Food Junk food Liquids

Review: Starbucks Refreshers

Starbucks Refreshers
The Raspberry Pomegranate flavour of Starbucks Refreshers.

When I first heard about Starbucks Refreshers, I probably groaned. I can’t remember my exact response, though if I know myself, I probably lamented the concept as the latest in a moderately long line of transgressions that Starbucks has committed against coffee.

And why not? Starbucks Refreshers are made with green coffee extract, and the goal is seemingly to provide the world with a coffee buzz without the coffee flavour.

It seems like a brain-twisting contradiction. Starbucks, the company that is arguably responsible for popularising the dark roast worldwide, was going to be releasing a coffee-based beverage that involved no roasting at all. Instead of a rip-roaring blast of roast, there would be no smoky, oily, earthy flavour at all. In its place, fruit flavours backed up by seemingly flavourless green coffee extract.

In terms of straight-up caffeine, there’s actually only a moderate amount in these drinks. By the number on the packaging, there’s 50 mg per 355 mL can. According to Coca-Cola’s numbers, the same quantity of Coca-Cola would contain 34 mg. Starbucks’ own website says the same quantity of brewed drip coffee would contain 260 mg. Like other energy drinks, Starbucks Refreshers also contain ginseng.

So, to recap: it’s a coffee-based beverage that doesn’t taste like coffee, and only gives you a fraction of the caffeine in a cup of real coffee. It’s just such a strange idea.

Of course, all is forgiven if it tastes great.

The Pitch: “Energy from natural green coffee extract.” “Sparkling green coffee beverage with vitamins.” “Real fruit juice, B & C vitamins.” “60 calories.”

The Look: The Siren on a tall, slim, classy looking silver can. The can’s shape is more Red Bull than squat soft drink. The liquid pours fizzy and looks like a pulp-free, watered-down juice.

The Taste (Raspberry Pomegranate): Lightly fizzy with a very pronounced artificial sweetener flavour that’s overly sweet. There’s some raspberry and pomegranate in there, but it’s very watery. I don’t know what green coffee extract tastes like, so I don’t know if I’m tasting any. The chemical, medicinal elements are distracting. I don’t instantly feel more awake (and lord knows I need a bit of an energy boost as I’m writing this), but I’ll give it time to work some magic. (Five minutes pass.) Yes, it seems to be working. Not in the peel-me-off-the-ceiling sense, but I do feel more alert.

The Taste (Strawberry Lemonade): Not a whole lot of aroma. Better than the raspberry pomegranate flavour, at least partly because the sweetener is less obvious. Not cloyingly strawberryish, as it has enough of the tangy lemonade flavour to balance it out. The strawberry isn’t “juicy,” for lack of a better word. It’s light and a bit thin, but yes, true to the name, refreshing. Certainly better than I was expecting. It’s my favourite flavour, and it’s one I’d willingly buy again.

The Taste (Orange Melon): Interesting. While the orange flavour doesn’t taste entirely real, there’s no mention of artificial flavour in the ingredients list. Maybe it’s the sweetener (stevia) that rubs its fakeness off on the orange. It’s light and summery, with a pleasant sweetness that isn’t too harsh. This wouldn’t be my first flavour choice, but I know why some would like it. On first sip, I got a hint of liquorice and malty black tea on the finish. Unexpected.

Starbucks Refreshers
The three canned flavours of Starbucks Refreshers I could find at my local Co-op and Safeway stores. From left, Strawberry Lemonade, Raspberry Pomegranate and Orange Melon.

RATINGS AND DETAILS

Cost: $2.99 for a 355 mL can at Calgary Co-op.

Value for cash money: Meh. So-so.

Availability: Somewhat widespread. Check the shelf/cooler where you’d find energy drinks at the grocery store.

Nutrition?: Per can (355 mL): 60 calories, 0 grams of fat, 5 mg of sodium, 0 grams of fibre, 0 grams of protein. Many vitamins.

Other stuff in the can: To keep the calories low, these are sweetened with stevia extract. Also, as noted above, ginseng.

The verdict: Not terrible, but not Earth-shatteringly good. An in-between drink in terms of calories with a bit of a nasty aftertaste (in varying degrees, depending on the flavour). Compared to juice, meh. Compared to other energy drinks? Meh+. I want to say it’s sort of a dignified energy drink, a pick-me-up for the power-suited-set instead of the Rockstar- and Monster-guzzling dudes in muscle shirts and sideways, flat-billed ball caps. If a cup of coffee has too much oomph, especially later in the day, a retooled version of these could work in its place. Shame about the sweetener, though.

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