Courtesy of Starbucks

But in a good way

Tim Nelson
November 27, 2018

For Starbucks, the holiday season is an intense time of year. Their cup designs engender controversy no matter how much—or little—Christmas iconography they feature. Seasonal beverages like the Peppermint Mocha pack a sugary punch that feels less like drinking a coffee than chugging a liquefied candy cane. And don’t get me started on what’s wrong with the gingerbread latte.

But this winter, it sounds like Starbucks wants to take things in a different direction. The Juniper Latte makes its nationwide debut this week (after a trial run at Starbucks’ Reserve Roastery in Seattle last year), and it's a drink that’s billed as less of a treacly treat and more of a sophisticated espresso beverage. A Starbucks press release describes it as “featur[ing] a hint of juniper and sage, an evergreen aroma and citrus notes,” which honestly makes it sound closer to a craft beer than a Frappuccino.

As one of the guinea pigs that Extra Crispy keeps on retainer, I decided to give the Juniper Latte a little taste test on the day of its release (November 27th). The barista at my local Starbucks seemed surprised I’d ordered one, having to look back at the “Introducing: Juniper Latte” sign behind her to confirm that today was indeed the day it became available to the latte-sipping public.

The fact that I was probably the first person to order one during her shift wasn’t a great omen, nor was her less than exuberant description of the drink as “very citrus-y.” But armed with the knowledge that I survived both the Guinness and Sprite disaster and the time McDonald’s tried to give me a heart attack, I pressed on.

The woodsy notes were apparent from the smell of it alone, making me long for a good walk through a Norwegian forest. The evergreen packed the biggest olfactory punch, making the thing smell how I imagine Starbucks’ caramel macchiato might if left under a Christmas tree overnight. I didn’t really detect any overt notes of citrus, but maybe they exist to cut through some of the other aromas so you don’t feel like you’re about to drink an air freshener. Regardless, everyone in this Starbucks probably found the amount of time I spent smelling this coffee unsettling.

As I drank my Juniper latte, each sip corroborated what I learned from the smell test: It takes Starbucks’ basic sweet-ish espresso drink template and gradually introduces a forest-y aftertaste that comes on strong. As someone who’s never purchased a candle or done aromatherapy, it was hard to tell exactly when and how the juniper and sage were playing with my palate. But there’s no doubt the Juniper Latte delivers on the evergreen vibes, though they did dissipate a bit as I worked my towards the bottom of my grande beverage. Whether that was because those forest flavors were a bit top-heavy or the novelty simply wore off is hard to say.

So what’s the verdict? The Juniper Latte definitely scores points for being unconventional. It’s a holiday drink that could enhance the mood as you wander through a Christmas tree farm. It does offer a subtler take on sweetness than some of Starbucks’ other holiday options, but you can get most of what you’d want from this drink 365 days a year elsewhere on the menu. Still, where else can you drink a latte that kinda tastes like a tree? That’s a gift worth receiving at least once.  

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