REVIEW: Starbucks Spicy Lemonade Refreshers

Starbucks has recently been easing us into Spring with the calming powers of lavender drinks. But just as you were about to doze off due to the floral scent or the mediocrity, the Siren is here to shake you and your taste buds awake with a line of Spicy Lemonade Refreshers. Available in Pineapple, Dragonfruit, or Strawberry, these drinks combine Refreshers bases with lemonade, ice, a three-pepper chili powder blend, and freeze-dried fruit pieces.

I wanted to try the Pineapple and Dragonfruit varieties, but because the Starbucks nearest me was out of dragonfruit, I went to the next closest location. After watching the barista climb a stepladder and root around in a cabinet for a while, I eventually received two almost identical, predominantly purple drinks. It was clear something was a little off, but the taste test revealed that they were different beverages despite the visual similarity.

The Spicy Pineapple features a pineapple-passionfruit base to which lemonade, chili powder, and fruit chunks are added. The fruit should have been pineapple, but mine came with dragonfruit instead. This didn’t fundamentally alter the flavor so much as the hue, with the overall taste being pineapple-forward. These drink more like juice than lemonade, probably because the Refreshers bases are made with white grape juice concentrate. The lemonade takes a backseat and the chili powder is immediately noticeable, with a tingle in the back of the throat that builds to an all over heat that’s pleasantly spicy without being cough-inducing. There’s a tropical vacation vibe, and the spicy-fruity marriage is refreshing and summery. If you’re the sort of person who enjoys a Tajin rim on a cocktail or a few slices of jalapeño in their lemonade, you’ll be happy with this icy blend of sweet and heat.

Spicy Dragonfruit starts with a mango-dragonfruit blend, and again, the juice base overshadows the lemonade, but that’s in no way a complaint because these are delicious. The mango and dragonfruit flavors play well together, and the chili blend (which features sugar, paprika, salt, ancho chili powder, cayenne, chili powder, and a few other things) complements them both. The freeze-dried fruit pieces are mostly too large to escape the drink’s lid, but if you remove it and eat them, they’re almost shockingly crunchy. They don’t taste bad, but it was a texture I wasn’t expecting, and it left me feeling like that classic TV gag where someone mistakes potpourri for a snack. I’m not sure they’re supposed to be this way, but that isn’t stopping me from eating them.

I assumed these would just be gimmicky and that spice isn’t something I need from Starbucks, but I’m happy to report that I was wrong. It’s a shame they’re only here for a limited time because they’d be excellent sipping for summer days. It’s worth noting that I got the Pineapple version again from a second location that was also out of pineapple pieces, so supplies here might be very limited – get ‘em while they’re hot!

Purchased Price: $5.75 each
Size: Grande
Rating: 9 out of 10 (Spicy Pineapple), 9 out of 10 (Spicy Dragonfruit)
Nutrition Facts: (Spicy Pineapple 200 calories, 0 grams of total fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, 0 gram of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 220 milligrams of sodium, 50 grams of total carbs, 0 gram of dietary fiber, 41 grams of total sugar, 1 gram of protein, and 55 milligrams of caffeine. Spicy Dragonfruit – 200 calories, 0.5 grams of total fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, 0 gram of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 220 milligrams of sodium, 49 grams of total carbs, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 42 grams of total sugar, 1 gram of protein, and 50 milligrams of caffeine.

REVIEW: Dunkin’ Churro Signature Latte

At some point in the last few years, we must have run out of cookies, cakes, and pies to try to mimic the flavor of, and the wandering eye of some product developer landed on churros as the next great flavor to reproduce in a different format. Churros are delicious! Surely, this will work!

Who could blame someone for trying to capture that magic in another form, and who could blame the next 200 companies who decided they needed to try their hand at it too? Me, apparently. The spring menu at Dunkin’ is leaning heavily into the churro trend, and the newest Signature Latte tries to capture the essence of the cinnamon and sugar-dusted fried pastry in a cup of coffee. The Churro Signature Latte is made from espresso, milk, and churro syrup topped with whipped cream, caramel drizzle, and a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar.

It’s good! I like this drink! It’s smooth, creamy, and perfectly sweet without being too sweet. So what’s the problem? It doesn’t remotely remind me of a churro. We’ve already seen the likes of Ben & Jerry’s, Kit Kat, and Cinnamon Toast Crunch try and fail to crack the churro code, and Dunkin’s attempt might be the weakest of them all.

When I see something churro-flavored, I now assume it will be heavy on the cinnamon/sugar aspect because the taste and texture of fried dough are much more challenging to replicate in anything that isn’t actually fried dough. This latte misses the mark on capturing any pastry taste, and it somehow misses out on cinnamon too. The churro syrup doesn’t seem to contribute anything besides sweetness. If there’s supposed to be something more complex there, it’s so subtle that I’m unable to pick up on it and the cinnamon, even if I get a swoop of whipped cream flecked with it, is barely noticeable. While I find this extremely drinkable, nothing distinguishes it from a dressed-up latte you could get any time, anywhere.

