The Chain Gang

Starbucks Turned Its Sought-After ‘Coffee Passport’ Into a New App

Another step toward becoming a world of caffeinated recluses.
Another step toward becoming a world of caffeinated recluses. Photo: Joshua Trujillo/Starbucks

Starbucks is back at trying to up its third-wave street cred with a new tasting app that it hopes will impress the growing legion of coffee snobs. Since the ‘90s, something called the Coffee Passport has existed as a physical booklet, which baristas are supposed to yank out during cuppings and use to jot down notes on aroma and acidity.

Because this is 2016, the guide has now been digitized and commodified: Baristas got access last month, but yesterday Starbucks released it online to anyone who loads onto their smartphone.

For people who geek out over washed versus semi-washed processing, the app is handy enough — only, in all likelihood, these people don’t drink much Starbucks nowadays anyhow. You’ll probably find the explanation of this formerly employee-only experience a little patronizing:

Partners are encouraged to write notes in their passport. Partners sampling Starbucks Sumatra Coffee, for example, browse information about the coffee — including growing region and flavor notes — and add their own comments. A partner could write that the coffee tastes “earthy and herbal” or “full bodied and smooth.” When the entry is complete, the partner applies a Sumatra stamp, or sticker, to the paper passport.

Sadly, those literal stamps are gone, but in their place are things like a glossary, a primer for doing cuppings, and tips on brew methods ranging from Chemex to iced pour-overs. Also, since there’s understandably so much sudden confusion over how on earth all of these espresso drinks are different, the app includes descriptions and drawings of each, too.

An unintended consequence may be shrinking the knowledge gap between barista and customer; give it a few years and what sets them apart may just be that one can correctly spell the customer’s name.


Starbucks Released a Coffee Tasting App