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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.