I tried Taco Bell's new coffee chillers and shakes, and some are nearly as good as Starbucks' Frappuccinos for about 30% less

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I tried Taco Bell's new coffee chillers and shakes, and some are nearly as good as Starbucks' Frappuccinos for about 30% less
  • Taco Bell is testing frozen iced coffee beverages and shakes.
  • The two-store test in California comes as McDonald's launches the beverage-focused CosMc's.

Cold fast food beverages are hot these days, and the latest chain to play in the space is Taco Bell.

The Mexican-inspired fast food chain is testing uber-sweet iced coffee drinks and shakes, dubbed chillers, at two Southern California restaurants.

Taco Bell enters a category led by Starbucks. Soda and coffee-focused chains like Swig and 7 Brews are growing fast. And even McDonald's is getting into the trend with CosMc's, its new beverage-focused concept.

In mid-December, Taco Bell began serving three different blended iced coffee chillers in Mission Viejo, California. And a Taco Bell in Irvine, California, is testing four shakes sprinkled with tiny bits of churro crumbles.

The seven frozen drinks are topped with a thick cold foam – a popular add-on for many Starbucks drinks.

I tried the new drinks to see if they'd be worthy of a nationwide rollout.

Here's what I discovered.

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In mid-December, Taco Bell began a limited test of its first-ever line of frozen coffee and shake innovations.

In mid-December, Taco Bell began a limited test of its first-ever line of frozen coffee and shake innovations.
Taco Bell is testing four Churro Chillers in Southern California. Nancy Luna/Business Insider

Taco Bell tested more than a dozen menu items in 2023, including its first-ever experiment of frozen coffee beverages and shakes.

Taco Bell's Chief Marketing Officer Taylor Montgomery said the chain created the drinks, dubbed Coffee Chillers and Churro Chillers, due to consumer demand.

"We are constantly listening to what our fans are craving next, and we are thrilled to offer them a frozen creation that's just as delicious and desirable as their favorite menu item," Montgomery said in a statement.

The Frappuccino-style blended beverages are being tested at two Taco Bells near the chain's Irvine, California, headquarters.

The Frappuccino-style blended beverages are being tested at two Taco Bells near the chain's Irvine, California, headquarters.
Nancy Luna, a food correspondent for Business Insider, tries the Churro Chillers at a Taco Bell in Irvine, California.Nancy Luna/Business Insider

The Churro Chillers are being tested at a Taco Bell in Irvine, California.

I first went to the Irvine, California store, where my drinks took about 20 minutes to be prepared. That was a long wait, but the presentation was picture-perfect.

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The Churro Chillers were spotlighted on digital menu boards and kiosks at the store.

The Churro Chillers were spotlighted on digital menu boards and kiosks at the store.
Menu boards and kiosks promote Taco Bell's new Churro Chillers.Nancy Luna/Business Insider

I ordered all four chiller flavors from a kiosk: Mexican Chocolate, Dulce de Leche Coffee, Wild Strawberry, and Sweet Vanilla. All four drinks cost $4.19 for a 16-ounce cup.

The Mexican Chocolate chiller looked chocolatey, but...

The Mexican Chocolate chiller looked chocolatey, but...
The Taco Bell Mexican Chocolate Chiller looked chocolatey.Nancy Luna/Business Insider

… it wasn't heavy on the chocolate.

Presentation-wise, the drink looked inviting with chocolate swirls, a thick cold foam topping, and churro crumbles. I commend the staff for making the drink look like the marketing images, something that doesn't always happen with fast food pictures.

Texture-wise, the drink was a bit icy, like a Wendy's Frosty.

If you're a chocolate fan, you might be disappointed in this one. "It tastes like brown-colored ice," my dining partner, who is an admitted chocoholic, said.

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The Dulce de Leche Coffee drink tasted nothing like coffee.

The Dulce de Leche Coffee drink tasted nothing like coffee.
The Dulce de Leche Coffee drink is part of the Churro Chiller lineup because it contains churro crumbles and less caffeine than the Coffee Chillers, Taco Bell said.Nancy Luna/Business Insider

The Dulce de Leche Coffee drink is misnamed. It doesn't taste anything like coffee. It was cloyingly sweet compared to the chocolate shake.

But dulce de leche, which means "sweet milk" in Spanish, should taste like candy.

The cold foam and churro crumbles, which are topped on all of the chiller drinks, made this beverage even sweeter if that's possible.

Later, I asked Taco Bell about the shake's coffee content. They told me it is blended with coffee, but the caffeine content is less than 50 milligrams.

That's probably why I didn't taste any coffee. The sugary base devoured the small amount of coffee in the shake.

(Note: The average amount of caffeine in an 8-ounce cup of brewed coffee is 96 milligrams, according to the USDA.)

Taco Bell's Sweet Vanilla Chiller is the most innovative of the four shakes.

Taco Bell's Sweet Vanilla Chiller is the most innovative of the four shakes.
Taco Bell's Sweet Vanilla Chiller is a very pretty, on brand drink. Nancy Luna/Business Insider

There's something comforting about a plain vanilla shake. But Taco Bell doesn't do plain, so they added a "purple" swirl in the shake.

I wanted to try this shake with a spoon to get a perfect blend of blended vanilla, churro crumbles, and cold foam.

