Starbucks will start infusing coffee with olive oil

The company has high hopes for Oleato, which will debut in Italy before it comes to the U.S. this year. Starbucks believes it will be a "transformational innovation in coffee."
Starbucks olive oil
Starbucks will start serving three beverages infused with olive oil in Italy before expanding it to California this spring. / Photo courtesy of Starbucks.

Starbucks’ latest flavor might surprise a few people.

The Seattle-based coffee chain on Tuesday unveiled “Oleato,” a line of coffee beverages infused with olive oil. And the company is making no bones about its expectations for the product, calling it a “transformational innovation in coffee.”

The product is launching at Starbucks locations in Italy before it moves to select markets around the world, including Southern California this spring followed by Japan, the Middle East and the U.K.

The Italian stores will launch three beverages in the line, including Oleato Caffe Latte, Oleato Iced Shaken Espresso and Oleato Golden Foam Cold Brew. The Starbucks Reserve Roastery will two additional beverages, including an iced Cortado and Oleato Deconstructed.

In some markets, customers will also be able to add a press of olive oil as a customization to select beverages. Golden Foam will also be available as a customization.

Starbucks Interim CEO Howard Schultz hinted at the line earlier this month, noting that he “discovered” a new category during a recent visit to Italy. “While I was in Italy last summer, I discovered an enduring, transformative new category and platform for the company unlike anything I had ever experienced,” he told investors. “The word I would use to describe it without giving too much away is alchemy.”

He called the item a “game changer.”

Starbucks likened Oleato to Schultz’s 1983 visit to Italy that would serve as the inspiration for the company’s coffee shops. Schultz was in Sicily last year when he was introduced to the Mediterranean custom of taking a spoonful of olive oil every day. He soon started having the oil, Partanna cold pressed extra virgin olive oil, along with his morning coffee. Eventually, he mixed it in.

“I was absolutely stunned at the unique flavor and texture,” Schultz said in a statement, noting that in both hot and cold beverages it produced “an unexpected, velvety, buttery flavor that enhanced the coffee and lingers beautifully on the palate.”

To be sure, consumers have been infusing coffee with all kinds of additives, which either add sweetness or fat or both. In addition to cream or alternative milks or creamers, consumers add things such as butter and, indeed, olive oil.

Starbucks, as the world’s largest coffee chain, promises to revolutionize the practice if it gains any traction with consumers, much as it did with nitro cold brew or the Frappuccino. The company certainly believes it will. “Oleato represents the next revolution in coffee that brings together an alchemy of nature’s finest ingredients,” Schultz said in a statement.

Oleato Caffe Latte will feature Starbucks blonde Espresso Roast with olive oil and steamed with oat milk.

Oleato Golden Foam Cold Brew will feature olive oil-infused cold foam along with cold brew. And Oleato Iced Shaken Espresso will feature hazelnut, espresso and oat milk infused with olive oil. The olive oil is infused either by steaming it or shaking it with oat milk, which “creates this luxurious textural experience that’s similar to whole milk,” Amy Dilger, principal beverage developer for Starbucks, said in a statement.

The new line comes at a critical time for Starbucks. Schultz is ending his brief, third tenure as CEO, handing off the job to Laxman Narasimhan.

At the same time, the company is overhauling operations at its stores, changing layouts and adding new equipment, all in a bid to make life easier on workers as sales of more complex, customized beverages have taken off. Add-ons, or flavorings and other customizations, is a $1 billion business for the chain. But it is also believed to have created the environment that led to last year’s unionization drive.

Starbucks is now adding another line of beverages to its menu and a new set of flavors and foams, and one that carries certain risks—notably how foreign the concept is of adding olive oil to coffee. “Now, there’s going to be people who say, ‘olive oil in coffee?’ But the proof is in the cup,” Schultz said in a statement. “In over 40 years, I can’t remember a moment in time where I’ve been more excited, more enthused, that demonstrates the pride, the quality, the passion, the heritage and the craft of what Starbucks can do.”

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