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Starbucks cold brew gets roasted

Take a coffee tour with State Press reporter Isabella Castillo as she compares Starbucks' new cold brew with other cold brews around the Valley.

Last week Starbucks finally joined 2015 and started offering the darling of the iced coffee world, cold brew, and a review is clearly in order.

If you are an easily satisfied consumer who has yet to be caught in the bitter tide of coffee culture, divert your eyes now. There is still hope for you.

For the rest of us who spend our time discussing the “floral notes” of a particular beverage over industrial reclaimed-wood coffee tables, I’ve taken the time to rate other cold brews from around the city to see how Starbucks stacks up.

The following beverages will be rated on a five-point system in three categories: flavor, price and convenience:

Press Coffee Roasters

The coffee tour begins at Press Coffee Roasters, which has locations in Scottsdale Quarter and Phoenix Sky Harbor, as well as its own roastery in south Phoenix.

Made from its personally roasted beans, Press makes a rich, dark cold brew with a clean flavor and the devotion all the employees have to their craft is clearly evident. For flavor, I’d give it a five out of five.

As far as price, a 16 oz. cold brew runs around $2.70 at Press, which is about midrange, and gets a 3 out of 5.

Convenience is where Press takes a hit. If you’re craving their cold brew, you’ll likely have to go through quite a hassle to find a parking space in the bustling, ritzy Scottsdale Quarter shopping area to get it, and the Sky Harbor location is only useful on trips out of the state. One out of five.

Admittedly, I don’t visit Press often, because it has a rather chilly, upscale vibe and despite the friendly employees, seems a little unapproachable to me. The cold brew, however, is definitely worth a try.

Cartel Coffee Lab

Next up is Cartel Coffee Lab, which has four locations throughout the Phoenix area and two locations in Tucson that provide exactly the kind of trendy atmosphere littered with Mac users and struggling writers you would expect.

Cartel roasts its own beans as well, and its absolute openness about where the product comes from and how it is treated is both refreshing and fascinating.

The self-proclaimed “original cold-brewers” at Cartel offer a well crafted cold brew with strong, pungent flavors and a certain depth that makes it a real coffee-lovers drink.

My only gripe is that every once in a while, the brew takes on a slightly tangy aftertaste that I do not associate with the usual, floral acidity of coffee. This may have to do with a buildup of quinic acid based on how long ago the beans were roasted or how long the coffee was brewed.

If present at all, this slight sourness becomes hardly noticeable when paired with the nutty flavor of almond milk. I give Cartel a four out of five for flavor.

For price, Cartel cold brew runs at $2.50 and gets a five out of five.

Cartel gets fairly high marks as far as convenience goes. With multiple locations all putting out high-quality product, you’re likely to be within a 15 minute drive of their delicious cold brew, and I’d give them a 4 out of 5.

Royal Coffee Bar and Roasting Company

Royal Coffee Bar and Roasting Company serves up a fair amount of cold brew as well. Packaged in dark glass bottles, it has an almost medicinal vibe, but there’s no need for a spoonful of sugar to get this sweet elixir down.

Royal’s brew has an earthy flavor with citrusy notes and a lightness that makes it an excellent gateway drug into the world of cold brew. This is a nice contrast to a rich brew like Cartel’s, and both kinds are equally enjoyable depending on preference. Royal receives a four out of five in flavor.

Unlike other coffee shops, Royal doesn’t serve cold brew by the cup. The bottles, however, can easily be shared among two people and cost a mere $5, which deserves a five out of five in price to me.

Royal’s cold brew is fairly attainable with four locations across the Phoenix area, one of which is within walking distance of ASU’s Tempe campus, and receives a three out of five for convenience.

Jobot Coffee and Dining

Jobot Coffee and Dining in Downtown Phoenix has a similarly light cold brew to that of Royal, although interestingly enough, Cartel is its coffee roaster.

Nonetheless, the way Jobot brews their coffee results in a smooth flavor that deserves a solid four out of five.

Unfortunately, Jobot is near the top of the price range, with a cup of cold brew costing about $3.25, and I can only give it a two out of five for price.

The extra quarters, however, are definitely worth it when craving coffee at 2 a.m., because Jobot is the only coffee shop I know that stays open 24 hours a day on weekends and until midnight on weekdays. So although it has only one location, Jobot gets a four out of five in convenience for feeding those nocturnal caffeine-cravings.

Songbird Coffee and Tea House

A few blocks over is Songbird Coffee and Tea House, which brews with Cortez roasted beans out of a quaint little house filled with comfy furniture and unique decor.

With a rich well-rounded flavor of a moderate strength, Songbird’s cold brew is among the finest and receives a five out of five from me.

Like its friendly downtown competitor, however, Songbird is on the upper-end of the cold brew price index, coming to about $3.75 per 16 oz. cup, which only earns it a one out of five points. Sorry Songbird.

As far as convenience goes, it’s always easy to find free parking around Songbird, and for students of ASU’s downtown campus, parking isn’t even necessary, as it’s just a short walk away. However with fairly standard hours of operation and only one location, Songbird receives a two out of five for convenience.

Although one can hardly fault warm, cozy little Songbird for wanting to be the one and only, and it is extremely difficult to have a bad time drinking coffee on the big squashy couch by the window.


Finally, we have a complete context of cold brews to set the stage for Starbucks’ debut.

To begin, I might note, that upon one visit to Starbucks, I requested the cold brew and was informed that they had run out, which was particularly unsettling considering it was only 12 in the afternoon.

Once I was finally able to get my hands on some, however, I was heavily disappointed. To be fair, customers often complain of a deeply bitter, burned flavor in Starbucks coffee, and this was absent in the cold brew. Unfortunately, it was replaced by an overwhelming tanginess that was difficult to ignore. I can only afford it a one out of five for flavor.

Admittedly, I hold a slight prejudice because to me, nothing accompanies cold brew better than sweet, nutty almond milk, which is not offered at Starbucks. Instead they offer soy or coconut milk.

These factors may be overlooked by some, if it comes at a great price. This is, however, is not the case, as Starbucks cold brew is also near the top of the price range, coming to $3.25 for a 16 oz. cup. For price, it receive a two out of five.

It is no surprise that convenience is where Starbucks shines. With a store on every corner and drive-throughs galore, you can’t really beat it. Five out of five.

Not a Starbucks fan in general, I will likely not be back for the cold brew. I am glad to have tried it, however, and a less pretentious coffee consumer may very well enjoy it, if anything for the convenience.

Reach the reporter at or follow @isabella_m_cast on twitter 

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