Starbucks has added a new lineup of dairy-free drinks to the fancy section of its menu. It’s true that Starbucks will already replace the dairy in any drink with your choice of soy, almond, or coconut milks for a nominal fee. But being able to purchase automatically dairy-free signature drinks—ones that don’t start off with one price and calorie count and suddenly become another—is a big deal for many people. It means no time-consuming modification requests, not having to feel like an “inconvenience,” and no triple-checking that the barista didn’t accidentally make the drink with regular milk out of habit. It’s a new decade, the dairy-free are free to be like you and me, and they’ve got some new Starbucks Signature Handcrafted Beverages to prove it. The question is, are the new beverages any good, and are they good enough to sway my dairy-loving taste buds?
Before I began my taste test, I asked my barista, the always wonderful Kima, to explain how Starbucks instructs their baristas to prepare beverages. For the hot Almondmilk (yes, that’s how they spell it) Honey Flat White, it begins with a bit of proprietary honey-flavored syrup in the bottom of the cup, followed by a few shots of blonde roast espresso—two for talls, three for grandes, four for ventis. Then the almond milk is steamed, but unlike in lattes where the goal is to heat the milk to make it creamier, for a flat white you need lots and lots of light, delicate foam. The foam is then poured into the cup, the lid is popped on, and it’s all ready to go.
I legitimately loved the hot Almondmilk Honey Flat White. I was concerned about the idea of “honey flavored syrup” which sounded overly sweet, but the resulting beverage had a taste that was somehow barely sweet while still retaining the golden, floral notes of orange blossom honey. (Starbucks’ Honey Blend syrup does have honey in it, which means that vegans will have to decide for themselves whether this is a “truly” vegan beverage.) I’m a black coffee drinker who only orders lattes in dessert-type scenarios, but I could definitely see myself ordering this drink on the regular. As for the almond milk, its lack of richness actually improved the drink as a whole. The milk, honey syrup, and lightly roasted blonde espresso were in such perfect balance that no component was overshadowed by its compatriots, making it taste less like a typical Starbucks “coffee drink” and more like a beverage in a category all its own.
The iced version, while good, was less successful—a B+. Without the foam or heat, this tasted like nothing but a lightly sweetened iced coffee with almond milk—but costs $4.95 for 12 oz. You can order a regular 30-oz. trenta iced coffee with almond milk and honey syrup for nearly a dollar less.
The hot Coconutmilk Latte is... fine. That’s it, just fine. It tasted just like a plain latte with a very faint taste of coconut, which makes sense, as Kima explained that it’s essentially made the same way: first, shots of blonde espresso are added to the cup, and then coconut milk is heated until frothy (not foamy) and poured on top. Then, the Coconutmilk Latte is very faintly dusted with cascara sugar, a product made from the dried skin of the coffee fruit that provides a far more subtle sweetness than white cane sugar. The result is a latte with almost imperceptible sweetness that is not as creamy as a regular latte. It might be comparable to one made with low-fat milk, but I can’t be certain, because I don’t drink low-fat milk. If I’m drinking dairy, I go for the full-fat stuff.
As for the iced version, it, too, is fine, and it, too, is overpriced for what it is. It doesn’t taste much like coffee, and though it’s mostly coconut milk, it doesn’t taste much like coconut, either. In fact, it barely tastes like anything at all, but if you like iced lattes, can’t or won’t drink milk, and enjoy paying $4.45 for your coffee drink, I guess this will get the job done.
Essentially, the Coconutmilk Latte seems to be exactly what non-dairy folks have already been ordering since Starbucks first introduced coconut milk in 2015; it just has a permanent place on the menu now instead of being relegated to “customized” status, and that means something to a lot of people. So while I find it unremarkable on the whole, it’s certainly deserving of its spot on the menu.
Size: Grande (16 oz.)
Total Fat: 8 g
Total Carbohydrates: 14 g
Caffeine: 170 mg
Sodium: 160 mg
Sugar: 12 g