Caramel Sauce/ Syrup at Starbucks: Most popular flavor ever?

Tonight, as I was heading home from work, I dropped by the East Olive Way Starbucks to pick up some Christmas Blend.  I had some interesting conversations while I was there.  One partner mentioned to me that she started at Starbucks in 2007 – the year of the Dulce de Leche latte.  We managed to have an entire conversation around caramel.  We even discussed the correct pronunciation – it’s “car-ah-mel” because there is an “a” between the “r” and the  “m.”

The Olive Way barista recalled that the Dulce de Leche Latte had a caramel-ly flavor to it.  Over the history of Starbucks, there sure have been a lot of caramel-flavored beverages:  On April 3, 2007, Starbucks introduced the Dulce de Leche Frappuccino and latte.  The Frappuccino dates back to 1995, when Starbucks experimented with milk, ice, sweetener, and Italian Roast coffee, and a blender – from this, a “coffee Frappuccino” was born.  From what I remember, the Caramel Frappuccino has been on the menu-boards since the late 1990s.

More recently, on November 17, 2009, Starbucks introduced the Caramel Creme Brulee Latte which is a wintertime seasonal item.  The Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate is considered a fall beverage, and was first launched in September 2008, coinciding with the introduction of the Starbucks Signature Hot Chocolate.

People do love their caramel beverages.  You can get caramel Starbucks Fusions coffee, and caramel iced Via too.  The barista I was talking to tonight mentioned that many of her customers love to add sugar-free caramel syrup to their iced coffees.  And if Starbucks needs more ideas for more caramel-flavored beverages, one person at wants a Caramel Pecan Latte.  But in all seriousness, it seems like the caramel conversations are non-stop.  On Twitter, one of my followers recently direct-messaged me that his store in Wisconsin will be testing a “Caramel Flan Latte” in January 2013.  I’ll probably write about that test beverage again, if and when I have more information.  (Keep in mind that Starbucks tests many things that never launch nationwide.)

I’m not a huge fan of drinking Frappuccinos, but I needed a picture to show off some caramel.  I asked the baristas to make me a drink with obvious caramel – and there you have it!

So it seems as though caramel is the king of syrup/sauce flavors.  Does any flavor out there trump caramel?





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  • Purple1

    The pic you took certainly makes the drink inviting.
    Interesting about the history of caramel. For me, these drinks can be a bit too sweet.

  • Nathan

    I would agree, caramel anything out sells anything, even vanilla!

  • Biser

    I can confirm that caramel sauce/syrup flavor is one of customer’s favorite here in Bulgaria too. There is something about the caramel sauce, that people allergic to lactose usually don’t know…it contains milk. So people have to be warned. Also as you mentioned the Frappuccino I’d like to remind that the original Frappuccino beverage was developed, named, trademarked and sold by George Howell’s Eastern Massachusetts coffee shop chain, The Coffee Connection. When Starbucks purchased The Coffee Connection in 1994, they also gained the rights to use, make, market, and sell the Frappuccino beverage, and soon after began to sell the beverage chain-wide. Let’s give Mr. George Howell the due respect :)

  • Ai

    Caramel goes so well with coffee and chocolate that it’s hard to find anything that beats it at Starbucks. Tea, on the other hand, doesn’t go well with caramel. ^_^

  • Topher

    I’m glad that George was mentioned. I was going to clarify that myself. I’m all for Starbuck’s acquisition of The Coffee Connection and the Frappuccino, but credit is due to George. I would have to say caramel is the most multi-purpose flavor @ Starbucks. But we go through WAY more vanilla at our location.

  • denise r

    Prior to my once-upon-a-time-daily 4 shot tall cinn dolce, a 4hot tall caramel macchiato was my daily (winter) choice. I actually remember CLEARLY when they first came out (here, anyway) with a caramel macchiato. Maybe ’96? I recall the partners at my (then ) local store asked to me try one, and wow! I thought it was wonderful. I was on my way back to a friend’s office, another Sbux die-hard, so I brought her one..along with a short coffee in case she didn’t like it. She’s still drinking it as her favorite winter drink……we both thought, at the time, it almost had a deep-fire taste (warmth) of alcohol! Will have to have one soon, for old time’s sake. So, there’s my caramel story. I have to say tho, I love the flavor of real vanilla, too.

  • Melody

    @Topher and Biser – I really do not want to turn this into a Frappuccino history lesson- That might be a perfect project for another blog post some day. Though according to to Pour Your Heart Into It, as I recall (I will check when I’m home near my book) the Frappuccino name totally came from the Coffee Connection. The Coffee Connection apparently had a similar drink, and had trademarked the name Frappuccino.

    But the Starbucks’ recipe for the Frappuccino did NOT come from George. Starbucks Italian Roast coffee has long been the core of the beverage, and the story goes that a district manager in Southern California encouraged her partners to experiment with a cold drink. A quick google search comes up with the DM name Dina Campion, her presented her recipe to Howard Schultz. It went through lots of variations – but the Frappuccino recipe that became a hit squarely comes from the work of Southern California partners. The name was acquired through absorbing the Coffee Connection – but Starbucks rejected their recipe.

    There are versions of the Starbucks Frappuccino story (not in Pour Your Heart Into It) where the store-level partner (a store manager in Santa Monica in 1994?) who did a lot of work to produce a nice recipe leaves Starbucks very bitter that his only recognition was a Rolex watch and a check for $5000 – a drink that has since made Starbucks billions in revenue.

    If I could ever figure out a way to find Dina Campion and interview her about the invention of the Frappuccino, I would but I don’t have the time or resources to pursue that, and it’s pretty unrealistic on my part.

