Meet the Starbucks coffee expert who tastes your coffee before you do

December 16, 2016
HOME People Meet the Starbucks coffee expert who tastes your coffee before you do

There’s no question that Leslie Wolford’s passion for coffee is limitless. Her enduring love of roasting and brewing has led to a long and remarkable career as a Starbucks partner (employee), where she’s directly influenced the coffee-drinking experience of customers around the world. Leslie is one of a few gifted people who spend countless hours discovering and perfecting the flavor profiles of Starbucks® coffees. To put it simply, Leslie tastes your coffee before you do, and your daily cup is all the better for it.

Leslie’s journey with Starbucks began in 1991, when she started out as a barista in Downtown Seattle. Back then she worked at the first Starbucks® store to feature an espresso bar, and from there a lifelong fascination grew. “I wanted to know everything I could about coffee,” she says with signature enthusiasm, and she tackled that goal head-on. Over the years Leslie has filled many roles, from green coffee loader, to roaster, to her current position as senior coffee quality development specialist, where she uses her master tasting skills to help cultivate the Starbucks Reserve® portfolio. “I’ve been with the company 25 years,” she says, “and every day I learn something new about coffee.”

Perfecting the Craft

It takes dedication to build a 25-year career. After learning all about beans in her early days with the company, Leslie spent five years learning the craft of roasting coffee. During her early tasting years, she tasted up to 600 cups in a single day. She has played a key part in several Starbucks innovations, including the creation of the inaugural Starbucks Reserve® Christmas 2015. Recognizing the subtle, unique flavors and best expressions of each coffee requires time and patience, but Leslie has never lost her excitement for the work.

Every day I’m tasting six or eight coffees that we’re developing for something special...I’ve traveled the world of coffee in the tasting room.
-Leslie Wolford
senior coffee quality development specialist

People Matter

An abiding love for coffee is the key building block for such a successful tenure with Starbucks, but relationships are also at the heart of everything Leslie does. As a pioneer in the industry, people often look to her for insight and guidance, and she’s more than happy to share. When asked to describe the best cup of coffee she’s ever had, she says she doesn’t remember the particular coffee so much as moments spent listening to her grandmother tell stories over a cup. For Leslie, drinking coffee is about making connections with the things she loves the most. It’s about craftsmanship and time spent with her colleagues, family, and friends. No wonder she loves her job, and no wonder Starbucks loves Leslie.

Leslie’s Picks

Favorite Coffee: Starbucks coffees are like my children, there are no favorites!
Home Brew Tip: Invest in a good grinder.
Recent Coffee Drinks of Interest: The Red Eye (espresso and drip coffee) and craft coffee cocktails.
Hobbies Outside Coffee: Cooking, backpacking, wine, music, spending time with family.
Best Thing About Coffee: The aroma, hands down!

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