The fall and winter holidays are wildly busy times for the international coffee chain Starbucks (SBUX) – Get Free Report. It’s not uncommon for the month of August to see our social media feeds flooded with celebratory posts about the return of Starbucks’ infamous Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL). The drink has become so famous it’s inspired comedy skits, songs and parodies, and various shirt and sweater options.
The seasonal coffee bonanza only builds momentum through the fall and leads into the winter holiday season. The halls are decked with boughs of holly and it seems there’s a famous red Starbucks cup in every hand. Holiday favorites like the Caramel Brulée Latte and the beloved Peppermint Mocha — which celebrated its 20th anniversary this year — send consumers to stores for a delicious hot cup of holiday spirit.
But while the coffee giant has filled out the late summer through fall and the holiday season with recurring customer favorites, it has not managed to do the same for other times of the year. That’s why it has tried a variety of different ideas all throughout the rest of the year — it’s trying to find the next PSL.
Now, the first seasonal flavor of 2023 has hit menus. Are the new Pistachio Cream Lattes and Pistachio Cream Cold Brew tasty enough to coax customers out of their post-holiday spending caves? We tasted them to find out.
Another Sweet Treat That Will Please Almost Everyone
TheStreet’s Veronika Bondarenko: For somebody who has gone on the record to say just how I don’t like coffee, I have been consuming a fair bit of it lately. I had it as an ice cream flavor at a friend’s place the other day and, when my editor Dan Kline asked me to review the newest latte from Starbucks, I hopped on the hard-hitting assignment. The way our team here at TheStreet sees it, the “is this a drink or a dessert?” litmus test on any seasonal drink released by Starbucks is whether it will be able to win over somebody who, like me, does not drink coffee in their day-to-day.
The pistachio cream foam was by far the most delectable part of the experience — hints of the nut and creamy vanilla with the occasional brown butter sprinkle make you feel as though you’re spooning the frosting from some kind of fancy pastry straight into your mouth. While the drink is structured so as to give you a hit of sweetness before the coffee — heavy bottom half, the principle I have written about for the Chocolate Cream Brew and the Sugar Cookie Almond Milk Latte works just as well with the Pistachio Cream Cold Brew — put in enough sugar, cream and flavoring to disguise the coffee flavor and you’ll win over an entire segment of consumers who are not your prime target. It’s almost like our taste buds have been programmed by evolution to crave such sweet treats.
Does This Drink Capture the Taste of the Season?
TheStreet’s Danni Button: Seasonal tastes aren’t just about what’s yummy or fresh–so many of our senses are connected to experiences. That’s what makes these holiday menus so successful. It’s a nostalgic time of year, and a lot of our holiday merriment is underscored by food and drink. That being said, the early months of the year don’t have any unifying flavor experiences like the fall and winter months. From the go, a successful flavor at any other time of year is a tall order (or a venti if you’re speaking Starbucks).
Pistachio is a great choice for a cold weather-friendly flavor that doesn’t sing “Jingle Bells” lyrics with every sip. I tried both the latte and the cold brew, and I have to say, the Pistachio Cream Cold Brew doesn’t quite bring enough flavor to leave the lasting impression Starbucks may be looking for post-holiday season.
The latte, however, does deliver a sweet, nutty flavor that pairs nicely with cream. The final, syrupy sip isn’t quite saccharine like Starbucks’ illustrious holiday flavors. The taste invokes a more subtle cold-weather mood. If it’s possible to attach a flavor to this season, Pistachio is a good choice. Whether or not it can gain traction with customers has yet to be seen.
Pistachio Cream Cold Brew Is Sort of a Miss
TheStreet’s Daniel Kline: Starbucks described the new Pistachio Cream as “silky pistachio cream cold foam and salted brown-buttery sprinkles.” That’s a very flowery description for something that really lacks a distinctive taste. It’s silky, and the foam is both light and substantive, but it also tastes mostly sweet and there’s nothing overly pistachio about it.
The buttery sprinkles were nice and most of them stuck to the lid of my cup, so they were easy to taste as they did not melt into the coffee. This new offering simply isn’t as distinctive as the Chocolate Cream Cold Brew the chain released in May or the seasonal Irish Cream Cold Brew it offered during the holiday season.
Arguably, the Pistachio Cream has a more pleasant taste than the Irish Cream, but it’s a taste that’s way less recognizable. If you go in thinking “pistachio,” you may be disappointed, but the actual flavor is quite good if you’re not expecting it to taste a certain way.