Over the course of the last few years, I've probably written about every new Starbucks drink, limited-edition Frappuccino, and PSL return to date. So when I got the opportunity to head to the mother ship (a.k.a. Starbucks HQ in Seattle) — to get an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at two new lattes hitting the menu on February 16 — I jumped at the chance to find out what it really takes to create the next PSL. My mission? To go behind the scenes of the creation of two new drinks: the Smoked Butterscotch Latte and the Citrus Green Tea Latte. The first features smoked butterscotch-flavored sauce and smoky butterscotch topping, while the latter is made with a new citrus-mint syrup and lemon essence topping.
Going in, I knew the names of the flavors — and that was it. I had no idea what was in store for me (other than a LOT of caffeine). Once I got to Seattle, I spent an entire day learning about how these two drinks went from being a glimmer of an idea within the Global Beverage Innovation Team to nationwide menu additions. Are you ready for this? Here’s the inside scoop on how they make the magic happen.
Stage 1: Follow The TrendsEvery new drink starts with the Global Beverage Innovation Team. That title sounds super-complicated, but it’s really a team of recipe developers who have the best jobs, EVER. Seriously, prepare to be jealous. The first part of what they do is all about staying on top of food and drink trends. They look at everything from what’s going on in the world to what’s on the Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer (People after our own hearts!) along with what chefs are doing in local culinary scenes. Then comes the actual recipe development.
Stage 2: The RoasteryIn the case of the Smoked Butterscotch Latte and the Citrus Green Tea Latte, both started at the Roastery. If you’re wondering what the Roastery is, I got a chance to check it out before we went to headquarters. In a nutshell, the Roastery is Starbucks' Seattle mecca of all things coffee. Not only does it serve up a variety of artisanal drinks that you can't get at your neighborhood location, it's also home to an actual large-scale roasting operation (thus, the name). Ever tried one of those shmancy Reserve coffees? It was roasted at the Roastery.
When it comes to developing drinks for the Roastery, the Global Beverage Innovation team really pushes the boundaries and tries to figure out what the next big coffee crazes are going to be. I tried a fizzy, mint-infused iced espresso drink and also its most popular beverage, the Shakerato Bianco, which is espresso shaken over ice (customers get to pick the bean they want and pour their choice of milk overtop). Essentially, they’re serving up a lot more than your average mocha lattes. I was already feeling pretty caffeinated at this point. I'm typically a one-latte kind of girl — but no one turns down free coffee when it is being handed to you in beautiful cups topped off with foamy hearts — and I still had to try the drinks that started this journey. The Smoked Butterscotch Latte was originally created because there are great chocolate and vanilla options on the menu, but Starbucks hadn’t tapped caramel yet. The Global Beverage Innovation team use browned butter to make a rich and creamy butterscotch sauce with local, smoked Demerara sugar. And if that wasn’t flavorful enough, there’s also a hint of peppery heat that I could only taste at the end of each sip. This was by far my favorite drink of the trip. In a perfect world, there would be a purchasable version of smoked butterscotch sauce that I can use to smother vanilla ice cream with in the very near future. The Citrus Green Tea Latte — which was originally called the Matcha Basil Mint Latte when it debuted at the Roastery last fall — was created as a fun new way to experiment with the matcha latte trend. It featured house-made basil-mint syrup and a lemon rind garnish. Obviously, it was a hit.