REVIEW: Starbucks Discoveries (Caffe Mocha, Caramel Macchiato & Vanilla Latte)

Starbucks Discoveries

I don’t go to Starbucks very often. When I do, it’s usually to buy a gift card, use their restroom, or jump on their free WiFi network and be a complete douchebag by trying to slow down everyones’ bandwidth. But when it comes to coffee, Starbucks has given me a few good reasons to not purchase any from one of their bazillion locations.

No, it’s not the taste of their coffee, which coffee snobs describe as, and I’m paraphrasing here, “blech.” No, it’s not the long lines that sometimes snake half way around a Starbucks. The reason why I don’t buy Starbucks coffee from one of their many locations is because I nervously mumble when trying to relay my order to a cute barista and I can buy ready-to-drink Starbucks coffee at my local supermarket, like their bottled iced coffee and new Starbucks Discoveries.

Starbucks Discoveries is a chilled espresso beverage that comes in three flavors — Caffe Mocha, Vanilla Latte, and Caramel Macchiato — and 50.7-ounce cartons, which is significantly smaller than the 64-ounce International Delight Iced Coffee it’s probably sitting next to in the dairy case. Also, unlike the International Delight offering, the carton doesn’t look like a milk carton. Instead, it looks like it was made by an origami master who reached that level by folding a million paper cranes.

Starbucks Discoveries are sweetened with sugar and mixed with reduced-fat milk. They’re sweet, but don’t come close to the sweetness level of International Delight’s iced coffee, which, not surprisingly, has significantly more sugar than Starbucks Discoveries (17 grams vs. 23 grams). Starbucks Discoveries are also noticeably watery, but that’s because they don’t contain the thickening agents found in the International Delight coffee — gellan gum and carrageenan. Well, actually, the Caffe Mocha has carrageenan, but it’s as watery as the others.

Starbucks Discoveries Chilled

If you do pick up a carton of Starbucks Discoveries, I highly recommend you ONLY drink it over ice. Ignore what the side of the carton says about serving it just chilled. Drinking it that way is doing a disservice to your taste buds. I can’t explain why, but for some strange reason, it tastes noticeably better when consumed over ice.

If you’re a hardcore Starbucks fanatic who will never lose your Gold Card because you accumulate 30 stars every two weeks, you may drink Starbucks Discoveries and wonder what is this swill. It’s not as sweet as a hand-crafted Frappuccino, but its coffee flavor isn’t as strong as any iced coffee Starbucks product on their menu.

Starbucks Discoveries Closeup

The Mocha Latte tastes like weak melted chocolate ice cream with a Hershey’s syrup aftertaste, the Caramel Macchiato has a slightly odd caramel butteriness that lingers several minutes after drinking it, and the Vanilla Latte has a hint of vanilla and the strongest coffee flavor of the bunch. If I had to pick a favorite, it would be the Vanilla Latte because I didn’t use a negative adjective when writing about it in the previous sentence.

All three flavors of Starbucks Discoveries were decent and provided approximately 85 milligrams of caffeine per cup, but I’m a bit disappointed because I expected something better from Starbucks. After all, they do sell a krazillion cups of coffee everyday from their bazillion locations.

(Nutrition Facts – 8 fl oz – Caffe Mocha – 120 calories, 20 calories from fat, 2 grams of fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 10 milligrams of cholesterol, 50 milligrams of sodium, 20 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 17 grams of sugar, 3 grams of protein, 4% vitamin A, 10% calcium and 2% iron. Caramel Macchiato & Vanilla Latte – 120 calories, 20 calories from fat, 2 grams of fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 10 milligrams of cholesterol, 40 milligrams of sodium, 20 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 17 grams of sugar, 3 grams of protein, 4% vitamin A, and 10% calcium.)

Other Starbucks Discoveries reviews:
Starbucks Melody

Item: Starbucks Discoveries (Caffe Mocha, Caramel Macchiato & Vanilla Latte)
Purchased Price: $5.49 (on sale)
Size: 50.7 fl oz carton
Purchased at: Safeway
Rating: 6 out of 10 (Caffe Mocha)
Rating: 6 out of 10 (Caramel Macchiato)
Rating: 7 out of 10 (Vanilla Latte)
Pros: Flavors were decent. Less sugar than International Delight’s regular iced coffee. Kind of a neat looking carton. A cup contains approximately 85 milligrams of caffeine. Starbucks’ free WiFi.
Cons: I expected something better from Starbucks. Hardcore Starbucks drinkers may consider this product to be swill. Comes in a smaller carton than competing iced coffees. Being too lazy to add the accent mark above the e in Caffe.

