A blue raspberry snow cone and a bottle of children’s bubble gum medicine conceived an illegitimate child in the back alley behind Starbucks and birthed the “Unicorn Frappucino,” a new drink on which no one should waste $4.90.
To be fair, I knew I was going to hate it, but I gave Starbucks the benefit of the doubt. I already knew that anything sugary, fruity, or dyed pink is not something I would enjoy. I should have seen the unicorn branding effort for what it is: food trend-chasing and a branding attempt meant to cover up for the beverage conglomerate’s recent failures. But I had a Starbucks gift card, and as we all know, not all heroes wear capes.
Here is a genuine question: How did this drink make it out of Starbucks’ test labs? Surely it went through multiple rounds of taste-testing? I know Starbucks can afford to create dumb gimmicks just to lure people into stores, but can’t they at least be dumb gimmicks that taste good?
My conversation with the barista, Marcia, was foreshadowing.
“Is it good?” I asked her before ordering.
“Yeah…it is good,” she said with zero confidence. If Starbucks is going to roll out bad products and ask employees to lie about them, they need to at least include a guide on how to do that convincingly. It is not hard to throw a one-pager in along with the instructions on how to blend berry Skittles and sour cake batter.
“What does it taste like?”
“It tastes like…candy…and…milk.” Again, not hard to print off a few talking points. “At the least the kids like it,” she assured me. The only other person in the store drinking a Unicorn Frappuccino was a small girl, probably six or seven years old, wearing pink leggings.
This is my first frappuccino order in years. Marcia handed it to me, laughing. I walked outside and took a sip only to immediately realize this entire drink was going to be wasted. A few more drinks and my teeth were already hurting. According to a chalkboard sign inside the Starbucks, part of the gimmick is that it’s a “flavor-changing” frappuccino. I guess you are supposed to be able to enjoy it sweet, then stir in the sour flavoring, but the sour bubblegum taste was unbearable no matter how I strategically placed my straw.
I thought I would at least be able to just eat the whipped cream topping and find one enjoyable aspect. Wrong. I spooned out the whipped cream and it was even worse! The pink and blue dust sprinkled on top contaminated the cream with what I suspect to be nothing more than granulated citric acid.
As I continued to take sips, at this point strictly for the purpose of writing a review, I was reminded of something I overheard in a CVS a few weeks ago. Standing at the pharmacy counter, a desperate dad begged the pharmacist to add bubblegum flavor to his son’s medicine. He said he was having trouble getting the son to take this medicine that he really needed to get well.
I couldn’t help but think this must be exactly what Starbucks did also. In their desperation to find the next Pumpkin Spice Latte (their fall attempt at doing this with the “Chile Mocha” was pretty good) or to regroup after yanking their “Evenings” wine and beer menu, they became that dad at CVS.
I could actually create a great metaphor here, but it’s amusing to instead make a literal comparison in which Starbucks sought that exact artificial bubblegum flavor I remember from taking medicine as a child, and blending it with other candy syrups and their frappuccino milk base. But instead of worrying if it tastes good, they only needed to ensure it was pretty enough to Instagram.
All things mystical and unicorn-y are the latest branding craze and food trend. Just last month, Tarte Cosmetics launched their “Make Believe in Yourself” collection, which features lots of shimmery and glitter products as well as a set of unicorn horn-shaped brushes. Other coffee shops and Brooklyn breakfast spots are churning our versions of unicorn bagels, unicorn lattes, and unicorn macaroons. I guess part of me doesn’t blame Starbucks for trying to play the game. But I do blame them for the highway robbery I and my tastebuds experienced this afternoon.
You don’t have to take my word for it. I will let this Starbucks barista’s tweet have the final word on the Unicorn Frappuccino.
This is me punting a unicorn frappuccino lol pic.twitter.com/NdBa4nvNUj
— kenz (@meckman13) April 17, 2017