Starting the day after Thanksgiving, you can now buy the Starbucks January 2017 Coffee and Tea Refill tumbler. It is already available on – Here’s what it looks like:

Refill tumbler from starbucksstore

It is priced at $40.00, and it allows the owner of it to fill it up daily with hot coffee or tea during the month of January 2017, at no charge.

Here’s what you can order, without charge, when you using this tumbler:

  • Any hot tea
  • Any hot brewed coffee. In years past, this typically included modifications. If you normally ordered a Grande Blonde Roast with Vanilla syrup, or a Pike Place Roast with an add shot, in past years all of this was included so long as you were getting brewed coffee. Whether or not it is the same this year is still unknown.

The first year that Starbucks offered this special promo tumbler, it was described as the “Coffee Refill Tumbler.” As recently as January 2015, it was simply called the Coffee Refill Tumbler.

Starbucks has NEVER released this promo tumbler without managing to create a ton of confusion, ambiguity, and flat out bad situations at the registers. I’ve been saying this year after year.

First off, to understand the confusion, you have to know that there are 4 drinks at Starbucks which are unique, and unlike other beverages. The name “Refill” in the title of the tumbler is a small piece of this confusion. These are the “Refill” drinks, as follows:

  1. Iced Coffee (meaning standard brewed iced coffee, not a Clover-brewed or Nitro Cold Brew).
  2. Hot brewed coffee (meaning standard brewed hot coffee, such as Pike Place Roast, Veranda Blend, or other regularly featured coffee of the day.) For even more ambiguity, many partners consider the Coffee Misto as part of the “Refill” policy, and I think the register considers it a “refill” too, though I am not positive. Also, there is a lot of ambiguity about whether a “Pour Over” counts for this tumbler. I would suggest that it does.
  3. Iced Shaken Teas (these are green tea, black, and herbal Passion Tango Teavana tea. I’m referring to the basic teas, not tea lemonade beverages.)
  4. Hot tea (a tea sachet and hot water).

These 4 beverages are special because they are the only beverages that ever qualify for a “Refill” price. If you want to understand the Starbucks Refill Policy, please read more here and here. These 4 drinks have a lot in common: arguably, they’re beverages that are the highest profit margin items. These are drinks that often are not made to order. In other words, if you want Iced Coffee, the barista pours iced coffee that has already been brewed, and does not steam milk especially for you, or pull a shot just for you. And as I mentioned, these four drinks are offered at the “Refill” policy under some circumstances. These are the only beverages where it is possible at the end of the day, the store pours out unsold iced tea or iced coffee, or Pike Place Roast.

Now, consider the list of the 4 unique drinks, and the description of the tumbler. You can see the problem. For example, iced coffee really is a brewed coffee. And it was once a pretty hot coffee! Iced tea has extremely high profit margins. It’s far cheaper to put a little passion tea and ice in a 16 ounce tumbler than hot brewed coffee with an add shot and syrup.

Each year, I get emails and messages complaining about this tumbler. I’ve sometimes written about the “Barista Sheriff” syndrome where in some stores the goal of the register partner is to police every little thing and hand out infractions. It’s a huge step removed from “Inspiring and nurturing the human spirit.” I sometimes think if your life’s goal is to act like a policeman over a little iced tea, Starbucks might not be a great career choice for you. If Starbucks couldn’t afford a little iced tea in a 16 ounce tumbler, they wouldn’t be able to afford partner beverages and so many other things they do. Just as Starbucks is generous with their partners, so in turn partners should be generous with customers.

These are the complaints I get each and every single year:

  • ‘The register partner didn’t recognize the tumbler at all. I was charged full price and had to argue to get a free Pike Place Roast.’
  • ‘I wanted decaf and the register barista insisted that a pour over of decaf Pike Place Roast is full price and not covered.’
  • ‘The tumbler is called a ‘Refill’ tumbler. Why in the world can’t I get iced tea in it? That IS normally a refill drink, and it’s cheaper than what I see other people getting in that tumbler.’
  • ‘I really like iced coffee year-round. It is a brewed coffee. And frankly, the only reason it’s cold is because of ice. Why can’t I get iced coffee in it?’
  • I sat in the store and drank my Pike Place Roast. Normally I get an iced coffee as a ‘refill’. It makes no sense that doesn’t happen here.’

By the way, my HUGE props to the partners out there who are making great experiences with this tumbler. It’s likely your most loyal customers are those who would be motivated to buy it. I personally have experienced this myself. I’ve had partners argue with me that there is no such thing as a refill tumbler. I’ve had partners get pretty upset when I’ve asked for iced coffee. If there are arguments happening in downtown Seattle over this tumbler, there are arguments happening everywhere.

This year the signage at the register actually says “Enjoy a free brewed coffee or tea with this tumbler…” which implies that if hot tea could be free, so should iced tea. It’s still tea.

I have no doubt that I’ve made a number of people reading this cringe. This website would be dishonest if you all ever got from me was rah rah rah cheerleader. That would be a Starbucks-owned site. I know that some people get mad when I write anything critical. But it’s important to be able to see more than one viewpoint and be able to acknowledge opportunities for better customer experiences.

My message to Starbucks: Please, next year create a refill tumbler that absolutely clearly includes all 4 “Refill” drinks. It is a big opportunity for improvement to create both smoother partner and customer experiences.

By the way, let me tell you, I hope that I am wrong. I hope that this year will be different. But I can’t deny the experiences I personally have had and what I’ve seen, and heard about. I truly hope I’m wrong. I hope that Starbucks will update their registers immediately to allow all 4 special “Refill” drinks in this tumbler and then communicate to all the stores. That’s what I hope.

Here are more photos:

20161124_081802 brewed coffee or tea refill tumbler15032897_10154601123226341_7499870863268082989_n15032228_10154601123236341_6242605413920540231_n