REVIEW: International Delight Vanilla Iced Coffee Light

International Delight Vanilla Iced Coffee Light

International Delight’s Iced Coffee regularly finds its way into my cart because last year it found its way into my heart after I gave it a positive review.

But every so often, when I place a half gallon carton in my cart, I think to myself, “Suck it, Starbucks!” and “All that cream and sugar is probably making me chubby…All right, chubbier.”

I don’t know if it’s because International Delight has seen me naked, but they now have light versions of their mocha and vanilla iced coffees.

Like the non-light version, International Delight Vanilla Iced Coffee Light is made with 100 percent premium Arabica coffee beans. However, it has 1/3 fewer calories and 39 percent less sugar than their regular iced coffee.

Why does it have fewer calories and sugar?

Magic!!!

Actually, it’s because of the popular artificial sweeteners, sucralose and acesulfame potassium.

So it’s not magic. It’s science!!!

Although International Delight Vanilla Iced Coffee uses artificial sweeteners, it still has the same 2.5 grams of fat and 1.5 grams of saturated fat the original has. It also has 56 milligrams of caffeine per 8-ounce serving, which is two milligrams less than their regular iced coffee.

While pouring International Delight Vanilla Iced Coffee Light into a glass, I noticed it was much thinner than the non-light version, which I think is thick enough that it makes me feel like I’m drinking melted ice cream.

If you’re one of those people who tried the original International Delight Iced Coffee and thought to yourself, “Hey! I’d like a lot more coffee with my cream and sugar!”, then your internal voice will say the same thing about the light version as the combination of coffee, cream, and carrageenan goes down your throat. There’s enough dairy and sweetener to mask the coffee’s bitterness and to almost make a Starbucks Frappuccino blush.

International Delight Vanilla Iced Coffee Light Closeup

However, the difference in flavor between the light and regular versions is similar to the difference between Pepsi and Diet Pepsi (or Coke and Diet Coke for you Pepsi haters or RC Cola and Diet RC Cola for you people fortunate to have RC Cola on your store shelves); you instantly know you’re drinking the light version. The artificial sweeteners were noticeable once the coffee hit my tongue and right through to the aftertaste. Unlike the coffee’s bitterness, no amount of dairy could cover that. As for the vanilla flavor, it was mild, but made the coffee taste marshmallow-ish.

As a regular International Delight Iced Coffee drinker, it’s nice to have a lighter version. Even though the artificial sweeteners created a significant difference in flavor, as a regular diet soda drinker, I didn’t mind it. So it looks like I’ll be putting International Delight Iced Coffee Light into my cart, instead of the regular stuff, and only thinking to myself, “Suck it, Starbucks!”

(Nutrition Facts – 8 ounces – 100 calories, 25 calories from fat, 2.5 grams of fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 10 milligrams of cholesterol, 105 milligrams of sodium, 16 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 14 grams of sugar, 4 grams of protein, 10% calcium, and 4% iron.)

Item: International Delight Vanilla Iced Coffee Light
Purchased Price: $3.99 (on sale)
Size: Half gallon
Purchased at: Target
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Still creamy and sweet enough to cover the coffee’s bitterness. Vanilla has a marshmallow-ish-ness to it. Fewer calories and less sugar than regular International Delight Iced Coffee. Contains 56 milligrams of sweet, sweet caffeine.
Cons: Artificial sweeteners were noticeable. Thinner than the regular stuff. Trying to spell carrageenan. Using marshmallow-ish-ness. Coffee snobs will turn their noses up at this. Me being naked.

REVIEW: Dunkin’ Donuts Pumpkin Coffee K-Cup Pack

Dunkin' Donuts Pumpkin Coffee K-Cup Pack

Fall is my favorite season. What’s not to love? The air turns cool but isn’t freezing yet; the leaves change colors and make great crunchy noises as you tramp through them; Halloween and Thanksgiving are just around the corner; college football starts and so do the baseball playoffs. (Okay, probably not for my team this year, but shut up.) And alongside all that, pumpkins begin their annual 2 1/2 months of relevance. Pumpkin pie, pumpkin donuts, pumpkin ale… it’s all terrific. And this year, I got really excited when I heard that Dunkin’ Donuts was releasing pumpkin coffee for use with Keurigs.

