If you’re a person who can: turn on a television, scroll through the internet or walk passed/into a Starbucks, then you know the direction I’m about to go with this.
I like to think I am an avid coffee connoisseur (aka coffee snob), but I really don’t know as much as most of the self-proclaimed masters of caffeine. However, not even a coffee snob needs to point out the bizarre direction that coffee culture is heading.
Thanks to the Instagram-obsessed humans of this technological world, Starbucks’ limited menu offering, the Unicorn Frappucino, became a fast-selling sensation. Decked out in bright pink and blue, to create a purple haze packed under colorfully dusted, whipped cream clouds, the Unicorn Frapp debuted mid-April at participating locations, for only a few days. Someone in the marketing department was really paying attention to the trending themes around social media because they pieced together the fact that most millennials right now are regressing back to our Lisa Frank days of nauseating neon glitter-rainbows and, yes, Unicorns.
Maybe my generation is just hoping that if we believe hard enough, then we can travel back into time and do some things over.
I didn’t actually sample the Unicorn Frapp, but I admit that it was definitely visually appealing. I can understand the craze of this trendy, new drink from one of the trendiest coffee shops around the world. Every city, in almost every country you visit, has a Starbucks conveniently located on every street corner. No matter what your opinions are of Starbucks, no one can deny the fact that this corporate coffee giant has done a phenomenal job of remaining atop the list of popular places for caffeine fiends to get their morning and afternoon fix.
When the Unicorn Frappucino graced us with its mysterious layers of color I was pretty confused. Starbucks has always kept its reputation as the high-end shop to sit and chat with friends (or anti-socially sit in the corner with headphones on to drown out the noise of the Frapp blenders and loudly giggling girls prepping their faces for the perfect Starbucks selfie) while sipping overpriced, syrupy sweet milk foam and espresso. I wasn’t confused with the popularity of this drink, but I wasn’t sure why Starbucks released something that was so opposite from the direction they seemed to be going with their coffee.
Looking at the menu, you see that they try to cater to the diversity of their customers’ preferences. You can pick out specialty brews of coffee, in specific roasts made to order or choose between a few basic brews ranging from dark to light roasts. If you’re feeling something with flavor, then go for a flavored latte, hot or iced, or snag a cold brew. The Frappucinos are essentially made to please those people who want to like coffee but just can’t enjoy the coffee taste. I am certainly biased in my opinion of the Frappucino craze because I know just how awful it is to make those drinks from my barista days in Schenectady. Every time someone would order a frozen drink, I would cringe. Not only were they the most annoying drink to make, but also the amount of sugar that goes into even the smallest size of those blender demons would make me gag.
I love a sweet, flavored coffee every now and then, too, but these frozen concoctions are not even the least bit enjoyable to me. I mean you can barely taste the coffee, but the Unicorn Frapp doesn’t contain coffee — or any caffeine at all.
So, what is going on, Starbucks? I understand the need to remain relevant and continue to make money within the ever-changing trends of today, but this Unicorn phase is just a desperate cry for help. Not only that, but the Unicorn trend has hit a new level of WTF with news of a lawsuit filed against Starbucks by a café in Brooklyn, NY. The lawsuit wasn’t really what I expected it would be for, which was some kind of death-by-sugar accident after ingesting an entire day’s worth of sugar and calories just within one 16oz. beverage.
The End café has actually sued Starbucks over the Unicorn-themed drink. The End claims to have been the original creators of the Unicorn latte, boasting its Insta-worthy whimsy and health-conscious ingredients. According to Thrillist, “ingredients like cold-pressed ginger, lemon juice, dates, cashews, blended with dried maca root, blue-green algae, and vanilla bean” were blended together to make this magical creation that apparently tastes great, as well as provides a list of ingredients that are identifiable.
Unlike The End’s version, released last year and popular enough to make the creators actually file to trademark the drink’s name, Starbucks’ version of the Unicorn drink boasts 59 grams of sugar, 410 calories, 16 grams of fat and zero grams of caffeine. The ingredients list is a bit longer, and the drink is described on the Starbucks website as a fruity, taste/color changing, milk-based drink that is “finished with whipped cream-sprinkled pink and blue fairy powders.”
So, “fairy powders” fall into which category on the food pyramid? Were they at least cage-free, cruelty-free, grass-fed, organic fairies?
As if this drink wasn’t confusing enough, immediately after the limited-time-only beverage was off the menu, news feeds were overflowing with “Mermaid Frappucinos” and “Dragon Frappucinos”. Only, these are the Frapps. included on the “secret menu” at Starbucks. I can’t speak for the company, but most shops don’t have a secret menu, so don’t expect employees to know these items. Just as if you went into a bar and asked for “that drink your friend made you that one time, that was, like, green or something and tasted like cotton candied watermelons,” please do not assume baristas know what these absurd drinks contain.
The fact that baristas have to even endure the process of some wide-eyed teen trying to explain how to make a “Mermaid Frappucino” (which is not simple I might add) should be considered abuse within the workplace. Also, how do these people ordering these ridiculous sugar shakes feel confident enough to explain to another human-adult how to make a drink named after a fairytale creature. The only time it is okay to talk to a perfect stranger about dragons, unicorns and mermaids is excitedly sharing your obsessions with Harry Potter or Game of Thrones.
I am all for trendy foods and drinks, especially within the coffee community. Coffee shops are having a moment right now, with a serious focus on making coffee drinking just as much of an experience as a winery or microbrewery. However, Starbucks was doing just fine focusing on introducing brew-by-the-cup coffees and releasing their own almond milk with their other non-dairy milk options (coconut milk and soy milk). The Frappucino craze was at a manageable level of demand and mythical creatures remained contained within the various wizarding-alternate-reality-type communities.
Now, things are getting out of hand, and I can’t enjoy my cold brew coffees, iced almond milk, vanilla lattes and matcha tea lattes with soy in peace during my lunch break because the Starbucks near my office is crawling with unicorn/dragon/mermaid-seeking hopefuls who thrive on Instagram likes.
All of this fuss over a corporate coffee industry that introduced a line of pretty-colored shakes that don’t even contain actual coffee and/or caffeine. I love sugar as much as the next person, but if I wanted cavities from thick, flavored milk then I would rather invest my time and money in an ice cream based beverage, aka a milkshake. You are paying double for a fancier, complicated milkshake, without the ice cream.
Please, Starbucks, get it together and stop selling out to be trendy. You were already trendy; you will always be trendy without selling your soul to the unicorn gods. Starbucks, its okay to believe in unicorns, but I think believing in yourself is a much better idea. Leave the “fairy powders” to the imagination, and put your focus back on the coffee.
Besides, did we learn nothing from Firenze, the centaur, explaining to Harry what happens when one kills a unicorn to drink its blood?
“You have slain something pure and defenseless to save yourself, and you will have but a half-life, a cursed life, from the moment the blood touches your lips”