“Whaddya mean there’s no ice? You mean I gotta drink this coffee hot?!” So goes one of the customers from the “stupid questions” scene in the cult-classic film Clerks. You see, the idea that someone would be flummoxed by drinking coffee cold was preposterous in 1994, when coffee came hot and generally shitty from convenience stores, gas stations, or cafes, not some mega-chain. (Starbucks had a scant 425 locations in 1994.)
The joke probably doesn’t land today, when people give no thought to sucking down caffeinated milkshakes every morning from a chain with 27,339 locations around the world. And while it’s not fair to say people drink more cold coffee beverages than hot ones, it is an affront when a place doesn’t offer iced options, if not cold brew (preferably nitro cold brew, for the coffee connoisseurs).
Starbucks both reflects and drives coffee trends, and it recognizes that man from Clerks was a prophet, not a buffoon: Fortune reports the chain thinks cold drinks will eventually drive half of its revenue. Enter its new slew of “cold foam” beverages, an attempt to solve an age-old coffee problem: the quick disappearance of foam. Cappuccinos, lattes, macchiatos—the foam barely lasts until you get out of the coffeeshop’s door.
The idea is simple: Put cold milk in a blender, and turn it to foam (and in this case, add cascara, a sweetener derived from coffee beans). The thick, dense foam sticks to the top of the cold drink instead of disappearing into it.
It’s a neat trick, but don’t you want the foam to mix in? That realization came to me quickly as I sipped the Cold Foam Cascara Cold Brew. The foam retains its shape so well that you don’t get it in every sip, unless you drink from a different part of the cup. If anything, the foam stays atop the coffee too well, which is a shame because the cascara foam is awesome—sweet but not cloying.
The other issue: At least half a dozen other people got their orders before mine arrived. The Starbucks was fairly busy, but not crazy. Blending the milk took a surprisingly long time—I started to ask if they forgot my order when I saw a barista pouring the foam out of the blender. Starbucks announced the cold-foam drinks—which can also be found on nitro cold brew and blonde iced cappuccino—only a week and a half ago, so I’m sure locations are still getting the hang of it. But I don’t see Starbucks customers having the patience for this every day.
All told, the Cold Foam is a tasty novelty. It’s a clever idea, but probably not the frothy disruptor Starbucks imagines it to be.