Starbucks Corp. will start serving up a new "everyday" brew Tuesday, hoping the signature blend will help revive slumping sales in its crucial U.S. market.
To celebrate the launch, it will host a half-hour nationwide coffee-tasting, giving away free 8 oz. cups of Pike Place Roast - named after its first store in Seattle's famed public market - at more than 7,000 U.S. stores beginning at 9 a.m. PDT (12 p.m. EDT).
Chairman and Chief Executive Howard Schultz said the new blend will have a bold, robust flavor profile that customers have come to expect of Starbucks coffee, but with a smoother, buttery finish.
"It's the best of Starbucks," Schultz said in a conference call Monday.
Schultz visited The Early Show Tuesday, where co-anchor Harry Smith got to try the new brew.
It will be freshly roasted and shipped directly to stores, hand-scooped, freshly ground and brewed in small batches. Baristas have been told to throw out any brew that hasn't been served within 30 minutes.
"We'll be pouring out more coffee than most people serve," Schultz said.
It will be brewed, both regular and decaf, alongside rotating coffees of the week, and sold by the whole bean for $9.95 per pound, and less than $2 a cup.
Starbucks developed Pike Place Roast - testing some 30 roasts and 30 blends - after consulting with nearly 1,000 customers who clamored for a line of drip coffee that wouldn't switch from, say, an earthy Sumatra one week to a bright, citrusy Ethiopia Sidamo the next.
Consistently, customers kept saying: "Give us a coffee we can count on every day, all day, all week," Andrew Linnemann, Starbucks master coffee blender said Monday.
Starbucks has spent the last few months sharpening its focus on the basics - a strategy Schultz is pushing as part of the company's efforts to reinvigorate its U.S. business, which has suffered amid a soft economy and growing competition from rivals ranging from McDonald's Corp. and Dunkin' Donuts to Peet's Coffee & Tea, Caribou Coffee and small, independent coffee shops.
Schultz bristles at any suggestion that the company's turnaround efforts are aimed at the competition.
"This is not about competition. This is about Starbucks," Schultz said. "We believe that we control our own destiny, and our customers expect a quality from Starbucks that is unparalleled."
But one customer in Seattle complained to Early Show national correspondent Hattie Kauffman that Starbucks has become "the McDonald's of coffee." Another said, "You can't walk three blocks without finding one."
One night in late February, the company shut down most of its U.S. stores for three hours to retrain baristas on espresso basics.
The company has also promised to start grinding all its brewed coffee in stores, which will bring back the pungent aroma many customers have missed since the company started using flavor-locked bags of pre-ground coffee years ago.
Schultz has acknowledged that declining U.S. home prices, a widespread credit crunch and rising gasoline and energy costs have undoubtedly made many consumers pare back on affordable luxuries like $4 lattes.
"During the downturn in the economy," Schultz remarked to Smith, "we want to be very sensitive to our customers, and this is a coffee that's very affordable. It's an affordable luxury."
But he has repeatedly insisted he believes Starbucks' bigger problem was that it focused too much on growth in recent years and not enough on customers and its core product.
The company has scaled back the number of new U.S. stores it plans to open this year, while ramping up growth overseas, and remains committed to a long-term goal of having 40,000 stores worldwide. It has about 16,000 stores worldwide today, more than two-thirds of them in the United States.
To promote the new brew, Starbucks will spend at least two months serving all its coffee and espresso drinks in white cups with a version of its original brown mermaid logo. It's been touched up to make the her long, wavy hair cover her bare breasts - a move aimed at pre-empting complaints it's received in the past from people who find it too racy.
Pike Place Roast will also be the first Starbucks coffee bearing a new symbol the company created with Conservation International, showing that all beans are purchased from suppliers that meet high workplace and environmental standards, such as paying pickers well and requiring coffee to be grown in the shade without use of pesticides.
Schultz has two other cameos planned for Tuesday -- first, at a replica of the Pike Place store Starbucks is putting up in Manhattan's Bryant Park, then back in Seattle Tuesday evening at the actual Pike Place cafe.