Starbucks is featuring its summer lineup starting this week, including the Unicorn Cake Pop from seasons past, along with a new Lime-Frosted Coconut Bar. Although it is also highlighting the frozen beverages that are available year-round, such as the Caramel Ribbon Crunch Frappuccino and the Dragon Drink Refresher, its new for 2022 cold beverage is the Chocolate Cream Cold Brew.
According to its recent press release, it uses the same cold brew coffee that they introduced in 2015, but it's added vanilla syrup and a layer of malted chocolate cream to the top, to "bring our customers a drink that would transport them back to their favorite summer memories with each sip." A 16-ounce grande size of this drink retails for about $5.25 and contains 250 calories.
I watched them make mine, and they’ve got the fresh-made-daily cold brew on tap. They added ice and then whipped up some vanilla cream with chocolate malt powder to pour on top.
This drink has the same effect that iced macchiatos do, but in reverse — the pale cream slowly settles through the dark iced coffee in beautiful tendrils. If you’re looking for a moment of zen, it’s a fun one to sit and watch. When you’re ready to drink it, do so from the rim instead of through a straw, so that you’ll get a mix of the malted cream and coffee in every sip.
So, how does it taste?
In a word, delightful. It’s simultaneously refreshing and luxurious, which is a difficult sweet spot to hit. As always, the blend of Latin American and African coffees that Starbucks uses in its cold-brewed coffee is perfectly balanced, with low acidity and very little bitterness. If you’ve tried iced lattes before and didn’t like them, cold brew is worth a try; it lacks the burned notes that over-extracted and then chilled espresso sometimes suffers from.
I usually drink my morning coffee without any sweetener at all, so I’m surprised that this recipe, with sugar both in the vanilla syrup and the chocolate cream, isn’t too sweet. It’s much less so than a Frappuccino, and that’s a selling point for me. I wondered beforehand whether the chocolate malt would be lost, but it holds its own with the coffee, delivering on the promise of memories of summertime melted malted milks. The chocolate flavor is just a hint, nothing like a mocha would be, but even as an avowed chocoholic, I agree with that choice. It’s harmonious, and it keeps the overall impression more like a thirst-quenching beverage, and less like a heavy, syrupy dessert.
In just a flash, I found myself with only a quarter of it left, but I purposely left it to sit for a bit to see how it fared when the ice melted. Since they start with cold coffee, the ice sticks around for longer than expected, and even when it does start to melt, the coffee and cream are substantial enough that it doesn’t taste like dishwater. I can’t think of any way I would try to improve this offering in terms of the look or taste.
With 185 milligrams of caffeine, it will definitely wake you up, too. That’s even more than the amount in two shots of espresso!
Every rose has its thorn, though, so let’s talk about a couple of drawbacks. Remember those 250 calories? That’s about the same as a 20-ounce bottle of soda. Although it is lower in carbohydrates, with about 28 grams instead of over 60, there’s a pretty sizable 14 grams of fat from that real cream on top, 9 of which are saturated fats. Asking your barista to hold the vanilla syrup would save you about 40 calories and 10 grams of carbs, but there are other similar options, too. The aforementioned Dragon Drink has about half the calories, but it still has 26 grams of carbohydrates — most of the calorie savings are from the smaller amount of fat in the coconut cream. The Kiwi Starfruit Refresher won’t have that creamy mouthfeel, but it has just 90 calories per 16 ounces, almost all from sugar.
There’s always an unsweetened iced latte, with about 130 calories and 13 grams of carbohydrate when made with 2% milk, but if you prefer the smoothness of cold brew, a plain grande has just 5 calories. A couple of tablespoons of half-and-half adds about 35 calories, 3 grams of fat and only 1 gram of carbohydrates, but it will still give you that rich mouthfeel and a little natural sweetness.
I’m not saying you should shift your calorie budget from the Chocolate Cream Cold Brew to a Unicorn Cake Pop by choosing that last alternative option; I’m just saying you could. I’ll never tell.