But, alas, Taco Bell doesn't have spoons!

I ended up using a fork to scoop up the thick shake with a few crumbles and cold foam, which is impossible to do with a straw.

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There was nothing wild or innovative about the Wild Strawberry chiller.

There was nothing wild or innovative about the Wild Strawberry chiller.
Taco Bell's Strawberry Chiller had an artificial taste.Nancy Luna/Business Insider

Taco Bell's Wild Strawberry chiller was my least favorite of the four drinks. The artificial flavoring of the strawberry was overpowering. It tasted like Nesquik Strawberry milk.

The cold foam and churro crumbles could not save this drink.

Overall, I liked the Churro Chillers a lot. I especially like the price.

Overall, I liked the Churro Chillers a lot. I especially like the price.
Taco Bell staff in Irvine, California did a good job in making my chillers look like the marketing photos. Foodbeast for Taco Bell

Shakes are a tough segment to muscle into. Chains like Chick-fil-A, Dairy Queen, and Sonic are known for their delicious shakes. But Taco Bell is off to a good start.

The $4.19 price tag is competitive. Most Chick-fil-A shakes cost at least $5 or more, according to prices listed on the chain's app in Orange County, California.

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Taco Bell is testing three different Coffee Chillers, which contain caffeine that's nearly equal to a cup of coffee.

Taco Bell is testing three different Coffee Chillers, which contain caffeine that's nearly equal to a cup of coffee.
Taco Bell is testing three Coffee Chillers at one store in Southern California.Nancy Luna/Business Insider

The next day, I drove to Mission Viejo, California to try the 16-ounce iced coffee chillers.

Taco Bell is testing three flavors: Mexican Chocolate, Caramel Churro, and Spiced Vanilla. The caffeine-infused drinks are topped with cold foam.

The Coffee Chillers contain about 75 to 80 milligrams of caffeine, nearly equal to a cup of coffee.

The Mexican Chocolate Coffee Chiller tasted just like the chocolate churro shake but with a hint of coffee.

The Mexican Chocolate Coffee Chiller tasted just like the chocolate churro shake but with a hint of coffee.
I wish the churro crumbles came with the Coffee Chillers. Nancy Luna/Business Insider

This drink was nearly identical to its Churro Chiller counterpart.

I could taste only a hint of coffee.

These drinks do not contain churro crumbles, which is a bummer because the crumbles are fun and provide a much-needed crunchy texture.

If you're looking for a strong, mocha-style frappe, I think you'll be disappointed in this beverage.

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The Spiced Vanilla Coffee Chiller was the least exciting drink to look at. But it was sweet and satisfying.

The Spiced Vanilla Coffee Chiller was the least exciting drink to look at. But it was sweet and satisfying.
The Spiced Vanilla Coffee Chiller at Taco Bell didn't look very good, but it sure was sweet.Nancy Luna/Business Insider

This vanilla drink looked boring compared to the Sweet Vanilla shake with the purple swirls.

But it was delicious. I don't drink frappe drinks because they're too sweet. But I would order this one on a hot summer afternoon. The sweet vanilla flavor mixed with a subtle amount of coffee made this a very approachable drink. It was not too indulgent.

You also can't beat the price at $4.19. A 16-ounce Caffe Vanilla Frappuccino cost $5.95 at my local Starbucks in Orange, California.

The Caramel Churro coffee chiller was my favorite of the three frozen iced coffee drinks.

The Caramel Churro coffee chiller was my favorite of the three frozen iced coffee drinks.
The Caramel Churro coffee chiller was good, but I didn't taste any churro flavors.Nancy Luna/Business Insider

By the time I had this drink, I realized that I needed to stir it with my straw to get a better taste of all the ingredients.

Caramel streaks were visible on this drink, but much of the thick and sticky topping had pooled to the bottom of the drink. So stirring was necessary to get a perfect sip of the sugary goodness in this drink.

This was my favorite drink of the three Coffee Chillers because the caramel and coffee flavors paired well.

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Overall, I liked the shakes the best because of the cold foam and churro crumbles.

Overall, I liked the shakes the best because of the cold foam and churro crumbles.
The churro crumbles gave the Churro Chillers an edge over the Coffee Chillers. Nancy Luna/Business Insider

All seven drinks were topped with Taco Bell's version of cold foam – a thick, sweet buttermilk base foam topping that tasted like whipped cream.

But, the churro crumbles gave the shakes an edge over the Coffee Chillers. The crumbles added texture, which was missing in the blended frozen coffee drinks.

I would love to see the Sweet Vanilla and Dulce de Leche Coffee shakes and the Caramel Churro and Spiced Vanilla coffee chillers expand nationally.

With a little more work in the test kitchen, I think the Mexican Chocolate shake and coffee chiller could make the national menu.

I would note that, operationally, Taco Bell needs to figure out how to serve these drinks faster.

I waited a long time for both drinks to be served. I can see this being an issue in the drive-thru. But that's why tests are necessary.

I'm sure Taco Bell will work out the kinks. And, when they do, Taco Bell fans will likely turn up in droves.

Are you a fast-food insider with insight to share? Got a tip? Contact this reporter via email at nluna@insider.com or via Signal encrypted at 714-875-6218.