REVIEW: Starbucks Toasted White Chocolate Mocha

Starbucks Toasted White Chocolate Mocha

I frequent Starbucks a little too often. (Mom, if you’re reading this, Starbucks gift cards are a very acceptable Christmas gift). I also am a sucker for the holiday and/or limited edition drinks, like Starbucks’ new Toasted White Chocolate Mocha.

The beverage includes espresso, caramelized white chocolate, whipped cream, and candied cranberry sugar. When I received my hot drink, I was super pleased that what I got DID look like the promotional picture.

There’s plenty of whipped cream (although it was sunken in due to the heat of the drink when I took off the lid) and cranberry sugar that, in my opinion, kind of looked like bacon bits. (Hey Starbucks, there’s an idea! A drink with bacon? This would have done wonders for the Maple Pecan latte that was released this fall. The drink fell flat for me, and bacon would have seriously enhanced it with the maple. I end my rant.)

The first sips of the drink were mostly whipped cream, which is never a bad thing. Once I got to the actual drink, I was definitely a fan. I didn’t taste too much of the “toasted” flavor, but the white chocolate was strong and delicious. While there is espresso, I didn’t taste any coffee – I felt like I was drinking a fancy white hot chocolate.

This is definitely a fun “dessert” drink or mid-afternoon pick-me-up (I’m plotting it for a Black Friday sugar rush), but don’t count on it for your morning caffeine jolt. It DOES contain caffeine, but it just wasn’t too noticeable for me. I usually avoid caffeine after 5 p.m. so I can get to sleep like a normal person at night, but I had this at 7 p.m. and my 10 p.m. bedtime wasn’t a problem.

Starbucks Toasted White Chocolate Mocha 2

Back to the candied cranberry sugar — this was the most unnecessary part of the drink. Not only did I not taste any cranberry flavor, once the fruit bits got soggy, their texture was too soft and chewy. Because cranberry isn’t in the name of the drink, I think you could do without it.

I drank the Toasted White Chocolate Mocha over the course of an hour, and the flavor and temperature held strong. One key takeaway is although this is a sugar bomb – 41 grams in a tall! – it’s not overly sweet. Perfect for sipping and shopping, if you ask me.

Starbucks, another well-done holiday drink. Can’t wait to see what you come up with next. (cough, bacon, cough.)

(Nutrition Facts – 12 oz – 330 calories, 12 grams of fat, 8 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 40 milligrams of cholesterol, 300 milligrams of sodium, 45 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 41 grams of sugar, 11 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $4.25
Size: Tall (12 oz.)
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Strong white chocolate flavor. Didn’t keep me up all night.
Cons: Bacon bit-looking cranberry sugar on top that just wasn’t necessary.

REVIEW: Starbucks Zombie Frappuccino

Starbucks Zombie Frappuccino

For a few days this past spring, hordes of mindless entities overran Starbucks locations across North America. A thirsty hivemind in sight of one thing – Instagram likes. The Unicorn Frappuccino became a viral phenomenon, packing stores with teens ready to buy a drink that was handcrafted to pop in selfies and stories.

Stores were flattened by the demand. Locations ran out of ingredients a few days into the promotion. Baristas traded stories of trauma, blending these neon drinks by the dozen for shouting preteen crowds.

In a holiday attempt to recapture that social buzz, Starbucks has introduced the Zombie Frappuccino. With a caramel green apple base, a blood red mocha syrup drizzle, and pink “brain” whipped topping – it’s a sugary delight that will surely dominate your social feed for days to come.

Starbucks Zombie Frappuccino 2

Upon being handed my zombified milkshake, I was a little let down. The red syrup was all clumped at the top, leaving the rest a bland tennis court green. But as the drink started to melt, the blood started to seep down the sides in thin veins. The colors all pop appropriately, creating a spooky edible lava lamp. It’s a great effect, and one that surprisingly doesn’t come at the cost of taste.

While the Unicorn Frap was an overly-sour sugar bomb, the Zombie Frap is far more balanced. The green caramel apple base is very sweet, but tart enough to feel balanced on the tongue. Caramel notes pop in the aftertaste, adding a brown sugar richness.

As the drink melts into the bottom half, the red syrup starts to take more of an active role. It’s got a bitter coffee sting that never dominates the drink, but keeps it from being hauntingly sweet.

Starbucks Zombie Frappuccino 3

The whipped cream topping is the one area where the drink possibly falls short. Rather than the vibrant pink that makes one think of brains, it was closer to a light purple or fuchsia. It’s a minor complaint, but a drink designed for its visuals needs to be judged appropriately. There’s also no added flavor to the whip – just coloring. This was likely a smart choice, as anything else on it may have pushed it over the edge. But as is, it’s a worthy seasonal treat.