I can’t say I’m disappointed in this drink because my expectations that it could capture the spirit of a churro were pretty low, and it’s a tasty beverage. In terms of a limited time offering though, it feels lazy and like the “churro” label is there just to capitalize on a fad. You wouldn’t sprinkle oregano on a stick and call it an Italian sub so why is it acceptable to add a pinch of cinnamon to something and call it churro? I wouldn’t discourage anyone from ordering it, but I think there’s an element of beating a dead dessert craze here. Can we let churros just be churros and go back to stuffing them in our mouths instead of half-heartedly cramming them into every other foodstuff? I’d consider ordering this again if I’m in the mood for a whipped cream-topped latte but I’m confident that long after the churro syrup is gone, Dunkin’ will still be able to make me this same drink.

Purchased Price: $5.29
Size: Medium
Rating: 7 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: 350 calories, 13 grams of total fat, 9 grams of saturated fat, 0 gram of trans fat, 40 milligrams of cholesterol, 150 milligrams of sodium, 49 grams of total carbs, 0 gram of dietary fiber, 43 grams of total sugar, and 9 grams of protein.

REVIEW: Dunkin’ SPARKD’ Energy Drink

Dunkin’ is introducing some fruity new ways to get your caffeine (and your apostrophe) fix this spring with its new SPARKD’ Energy drinks. The jewel-toned beverages look like they belong alongside the Refreshers drinks Dunkin’ already serves, but SPARKD’ swaps the green tea for sparkling water and the syrups have a caffeine boost from guarana along with some vitamins and minerals. Available in Berry Burst and Peach Sunshine, these drinks are kind of interesting, if not totally successful.

Served over ice and pleasantly effervescent, both are visually appealing and feature a blend of two fruit flavors. Berry Burst is a mix of raspberry and strawberry, and Peach Sunshine mixes peach, obviously, with lychee. While I’d normally gravitate towards a berry flavor over peach any day, I was intrigued by the lychee and had high hopes for its inclusion.

Trying the berry first, I enjoyed its bubbly nature and had no real complaints about the flavor, but it didn’t wow me either. It’s somewhat generic in its berry-ness, which isn’t a bad thing, but I expected it to be more interesting. The longer it sat and the ice melted, the more I started getting a Kool-Aid vibe from it. Again, not exactly a complaint, but it also wasn’t what I was looking for.

The Peach Sunshine variety left me similarly disappointed. It’s predominantly peach and if I didn’t know it included lychee, I wouldn’t have guessed it. The orange color had me hoping for more citrusy notes, but it’s very peach-forward. And in a medium size, it ended up just too peachy for me. Dunkin’ has had some really good flavor combos in its Refreshers line so I had higher expectations for these that just weren’t met. I have a preferred brand of energy drink (Red Bull), and both of these flavors reminded me of something I might get from a Celsius or other canned energy beverage that I wouldn’t go out of my way to buy but will pick up when my grocery store offers them as a “free item of the week” thing.

One might assume these are packed with caffeine with a name like SPARKD’, but they actually fall kind of in the middle of that spectrum. A medium of either flavor contains 144 milligrams of caffeine, which is more than a Refresher but less than a Dunkin’ iced coffee and considerably less than a Panera Charged Lemonade.

I don’t have anything truly negative to say about Dunkin’s foray into the energy drink market, but the initial offerings didn’t spark any desire in me to purchase them again. The fizz is fun and the overall drink is fine but not memorable. I’m going to root for these to stick around in the hopes that future flavors will be more exciting.

Purchased Price: $3.32
Size: Medium
Rating: 7 out of 10 (Berry Burst), 6 out of 10 (Peach Sunshine)
Nutrition Facts: Berry Burst – 130 calories, 0 grams of total fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 200 milligrams of sodium, 30 grams of total carbs, 0 grams of dietary fiber, 27 grams of total sugar, 0 grams of protein, and 144 milligrams of caffeine. Peach Sunshine – 120 calories, 0 grams of total fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 200 milligrams of sodium, 28 grams of total carbs, 0 grams of dietary fiber, 27 grams of total sugar, 0 grams of protein, and 144 milligrams of caffeine.

