Starbucks knows it can’t coast on pumpkin spice lattes alone. Its newest quest is to capture craft beer drinkers.
That effort is showing up in its latest drink, the Cold Foam Dark Cocoa Nitro. The coffee company makes no secret of how it got the idea.
“The Dark Chocolate Stout was our inspiration for our newest Starbucks Draft beverage,” Starbucks declares on its website. “Our velvety-smooth Nitro Cold Brew (is) made even more irresistible with the bittersweet cocoa cold foam, bringing out the coffee’s natural chocolate notes.”
Let’s take apart the ingredients. First, the dark cocoa nitro cold brew starts with nitro cold brew coffee, or cold brew coffee infused with nitrogen. It’s a similar process to the way craft beer makers are spiking their beverages with nitrogen to make it taste fizzy.
In case you don’t have it in your local Starbucks, nitro cold brew coffee comes out of a spigot that looks very much like a craft beer spigot in your favorite local bar, brewpub or restaurant.
Next, the dark cocoa nitro adds cold foam, which Starbucks has been offering since 2014 on some drinks, but made widely available in April (you can order it as an option on its coffee drinks). Cold foam is made from milk and liquid cane sugar, which is a mix of water, turbinado cane sugar and plain cane sugar. It looks like the froth on a cappuccino, but it’s cold instead of hot.
The chocolate ingredient comes from something Starbucks calls “bitter chocolate flavor mist.” The grande-sized dark cocoa nitro comes with four pumps of this mist syrup, and four pumps of liquid cane sugar. (A tall has three pumps.)
That 16-ounce grande size is 90 calories, and costs $4.95, before tax, at a Starbucks where I found it in suburban Detroit. (My local Starbucks in Ann Arbor doesn’t have nitro coffee, and you may need to check around your area before you locate this drink.) The 12-ounce Tall size is $4.45.
This drink will pack a flavor punch. Starbucks is recommending that customers leave off ice and additional milk, since there’s already milk in the cold foam.
It also will pack something of a caffeine punch. There are 290 milligrams of caffeine in the grande-sized dark cocoa nitro, versus 175 milligrams of caffeine in a 16-ounce mocha drink.
However, it will keep you slightly calmer than a 16-ounce cup of regular Starbucks coffee, which has 310 milligrams of caffeine, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Starbucks is on a quest both to attract the beer-drinking crowd, and to attract more customers with cold drinks. In July, Starbucks Chief Operating Officer Rosalind Brewer said nitro cold brew was “really resonating with our male millennials.”
That could be because Starbucks is displaying nitro cold brew as if it was beer, at least in stores where it has the space to do so. A manager at my store told me it wasn’t getting cold brew yet, because the tanks were too big to fit under its small counters.
Brewer said Starbucks planned an especially big push for draft nitro coffee, which it plans to have available in 2,800 stores by the end of October, which marks the end of its fiscal year. By October 2019, Brewer estimated it will be in 6,000 stores, perhaps including mine.
Starbucks is looking for solutions to offset the decline in sales of its Frappuccino drinks, which make up 11% of its revenue. Through the first two quarters of its fiscal 2018 year, Frappuccino sales were down 3%.
So, while the pumpkin spice latte was off to a strong and early start this year, Starbucks is already following through on its strategy to convince customers that nitro coffee can be as cool as draft beer.