(Nutrition Facts – Grande with Whole Milk – 290 calories, 45 calories from fat, 5 gram of fat, 3 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 15 milligrams of cholesterol, 240 milligrams of sodium, 58 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 54 grams of sugar, 3 grams of other carbohydrates, and 5 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $5.05
Size: Grande
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Colors have excellent contrast, creating a great zombie aesthetic. Caramel apple flavor isn’t too sweet. Blood mocha syrup adds a needed caffeine punch.
Cons: Whip wasn’t as pink as advertised. Could have used more coffee than just the dash of syrup. Has as much sugar as two full-size Snickers bars.

REVIEW: Starbucks Teavana Shaken Iced Tea Infusions

Teavana Shaken Iced Tea Infusions

Summertime arrives each year following much anticipation of great weather, long days, and lots of opportunities for seasonal activities. By the time most of us get to August, the luster is gone. Skin in a mosaic pattern of sunburn and bug bites remain as a reminder of the overcrowded beaches, holiday weekend traffic jams, uncomfortable humidity, and unfinished must-reads that we experienced over the last six weeks.

Starbucks aims to rekindle some of that summer charm by introducing their new line of Teavana Shaken Iced Tea Infusions. Teavana, previously a member of the top five free mall samples, was an expert at pairing blends and other enhancers (fruit among them) to create samples that were steeped (pun intended) in flavor. Their iced tea offerings (often paired with lemonade) were always the most strongly flavored and had me looking forward to their presentation of how “Good Feels Good,” represented in each drink by two infusions (tea and a fruit/plant/floral infusion) shaken together.

Teavana Peach Citrus Shaken Iced Tea Infusions

The first variety, Peach Citrus White Tea, was inspired by Teavana Peach Tranquility Herbal Tea. The tea and a small amount of liquid cane sugar (just 70 calories and 19 grams of sugar in a 30 ounce Trenta), enhanced with an infusion of apples, licorice root, rose hips, hibiscus, orange peels, lemon verbena, chamomile pollen, lavender flowers, AND nondescript “natural flavors.”

It was generally light on peach flavor. This clearly wasn’t a Snapple or Nestea offering that beat you over the head with peach flavor. Peach does not show up on that lengthy infusion list in any form. But as I consumed more, the flavor evoked the scent of peach blossoms.

This drink captured the blending benefits I was familiar with from Teavana, and that’s a big win in my book. Iced tea is not complicated to make, and you don’t have to have exotic additions like rose hips or flower pollen to enjoy it. This is clearly a premium experience you’re being offered, and comparing other soft drinks puts this in a class by itself. Reviewer-speak aside, I nearly drank it too quickly to do the review justice!

White tea’s ability to be a featured and flexible background player (the Katherine Hahn of herbal beverages) was key, and I was concerned black tea might overwhelm the floral intonations and green tea might dampen their impact with a bitter counterpart.

Teavana Pineapple Black Shaken Iced Tea Infusions

My first fear was confirmed by the Pineapple Black Tea variety, inspired by Pineapple Kona Pop herbal tea, frequently used in Teavana’s iced tea samples. The strong tea choice did, in fact, overwhelm any subtler influences, and without the appropriate level of sweetness emanated a slight smoky nature in the aftertaste.

The pineapple flavor is a positive, a rare fresh pineapple taste infrequently found in beverages, particularly without coconut. This was the real deal. At least I think, despite a more tidy infusion list devoid of actual pineapple, save for the ubiquitous “Natural Flavors” catch-all.

Teavana Strawberry Green Shaken Iced Tea Infusions

The third variety was the Strawberry Green Tea, oddly inspired by the Strawberry Paraiso White Tea. How would the change to a more pungent tea change the overall complexion of the drink?

I found the strawberry green interesting, as it feels like it’s working backwards. This beverage’s initial impact is very plant-based, surely due in part to the earthy herbal quality of green tea. The strawberry hits after you swallow, and, like the pineapple, tastes pretty close to “real” strawberry flavor (once again no strawberry indicated, although spearmint and lemongrass each made an appearance). If you consume the drink faster, the delay of the fruit impact lessons, but I appreciated having two taste profiles in one beverage. This option is meant to be savored slowly, which after all, is what iced tea’s heritage is all about.

Teavana Pina Colada Shaken Iced Tea Infusions

BONUS SEGMENT! Reviewing the Starbucks website, I discovered a less-promoted option: the Pina Colada Infusion. Through the generosity of the Main Street Newark partners, I had the chance to try this version on the house. The only change was a simple addition of coconut milk to the Pineapple Black Tea Infusion, or so it appeared. This time the ingredients list revealed a potentially significant adjustment, the reversal of the black tea and the plant/fruit, indicating less of the former and more of the latter in this incarnation.