REVIEW: Doritos Dinamita Flamin’ Hot Queso

Doritos has a long history of Super Bowl commercials. This year, it’s using the ad spot to relaunch its Dinamitas line with a handful of flavors that are not exactly new to shelves despite the packaging proclaiming newness in capital letters. Flamin’ Hot Queso Dinamitas first appeared in 2021 in bags considerably more cheese-colored and less bold than this iteration. A few years later, they’re back dressed in red and black, and the Dinameter’s pushing all the way to “EXTRA HOT.” It was impossible for me to approach these chips without picturing some sort of Looney Tunes character unwittingly ending up with a mouthful of dynamite so let’s find out if these cause my stomach to comically explode while smoke pours from my ears.

Opening the bag reveals these rolled up corn chips to be covered in classic red Flamin’ Hot dust, but the smell leans more traditionally cheesy-Dorito than anything intensely hot. They’re definitely extra crunchy, like the back of the bag notes, and the flavors that hit me first are corn and cheese. I wouldn’t really say the cheese represents queso in any noticeable way, but they reminded me of the Spicy Nacho Doritos variety. Despite every chip-tube being thoroughly coated in the finger-staining fire powder, I didn’t find these to be all that hot. I have a fairly high tolerance for heat and a very high tolerance for rapidly shoving snack food into my mouth, so even as my fingertips, knuckles, and wrists began to turn scarlet from repeated trips into the chip bag, I felt like the Dinameter was exaggerating. This is where I picture a greedy character gleefully gobbling up poorly disguised sticks of dynamite, unaware of the impending boom.

I don’t know if it’s the more compact rolled shape or what, but these are very easy to eat a lot of, and I didn’t find myself needing to reach for anything to quell the burn. Is it nice to have a beverage with them? Sure! If I found myself without one, would I still eat three servings? Also sure! The heat does start to creep in and slowly build in the back of the mouth, but they never turn the dial into “extra hot” territory for me or leave me feeling like I’m ready to spit flames at whatever nemesis tricked me into eating them. While these might fall short of their claim of being extra hot, they excel at being extremely snackable. With a solid cheesy base flavor and a hot-without-blowing-your-head-off heat, they’re a fun way to shake up your regular chip game. I can see people finding these hotter than I did, but if you’re heat-sensitive, you probably aren’t chasing down Dinamitas in the first place. If you’ve enjoyed anything Flamin’ Hot in the past, I think you’ll be more than happy to risk internal combustion and chomp on these.

Purchased Price: $5.49
Size: 10.75 oz bag
Purchased at: Mariano’s
Rating: 8 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: (14 pieces) 150 calories, 8 grams of total fat, 1 gram of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 140 milligrams of sodium, 17 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 0 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.

REVIEW: Starbucks Iced Hazelnut Oatmilk Shaken Espresso

Sometimes, I feel a little silly ordering a beverage that’s almost more of a mouthful to say than it is to actually drink, and that was the case when I decided to try the new Iced Hazelnut Oatmilk Shaken Espresso from Starbucks. Shaken espressos aren’t new to Starbucks but it was my first experience with one. I had questions such as “Do I want hazelnut in my coffee? Do I like oatmilk? Do I even know what a shaken espresso is supposed to be?” The answer to all of those was a hesitant “Possibly?” but if you find yourself wondering if you should order this the answer is an emphatic “Yes!”

The drink is made with shots of the chain’s blonde espresso and hazelnut syrup shaken with ice and topped with oatmilk. The ingredient list is simple but the result is more than the sum of its parts. I was genuinely surprised by the amount and sturdiness of the foam produced by the shaking process. It really does make for a different textural experience than just having a drink on ice. The last time I had a coffee featuring oatmilk I was underwhelmed, but here the oatmilk was creamy and complemented the hazelnut flavor perfectly.

As someone who often finds hazelnut flavored coffee creamers off-putting, I thought the syrup was pleasantly nutty, a little toasty, and sweet without being too sweet. It’s certainly more prominent than the flavor of the espresso, but it doesn’t completely overwhelm it. You still know you’re drinking coffee, which is what I want when I order…coffee. A major complaint people have about Starbucks is that a lot of its coffees taste too bitter or burnt, but the lighter roast of the blonde espresso ensures that isn’t an issue here.

From the first sip to the last this latest shaken espresso was so enjoyable and well balanced. I can’t recall the last time I was this happy trying a new coffee and I’m kicking myself for not jumping on the jostled java bandwagon sooner. Somehow all that shaking makes for a very smooth drink I’m struggling to find any fault with. My only problem is I wish I had more of it, but with three espresso shots in a grande, the size was probably just right to not leave me feeling shaky myself. This may have been my first time having one, but it definitely won’t be the last. I’m a person who orders five-words-in-the-title coffees now, and when they’re this good, I’m okay with that.

Purchased Price: $5.95
Size: Grande
Rating: 10 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: 150 calories, 4.5 grams of total fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, 0 gram of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 60 milligrams of sodium, 27 grams of total carbs, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 16 grams of total sugar, and 2 gram of protein.