In case anyone is as clueless as I was until recently, a Keurig is a type of coffee maker that brews java quickly. You load it with small containers called K-Cups and through dark sorcery (allegedly), it spits out a cup of coffee a minute later. I got one for my wife for our last anniversary, and I’m convinced it’s her favorite thing I’ve ever bought her. Mind you, I have at various times given her an engagement ring, a Coach purse, diamond earrings, and two children. Pretty sure this still tops the list.

What’s surprising is just how much I was looking forward to DD’s pumpkin coffee, since I usually find coffee disgusting, or at best acceptable with loads of milk and sugar. But… pumpkin! Pumpkin makes it all better, right? That’s the operating theory, anyway: pumpkin and the spices, which sounds like either a Motown group or a Saturday morning cartoon. Don’t pretend you wouldn’t watch it.

I don’t want to spend too much time on the packaging, but it’s both eye-catching and visually appealing. The multicolored leaf pattern and orange and brown hues draw attention without overwhelming you, and I like that there’s only one picture of a pumpkin on the entire box. There’s no need to overload you with PUMPKIN! After all, pumpkin sells itself.

Dunkin' Donuts Pumpkin Coffee K-Cup Pack Closeup

After spending 30 seconds to brew a cup, I took a whiff and was pleased with the results. What you’re going to smell is mostly nutmeg with just a little bit of cinnamon. (Those seem to be the only spices included; they’re the only ones mentioned on the back of the box, anyway.) Beyond that it’s the usual coffee smell. Apparently this is Arabica coffee and I’m sure that means something to some of you, who are no doubt rolling your eyes right now at this idiot java novice, but to me it just smells like coffee. Still, that’s not a bad thing — coffee always smells better than it tastes.

…which, unfortunately, remains the case. Maybe it’s my fault: it’s pumpkin coffee, not pumpkin pie coffee. It isn’t magic. Nor is it bad, really — again, I’m not a coffee guy, but with milk and sugar it’s stupendously tolerable. You can’t fault coffee for being, you know… coffee. But what I CAN fault it for, and will, is not having nearly enough pumpkin in there. It’s pumpkin coffee, so you should be able to taste at least a little hint of pumpkin, right?

Apparently not, because what you’re drinking is nutmeg & cinnamon coffee. Those are good spices, yes, and they combine for a pleasant aftertaste. As a result, it’s hard to be too disappointed because, after all: it tastes good, with rich flavor and a sweet taste that lingers after the sip. By coffee standards, anyway. But it’s a bit like biting down into a bacon cheeseburger and only tasting the burger and cheese. You *like* cheeseburger, so technically that’s okay, but… where’s my bacon, dammit? The wife tells me in most flavored coffees, it just smells like whatever the flavor is and your nose kind of fills in the taste. I guess I can buy that, but since I can taste the spices, shouldn’t I be able to taste the pumpkin?

I think that’s my final word on DD’s latest seasonal offer. Nice aroma, looks appealing, enjoyable taste as far as it goes. But if they decide to bring it back next year, I hope they consider upping the pumpkin content, or they might as well just call this “fall blend” instead of “pumpkin coffee.” For those of you who elect to try some, I don’t think you’ll regret buying it. But still — where’s my bacon?!

(Nutrition Facts – N/A. I know strange, right?)

Item: Dunkin’ Donuts Pumpkin Coffee K-Cup Pack
Purchased Price: $11.99
Size: 14 K-Cups
Purchased at: Dunkin’ Donuts
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Fall is basically the best season. Has a nice, rich aroma. Package is one scarecrow away from the perfect autumn image. (Mostly) nutmeg and (some) cinnamon make for a very pleasing aftertaste. Buying your wife the perfect gift. Works out to less than $1 a cup, which is pretty good. Man, if they did pumpkin mocha, how awesome would that be?
Cons: Surprising lack of pumpkin, considering the name. Does flavored coffee really not usually taste like that flavor? That’s stupid. Spices can’t totally mask the fact that deep down, it still tastes like coffee.