The drink now consisted of creamy, slightly sweet, and slightly floral coconut milk; a greater concentration of plant/fruit infusion; and a reduced amount of black tea. The results were a marked improvement, albeit a beverage unlike iced tea you’ve ever had. Instead, a mildly sweet, fresh-tasting, not-cliche pina colada beverage is created, one that largely hides the black tea component and could be a counterpart to the Violet Drink. It’s unique, and perhaps not as impressive as the Peach Citrus White Tea, but it’s the option I find myself hankering for.

On my summer bucket list, I’ve got a few of the usual things left to do — catch a superhero flick, ride a roller coaster, read through the last seven reasons why. Thanks to Starbucks, I can leave planting in the garden far off the list. I’ve got all the flowers and pollen I need from this delightful line of tea infusions.

(Nutrition Facts – Trenta – Peach Citrus White – 70 calories, 0 grams of fat, 20 milligrams of sodium, 19 grams of carbohydrates, 19 grams of sugar, and 40-45 milligrams of caffeine. Pineapple Black and Strawberry Green – 70 calories, 0 grams of fat, 20 milligrams of sodium, 19 grams of carbohydrates, 19 grams of sugar, and 50-55 milligrams of caffeine. Pina Colada – 160 calories, 5 grams of fat, 5 grams of saturated fat, 27 grams of carbohydrates, 26 grams of sugar, and 50 milligrams of caffeine.)

Purchased Price: $4.25 each except Pina Colada ($4.75)
Size: Trenta
Rating: 9 out of 10 (Peach Citrus White Tea)
Rating: 6 out of 10 (Pineapple Black Tea)
Rating: 8 out of 10 (Strawberry Green Tea)
Rating: 8 out of 10 (Pina Colada Tea)
Pros: A gourmet effort at iced tea. Light balance between tea, fruit, and flower in the Peach Citrus White. Pineapple and strawberry flavors. The re-balancing act with the Pina Colada infusions ratios. The other members of the top five samples: (Auntie Anne’s, whatever places give out hibachi chicken or smoothies, and Charley’s Philly Steaks)
Cons: Overwhelming smokey black tea aftertaste. Starbucks adding another competitor’s outlets to the RIP pile (Seattle’s Best, Evaluation Fresh, La Boulange). When you’re a kid and move to a new house with a pool that your parents immediately replace with a vegetable garden.

REVIEW: Starbucks Berry Prickly Pear and Mango Pineapple Frappuccino Cremes

Starbucks Berry Prickly Pear and Mango Pineapple Frappuccino Cremes

Starbucks created THE fall drink with its Pumpkin Spice Latte.

And it might’ve created the drinks of summer with its new Berry Prickly Pear Frappuccino Blended Crème (berries and prickly pear with side notes of hibiscus and passion fruit) and Mango Pineapple Frappuccino Blended Crème (mango, caramelized pineapple, and a hint of lime).

Visually, both scream SUMMER with the pretty magenta and yellow color schemes. Even though magenta/yellow/white looks better than magenta/yellow/brown, I was a little bit wary of the crème base because the said coffee-less line is generally more like an icy milkshake.

The base was icy as expected but worked better than I imagined because it was fruit-forward. It’s supposed to be blended with milk, ice, and mango syrup, but I picked up a subtle coconut flavor instead. As for the purées, the mango overpowered the pineapple and the berry prickly pear mainly tasted like prickly pear. For those who are wondering, prickly pear has a very subtle sweetness – it tastes like a wax/rose apple or a less-pronounced watermelon. I was relieved that neither of the purées tasted artificial.

Starbucks Berry Prickly Pear and Mango Pineapple Frappuccino Cremes 2

However, I must warn that form does not follow function for these drinks. The layered purée is only good for the ‘gram! I made the mistake of not mixing it enough. I swirled my straw a few times, but still sucked up a hidden pocket of purée. It was very unpleasant texturally as the viscosity reminded me of Children’s Motrin Syrup. I think real mango or strawberry bits would help. Be sure to take your ‘gram first and then stir vigorously!

Starbucks Berry Prickly Pear and Mango Pineapple Frappuccino Cremes 4

As I continued sipping, the mango pineapple began to stand out as my frontrunner. I kept thinking it would taste fantastic with rum. It was like a virgin piña colada minus the artificial sweetness that usually accompanies it. The familiarity of mango, pineapple, and coconut also gave the flavor a leg up over the berry prickly pear which had an unpleasant note that reminded me of cough medicine.

Both drinks included lime, and like having it in a cocktail, it helped break up some of the sweetness and add brightness. However, the lime flavor floated in and out. I guess you could brand that as having a flavor adventure with each sip being slightly different than the last, but I prefer consistency.

