First there was coffee. Then juices. Energy drinks. Tea. Booze.
What beverage is left to sell at Starbucks?
The Seattle-based beverage giant is testing "handcrafted" sodas at stores in Atlanta and Austin, Texas, according to Brand Eating. "The kicker here is that Starbucks is using a machine to add carbonation to the drinks so that you can ask them to adjust the level of fizz to your liking," the report says.
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Flavors include Ginger Ale, Lemon Ale, and Spiced Root Beer, all made on the spot by a barista and therefore promoted as fresher than soda out of a can. The company says the drinks are made with natural ingredients: "no preservatives, no high-fructose corn syrup and no artificial flavors." For example, the Spiced Root Beer is described as "a refreshing blend of classic root beer and signature Starbucks Chai spices that include cinnamon, nutmeg and clove."
How They Taste
Jason Jepson, a marketing executive in Austin, ordered all three new sodas at a local Starbucks. He said the setup in stores is similar to having a Sodastream machine.
"Get a glass and pour in the 'flavor mix,' add another chemical and put it in a special glass," he said. "Put [the glass] in a very fancy silver soda stream. Close the door and wait 30 seconds. Pour into the proper size cup, and you have a drink." Each drink cost him $2.45.
The results did not impress him (but remember, this is a test). Of all three, the Lemon Ale was Jepson's favorite. "The flavor was okay, but you can really tell that the mix comes from a box." The other drinks received two thumbs down. On Ginger Ale: "Where is the ginger? Where is the flavor?" And as for the handcrafted Spiced Root Beer, he didn't hold back: "Thomas Kemper just rolled over in his root beer bed," he said. "Lack of 'spice,' so Barq's is safe. Lack of sweetness, so A&W is safe. ... The worst by far."
Jepson said he and four friends tried out the drinks, and all agreed that "there is a chemical taste to each flavor, and there is no way any were really 'handcrafted.' " On the other hand, "It is a quick and easy drink."
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Other reviews have been positive. "Melody" of Starbucks Melody called the Spiced Root Beer "crazy good ... sweet, refreshing, and a lovely distinctive root beer flavor!" She gave it two thumbs up, though she passed on giving an opinion about the Ginger Ale. "To be honest, I am not a fair reviewer of the ginger ale because I've never been much of a fan of ginger ale." Melody also noticed customers ordering Starbucks Refreshers and having carbonation added to make them "sparkling"—"I tried a sip and loved it."
Starbucks told CNBC that the sodas are handcrafted in the sense that a barista makes them and that the company is soliciting customer feedback.
"This is a test, and that's part of it," said spokeswoman Linda Mills. She said Starbucks is "so far excited with the response" in Austin and Atlanta. Half of sales have been not to carbonate the three highlighted sodas but to add fizz to core products like tea, Refreshers "and in some cases coffee."
It's too soon to tell whether the company will expand the test to other cities, Mills added. "We need to get through the summer season."
In the meantime, Jepson plans to stick to his usual—"Venti skinny mocha, no foam. That is my 'go to' and I will pay more for that."
—By CNBC's Jane Wells. Follow her on Twitter