Late last month, Starbucks announced they will be offering four “Blonde” roast coffees beginning in January 2012. This comes after many years of complaints from consumers that the company roasted all their beans too dark, hence the often-heard “Charbucks” moniker. The lighter roasts will be two new regular coffees, Starbucks Veranda Blend (using Latin American beans) and Starbucks Willow Blend (Latin America and East Africa), a decaf (Decaf Starbucks Willow Blend), and an instant (Starbucks VIA Ready Brew Veranda Blend).
Rumor has it that four of their current offerings will be replaced by the new coffees. They are the Fair Trade certified Café Estima Blend, the decaf Caffè Verona, the decaf House Blend, and the Organic Shade Grown Mexico. In response to my specific inquiry, I have confirmation from Starbucks that the latter will indeed be discontinued.
We reviewed the Organic Shade Grown Mexico here awhile back, and provided a lot of background information. In a nutshell, this coffee was sourced from farmers in Chiapas in the buffer zone of the El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve. The sourcing of coffee from this area was done in partnership with Conservation International, and lead to the development of Starbucks’ green coffee sourcing standards program, known as CAFÉ [Coffee and Farm Equity] Practices. The Starbucks/Conservation International partnership began in 1998, continued for years with substantial reinvestments by Starbucks, being known as the Conservation Coffee program.
Starbucks just recently renewed the partnership for two years and $3 million, with a focus on climate change. The renewal will mark the beginning of work in Brazil, and expand on programs in Sumatra and Chiapas. However, I was unable to get a direct answer from Starbucks on whether or not they will still be providing an organic, shade-grown Mexico coffee as a seasonal offering, whether it will be used in one of the new Blonde blends, or in some other blend.
With the advent of the Conservation International partnership and the development of their CAFE Practices, Starbucks imposed quality standards on the Chiapas cooperatives supplying this coffee. While it supplied significant benefits to the co-ops initially, many objected to the requirements and quit selling some or all of their coffee to Starbucks once their own capacity and abilities improved. These included CESMACH (Ecological Farmers of the Sierra Madres of Chiapas), Organización de Productores Cafetaleros de Ángel Albino Corzo (OPCAAC), Finca Triunfo Verde Sociedad Civil, and Organización Regional de Productores Agroecológicos (ORPAE). At least one source  indicates that many of the suppliers to Starbucks in this area of Chiapas are small producers that do not belong to cooperatives. Perhaps there is not enough volume to support a quasi-single-origin coffee from this region any longer.
In any event, the Blonde roast roll out will coincide with an overhaul of coffee packaging/branding at Starbucks to emphasize the three roast levels (with the lightest being Blonde, which is still roasted to second crack) rather than origin, and that may also play a role in the discontinuation of this coffee.
I have generally recommended the Organic Shade Grown Mexico to friends who are Starbucks customers looking for their most eco-friendly offering. While I generally believe that the Starbucks CAFE Practices environmental standards, which apply to nearly all their coffees, are quite strong and relevant, I’ll have to reassess to come up with a specific recommendation once the Mexico disappears from shelves.
Renard, M.-C. 2010. In the name of conservation: CAFE Practices and Fair Trade in Mexico. Journal of Business Ethics 92:287-299.