Also, I’d say that I have a pretty discerning palate but I didn’t pick up on any of the caramelized pineapple in the mango pineapple or hibiscus in the berry prickly pear.

I was able drink both of these in the same sitting without feeling a sugar high and neither tasted artificially or disgustingly sweet. They still delivered on Starbucks quality as I could tell they used real fruit as opposed to sno-cone high fructose corn syrup.

Much like the PSL returning this fall, I can see these drinks being brought back next summer.

(Nutrition Facts – Tall – Berry Prickly Pear – 180 calories, 30 calories from fat, 3 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat, 10 milligrams of cholesterol, 150 milligrams of sodium, 36 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 34 grams total sugars, 3 grams of protein. Mango Pineapple – 180 Calories, 30 calories from fat, 3 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat, 10 milligrams of cholesterol, 170 milligrams of sodium, 35 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 34 grams total sugars, 3 grams of protein.

Purchased Price: $4.45
Size: Tall
Purchased at: Starbucks
Rating: 6 out of 10 (Berry Prickly Pear)
Rating: 9 out of 10 (Mango Pineapple)
Pros: I don’t feel a sugar high drinking these unlike other Frappuccinos. Mango Pineapple is a better piña colada. High quality – none of that sno-cone high fructose corn syrup!
Cons: MAKE SURE YOU STIR. Viscosity of purée reminds me of Children’s Motrin – real fruit bits might help. Inconsistent sour notes. Where’s the caramelized pineapple and hibiscus?

REVIEW: Starbucks Violet Drink

Starbucks Violet Drink

My wife and stepdaughter are local thespians and recently appeared in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, surely the only Broadway musical to begin as a grade school Easter pageant. The show includes a number introducing the titular wardrobe piece, a catchy tune detailing all TWENTY-NINE colors used in the robe, including everyone’s favorites: ochre, fawn, russet, and mauve!

Maybe Starbucks should seek a partnership with Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice because a Fawn Drink and Russet Drink would be awesome. But for now we have the viral Pink Drink, fashion-forward Ombre Pink Drink, and the new Violet Drink. Lady Gaga, no stranger to the charms of ALW, has teamed with the Seattle behemoth on the “Cups of Kindness” campaign, which the new beverage is a part of.

Starbucks Violet Drink 3

The drink is a simple combo of Very Berry Hibiscus Refresher, coconut milk, freeze-dried blackberries, and ice. The liquid components and ice were combined in a cocktail shaker, while I patiently tried to avoid making an obligatory Bond joke. (Special thanks go out to the People’s Plaza Starbucks staff, who took my odd questions in stride and allowed me to traverse the drive-thru without an order to snap shots of the drink signage that wasn’t inside the store).

Starbucks Violet Drink 4

The faded hue of the drink certainly fits the billing. The texture was smooth with a light mouthfeel, and the taste is sweet in the right ways — balanced and not overwhelmingly so. This is a nice upgrade on the Refresher itself, which I always found to be overly tart and a little jarring as a result.

The drink was certainly fresh-tasting, and reminded me of a melted smoothie or Orange Julius variant, but better than either one. The flavor is not complex. It’s really a one-note berry flavor, with only a vague floral indication in the background. Despite that, I never got sick or bored of the drink and finished it quicker than many other LTO Starbucks offerings.

Starbucks Violet Drink 2

I strongly suggest that you do not eat the freeze-dried blackberries on their own (while realizing that in our meta-culture you surely will do as such following my warning). They largely clumped together in a foamy portion of the beverage and only mildly defrosted, crunching like Pop Rocks in my mouth without the summer berry goodness you would desire.

I typically think of non-coffee drinks at Starbucks falling into two categories: for the non-coffee drinker who went with a friend to Starbucks, or a way to avoid caffeine in the later hours of the day. But because the drink is built using the Refreshers, which are caffeinated due to green coffee extract, that theory runs drier than Joseph’s manipulative interpretation of the Pharaoh’s dream. Is this drink for you? If you’re dreaming in violet, Donny Osmond predicts you’ll love this.

(Nutrition Facts – 16 ounces – 110 calories, 25 calories from fat, 3 grams of fat, 2.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 0 milligrams of sodium, 22 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, 19 grams of sugar, 0 grams of protein, and 45 milligrams of caffeine.)

Purchased Price: $5.75
Size: Trenta
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Sippable sweetness. Higher quality than your typical smoothie. Dreaming in pastels. More refreshing than then Refreshers line. Colorful Canadian fun!
Cons: Caffeinated non-coffee beverages at SBUX. Blackberries defrosting slower than the polar ice cap. Millennials that think camo, rainbow, and plaid are colors.