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We need to talk about whatever's happening with Starbucks' drinks

Katie Notopoulos   

We need to talk about whatever's happening with Starbucks' drinks
  • Starbucks' drink menu has changed a lot, which is fine! Great, even! Enjoy!
  • But I feel like I have no idea what most of these drinks even are anymore. Iced Lavender Oatmilk Matcha?

Let me first give a disclaimer: I don't want to yuck anyone's yum. I don't want to disparage people's beverage tastes. I embrace change! I am by no means a coffee snob, and I love trying a fun new treat or flavor.

But.

Whatever is happening on the Starbucks menu right now is making me feel like I'm a senior citizen.

Currently, some of the "spring favorites" on the Starbucks app include a Lavender Oatmilk Chill, an Iced Lavender Cream Oatmilk Matcha, Spicy Dragonfruit, and an Iced Hazelnut Oatmilk Shaken Espresso.

And these are just the standard menu offerings. Over on TikTok, Starbucks employees go viral by showing off an endless amount of customizations.

In a recent video, a handsome young barista shows how to make "pink sauce" (to order: venti vanilla bean Frappucino with two scoops of dragonfruit and whipped on top and bottom). Another one of his creations is a "Milky Way Frappucino" (venti caramel crunch Frappucino with extra caramel and mocha drizzle, extra crunch and cookie crumbles, substitute sweet cream).

It's not just 'mocha-choca-venti-chino-lattes' anymore

It's a hacky outdated joke to scoff at people ordering a "mocha-choca-venti-chino latte" as some jab at blue-haired elitists or whatever. (This has always been a somewhat misguided target: I think, generally, the Frappucino stuff is for suburban teenagers; coastal liberal elite coffee snob orders are probably more likely pour-over served black. But I digress.)

But when I see the sheer amount of dairy products and sugar going into these drinks, I feel like a '90s standup comedian. What the heck is going on with these drinks these days?!?!

I'm no coffee purist, I like mine with half-and-half and Sweet 'N Low. I often drink day-old coffee over ice at home. I enjoy gas station coffee.

I recently was in a Starbucks — which reported slower-than-expected sales this past week — and found myself stammering in confusion at the menu like a boomer, unsure if I was supposed to order with milk and sugar or if those were still self-serve. (The self-serve stations at Starbucks are a pandemic casualty, and probably for the better). After ordering a coffee with milk and Sweet 'N Low, I was informed they no longer carry "the pink packet" and, in fact, haven't in several years (I did actually know this but had forgotten).

In that humiliating moment, I imagined this must've been what it would be like to be a 43-year-old in 1999, learning to order a size "venti" for the first time.

I know very well the hesitant, mildly annoyed speech of those befuddled middle-aged people struggling to place their orders because I worked in a Starbucks as a teenager in 1999, a time when the chain was still new enough that the size names befuddled many.

The rise of complicated, multi-ingredient sweet drinks has coincided with the rise in popularity of the Starbucks app, accelerated by the start of the pandemic in 2020 when many locations couldn't take walk-in orders. Not only are there more options for a customer to add in extra pumps of syrup, drizzle, or whipped cream, but the app also makes it easier for the barista to actually make the drink — they have all the ingredients printed out on a sticker label, exactly how the customer wants it.

Back in my day, we would use a wax pencil to mark a cup with a form of shorthand to signal what the order was, and then the employee who was working the drink station would have to make it. I can tell you that we got a lot of people's drinks wrong!

I tried the newer Starbucks drinks myself

I acknowledge I'm a bit of a crank when I say: The Starbucks menu is out of control. But I don't want to be an uninformed crank. So I went out on a fact-finding mission Friday to my local Starbucks. I ordered the Oleato Golden Foam Iced Shaken Espresso with Toffeenut for myself, a Cinnamon Caramel Cream Nitro Cold brew for my husband — who asked me to get him "anything with real coffee in it" — and a Frozen Mango Dragonfruit Lemonade Refresher for my 7-year-old.

The adult drinks were sweet and creamy, like coffee ice cream. (I should note here that my grande iced drink was 360 calories, which does seem like a dessert treat rather than a morning coffee. It was tasty for a few sips, but my husband and I couldn't finish ours.)

Meanwhile, my son slurped down his fruit slushy and loved it, which sort of confirmed what I had been suspecting: These sweet new additions are for kids, teens, and non-coffee drinkers looking for a little afternoon treat. And hey, that's great — a caramel milkshake is a better teen trend than vaping. But it also reinforced what I already knew: Starbucks makes me feel 1,000 years old.




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