    So the name Frappuccino (and an earlier idea for it, but different recipe that did not use Italian Roast) – The names comes from George at the Coffee Connection. // The Starbucks Frappuccino recipe – Partners in Southern California in 1994ish.

    Edit – Wow, a quick google search reveals that Dina Campion is still a Starbucks partner, and is now at the SSC. Man, I would LOVE to have a cup of coffee with her!

  • Nathan

    To answer the last question, probably not and its likely that there never will be a flavour that beats caramel. However I do find that caramel is much more popular in iced drinks than hot.

  • Patricia Graef

    I will look for some of the caramel flavors as I, too, love caramel flavor drinks. Right now I’m stuck on Venti, Americano with white chocolatea and a splash of breve’. I’m needing something new though.

  • Darkkatpouncing

    Caramel Flan Latte???? I’m DYIN over here!!! I can’t even – no – I *LOVE* flan so much and it’s totally not good for me but there it is. LOVE THE FLAN. I seriously hope this takes off and comes here to Seattle. Excuse me but I need to go get a napkin for the drool. LOL I will need to read this post again because you lost me as soon as I read Caramel Flan Latte! 😉 Ok going to go read again from where I left off. *smile*

  • CD

    @Melody – that’s the same story I remember – the drink came from So Cal and the name came from The Coffee Connection. I think they came out in the order of coffee, mocha then caramel. (Do you remember when they added “Power” (protein) back in the late 90s?) For me, Frappuccino’s stepped away from the core and toward the broader mass appeal when Michelle Gass put the dome lids on them. Until then, it was places like Gloria Jean’s that had the fancy whipped cream toppings, etc. and up until then, the Frappuccino was a comparatively healthier drink choice (fairly low fat, etc.) compared to the offerings at the other coffee places. The dome lids have always disappointed me, but I understand the appeal to most people.

    Today, obviously, they’re a behemoth and caramel – especially the caramel sauce (not syrup) is a big draw. I’ve bought it in the stores before to use at home on ice cream, etc. and @denise – you’re right, people really do love the caramel macchiato.

    I like seeing the big bags of caramel sitting on top of the espresso machines. But I always feel for the barista who has to squeeze out the “extra, extra, extra” caramel sauce out of those little squeeze bottles for the customer who just can’t get enough of the caramel sauce.

  • Sandra Trolinger

    I love the Caramel Brulee Latte and the Salted Caramel Mocha latte.
    But I hate caramel in candy bars.
    In hot Starbucks drinks…I love caramel.

  • Mandy

    Hi :-) I’m also VERY into the caramel flavored drinks, my ALL TIME favorite is the Salted Caramel Mocha….both the hot latte and the cold frappuccino….LOVE! …well, I just found your amazing Starbuck’s blog and can tell that there’s a lot of Starbuck-pro-knowledge in here from both you and your readers/commenters :-) So would anyone PLEASE let me in on the secret of which components go into the Salted Caramel Mocha, and which items I would need to buy from the Starbucks online store (coffee, syrup, sauce etc.) to recreate that wonderful drink at home and what are the right amounts of each ingredient? THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU :-) I’ll keep reading your great blog!

  • Markbux

    SALTED CARAMEL MOCHA=Toffee Nut + Mocha

  • Topher


    It was George who originated the idea for the drink. It was Dina who changed it. George’s version was created with espresso shots, which Starbucks started out doing, and later moved on to using the “via” style coffee.

  • Melody

    @Topher – i don’t think we’ll totally agree nor do I think we’ll ever really know the truth. In all the versions of the story of the Frappuccino I know, Granita coffee drinks were a hot item in coffee house – especially in Southern California, and so the partners who invented it, were working independently of George to come up with a recipe. By the way, I think the “Via” version of the drink came much much later – Italian Roast, double strength brewed was how it originally was made at Starbucks. I know a current Starbucks store manager who started in 1994 – I’ll have to ask her how she made a Frappuccino in the 1990s. There is no doubt, Starbucks took George’s name for the drink – The Frappuccino. A fantastic name for it! By the way, I remember the “Granita” craze in coffeehouses in the 1990s. I don’t think it was ever quite the craze in Seattle that it was in Southern California, but there was a time when a Granita – which really looked like a coffee slurpee – was standard in so many coffeehouses!

    Remember, the Coffee Connection was a Boston company. It sounds like you’re saying that Dina encouraged her partners in Southern California because of what George was doing in Boston. I think it was just what was happening in that era of the coffeehouse boom of the 1990s. There were probably a ton of people independently trying to figure out what cold coffee drinks to serve. Espresso milkshakes – literally vanilla ice cream with espresso were also part of that booming era. The way I see it, probably Dina pushed her partners because other coffeehouses in Southern California had cold coffee drinks, and they did not.

    Let’s get back to the topic of caramel! 😉

  • Topher

    Sorry, wasn’t trying to thread jack. Caramel is excellent! =)

  • Shayne

    Hey melody, if a store near you has coconut syrup, try adding some to a vanilla bean frappuccino. In Hawaii we call it a “haupia” frappuccino.

  • denise r

    @Shayne: the vanilla bean coconut (coconut now gone…urged to keep it all yr but Sbux wanted it to be “seasonal”, or, in their minds, apparently summer) frapp. was a big hit here. I think it’s probably the best combo for a frapp.

  • Shayne

    @denise yeah we make it all the time here in Hawaii because we have coconut all year long. People also ask for Thai in it (another sauce Hawaii only has)

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