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OPINIONBeverage

Yum or yuck? Rating Starbucks new olive oil-infused coffee

Two RB editors sampled the coffee chain's Oleato line of beverages to see whether the combination works. Here’s what they think.
The lineup of Starbucks' Oleato beverages includes a cold brew, latte and cortado. /Photo courtesy of Starbucks

Starbucks Oleato beverages arrived in select Starbucks Reserve stores in New York City, Chicago and Seattle Thursday, giving fans their first taste of the olive oil-infused coffees after debuting in Italy last month. Their U.S. launch came rather quickly, thanks to former Interim CEO Howard Schultz's fervor after he started mixing olive oil with coffee while in Italy last summer. 

The company has eagerly touted the product as revolutionary and insists it will be its next big beverage line. But it must convince customers that the mixture works. So we thought we would try it ourselves. 

We made our way to the Starbucks Roastery in Chicago and Starbucks Reserve location in New York City’s Empire State Building to sample the drinks. On offer were the Oleato Caffe Latte, Cortado and Golden Foam Cold Brew.

To promote the introduction, a Starbucks team member was handing out free samples of Oleato Caffe Latte. It’s a blend of espresso, oatmilk and the olive oil, served hot. Plant-based milks mix better with olive oil, the Starbucks employee explained, so you’re out of luck if you prefer dairy milk.

The olive oil taste or texture isn’t really pronounced in the latte; it’s there but subtle. We thought it tasted like a typical latte with a slightly herbal flavor from the olive oil. The texture was smooth and pleasant. When ordered from the menu, a grande-size latte is $8.50.

Next up: the Cortado, which in the Empire State Building location can be enjoyed in the “Experience Lounge” downstairs. In fact, guests can sign up for an Oleato Tasting Experience for $60 and try all three coffee drinks plus an Oleato Golden Foam Espresso Martini, guided by a barista-mixologist.

The olive oil flavor really comes through in the cortado, an iced drink made with espresso, orange piloncillo syrup, oatmilk and a dash of orange bitters ($7.50). At first, it seemed a little overpowering, as the peppery notes from the olive oil kind of masked the espresso. But after a few sips, it became more appealing.

The olive oil brought out the bitter qualities of the espresso, and we would recommend the cortado for frequent coffee drinkers who like the taste of espresso. Would we order it again? Perhaps.

Last up was the Golden Foam Cold Brew ($8.50). We are fans of cold brew, so were excited to try this version. The coffee is lightly sweetened with vanilla bean syrup but it’s actually the foam that is infused with olive oil rather than the coffee. The sweetness of the cold foam doesn’t pair well with the flavors in the oil and the result is a strange taste with a slightly unpleasant aftertaste.

As with the cortado, the cold brew improves the more you drink it, as the flavors start to blend. But we thought the latte and cortado trumped the cold brew in appeal.

The Oleato lineup is already gaining fans in New York and Chicago. The barista in the Experience Lounge said that every other drink he sold on Thursday was one of the olive oil-infused coffees or the martini. And in Chicago, one employee noted the popularity of the drinks among customers, mentioning that many people had seen them on Tik Tok and social media and were excited to try them. She mentioned that guest who tried the samples went on to buy a full-sized drink, with the cortado and cold brew the most frequently purchased.

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