REVIEW: Starbucks Pumpkin Spice VIA Ready Brew

Starbucks VIA Ready Brew Pumpkin Spice

I always feel a little depressed once Labor Day passes, as I can’t wear white pants anymore. But other people generally have a lot to rejoice over: there’s football and tailgates, every food and drink gets flavored with pumpkin, and I can’t wear white pants anymore.

Right on cue, Starbucks has re-released their seasonal Pumpkin Spice Lattes. This year, they’re providing an extra treat in the form of the new limited edition Pumpkin Spice VIA Ready Brew. I love the Pumpkin Spiced Lattes (PSLs for those of us who really love Starbucks and also really love obnoxious acronyms), but have never tried any other VIA flavors before, so I’m in pretty much the exact demographic Starbucks is hoping will try their new Pumpkin Spice VIA and get hooked on their instant coffee offerings.

We’re approaching the section of my reviews where I like to offer an explanation of the preparation process. Not that this ever gets too complicated (“Step 1, buy ice cream. Step 2, eat ice cream. Step 3… um, go slow or you might get a headache”), but explaining the steps for preparing instant coffee feels particularly silly when Starbucks dedicates precisely 15 words to explaining it. I heated 8 fluid ounces of 1% milk. I poured packet into cup. I added hot milk. I stirred and enjoyed.

Here’s the precisely 15-word version of my review: for instant coffee, it was perfectly fine, but it just didn’t have enough pumpkin flavor.

There was just a slight whiff of pumpkin scent, both when I had only the content of the packet in the cup and after I stirred in the milk. Instant coffee always tastes indescribable, but noticeably off, and the Pumpkin Spice VIA offering was no different. In a blind taste test, I could have guessed that this was meant to be pumpkin-flavored coffee, but it definitely didn’t compare to the rich, distinctive flavor of a PSL. On the plus side, I thought the amount of sugar in the VIA packet was appropriate; I often find real PSLs to be too sweet.

Starbucks VIA Ready Brew Pumpkin Spice Closeup

Again, I’ve never sampled any other VIA flavors, but from reading our past reviews I gleaned that the instructions on other varieties recommend mixing with water, so I tried it that way, too. I actually found that adding mostly hot water and just an ounce or so of milk allowed the zest of the spices to shine through better.

Compared to other instant coffee, these Starbucks Pumpkin Spice VIA Ready Brew packets are good, but they don’t compare to actual Pumpkin Spice Lattes. Also, at more than one dollar per packet, they’re kind of pricey for instant coffee. Still, in hopes of drinking pumpkin spice beverages and wearing white pants at the same time, I’ll stock up on a couple boxes and stash them away for those long months between Pumpkin Spice Lattes.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 packet/unprepared – 60 calories, 0 grams of fat, 0 milligrams of sodium, 16 grams of carbohydrates, 13 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.)

Item: Starbucks Pumpkin Spice VIA Ready Brew
Purchased Price: $6.95
Size: 5 packets
Purchased at: Starbucks
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Easy to prepare. Does smell and taste of pumpkin. Appropriately sweet. Tastes better with mostly water. Real Pumpkin Spice Lattes. Football and tailgates. Pumpkin flavors are back.
Cons: Pumpkin flavor not strong enough. Instant coffee always tastes a little off. Kind of pricey. Unnecessary acronyms. I can’t wear white pants anymore.

NEWS: Arizona Beverages Honors a New York Yankee With A Beverage That Probably Won’t Sell Well in Boston

The Mighty Joe

I know three things about Joe DiMaggio. He was a New York Yankee, he had a 56-game hitting streak, and was once married to Marilyn Monroe. And that’s without looking at his Wikipedia page.

Recently, I learned something new about Mr. DiMaggio. He’ll soon have a canned coffee beverage called Joltin’ Joe from Arizona Beverages, makers of Arnold Palmer’s half & half and Jack Nicklaus’ Golden Bear lemonade.

Joltin’ Joe is a carbonated, all-natural beverage made with espresso coffee. An 8-ounce serving has 80 milligrams of caffeine and 50 calories. It’s sweetened using RebA – a natural sweetener derived from the stevia leaf. Joltin’ Joe will be available in 16-ounce cans that highlight his 56-game hitting streak.

The espresso drink will be available in New York metro area in mid-September and will continue to roll out nationally throughout the year.

Image via flickr user Catchpenny / CC BY ND 2.0