drinking culture has in our stores,” Mayorquin said. “We decided to go back to the drawing board and focus on creating a modern twist to an old favorite. What resulted was an incredible blend of East African and Latin American coffees from supply chains that we have spent decades investing in with our farmers through C.A.F.E. Practices.”
The medium roast delivers the citrusy notes of Africa beans combined with the chocolaty notes of those from Latin America. Siren’s Blend brings complexity with its bright flavors, floral aromas and lively acidity, yet the approachable body and mellow roast make it an inviting coffee for customers of all kinds to try.
“Its versatility is what makes this coffee really fun – everybody can find something they love in this coffee,” said Mayorquin. “We developed it with iced coffee and hot brewed coffee in mind and when we landed on the best expression in-cup, we tested it out as espresso and cold brew. We were blown away by the complexity of the espresso and the citrus and floral notes bursting from the cold brew.”
When it came time to market the new blend, Tiffany Hsu, senior designer, and Maggie Hess, senior content writer, worked with Mayorquin to conceptualize the story and design for the Siren’s Blend bag. The three women collaborated over the course of a year through countless iterations.
“Since this is a story around women, we wanted to take the Siren and make her more human, more relatable,” said Hsu. “You can still see the waves in her hair and her star crown, but we wanted to keep those details more honorary, not literal. The stamp behind the Siren was designed to mimic the motifs and flag work found in Africa and Latin America.”
Through ideation sessions and polling for the new core coffee’s name, they gathered thoughts and feedback from a range of experts, including Michelle Burns, senior vice president, Global Coffee and Tea for Starbucks. Like Williams before her, Michelle is responsible for leading all things coffee, including strategy for growing, sourcing, buying, quality, sustainment and education.
Hess said, “We ended up loving the name Siren’s Blend because the Siren is an incredibly powerful, mythical, ‘feminine’ creature. It makes a strong statement to say that the blend that’s named after our logo, the heart of our brand, is the blend that honors women.”
Reflecting on her own journey, Williams sees the development of Siren’s Blend as a milestone to be proud of.
“For me it is a thrill to see this change happening and watch the numbers of women in coffee continue to grow,” she said. “I look forward to seeing what more our futures hold.”
Kaede Balazs and Heidi Peiper contributed to this report.
Supporting women in coffee
Learn about the organizations who will receive donations raised by purchases of brewed Siren’s Blend in participating U.S. stores Sept. 24–29, 2019: the International Women’s Coffee Alliance (IWCA) and Days for Girls.
International Women’s Coffee Alliance
The IWCA leads women's empowerment across the global coffee industry by supporting a locally-driven, globally-connected platform for leadership development, strategic partnership, and market visibility. The contribution from Starbucks is an important investment to enable the IWCA to continue its work bringing visibility and voice to the critical role of women in coffee from cultivation to cup, barista bar to boardroom.
Days for Girls
Days for Girls increases access to menstrual care and education by developing global partnerships, cultivating social enterprises, mobilizing volunteers and innovating sustainable solutions that shatter stigmas and limitations for women and girls. In Rwanda with Starbucks support, Days for Girls, in connection with three coffee cooperatives, hopes to continue to build a sustainable pathway to expand menstrual health education, livelihood skills and access to culturally appropriate menstrual products that increase women’s comfort at work and school.