The January 2017 Starbucks Refill Tumbler is Back.

Starting the day after Thanksgiving, you can now buy the Starbucks January 2017 Coffee and Tea Refill tumbler. It is already available on StarbucksStore.com – 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:

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26 Comments

  • Anne

    Does anyone know if they will refill these at the Starbucks inside of Target?

  • Kerry

    I’m attempting to research this question and you may not know, but you seem to be a wealth of information on this topic! I bought the tumbler for 2017, do you think it will be able to be used in the Disney Parks Starbucks locations?

  • Nancy C

    Thanks for the article. Do you know if this tumbler is valid at Starbucks in Canada also? Wanting to get a few as Christmas gifts…

  • Melody

    @Anne – I don’t know about Target but can follow up with Starbucks. My guess would be yes. Hopefully Target Starbucks have trained their staff.
    @Kerry – On Disney properties there’s more than one kind of store. The “downtown Disney” Starbucks locations are located just outside of the parks, in shopping areas. These locations are company operated and should honor the tumbler. The Starbucks locations inside the actual parks (meaning you have to have a ticket or pass to enter) generally are licensed, and I would be surprised if they would honor the tumbler.
    @Nancy C – I had thought that the tumbler worked the same for Canada but will have to double check.

  • Kathy

    How do they check or enforce the “one daily” rule? Is there a way around it?

  • Melody

    @Kathy – I’ve never heard of any way to enforce the “one daily” rule. I would imagine that if you walked into a Starbucks at 8 AM with a clean dry tumbler, you’d get your coffee. And then the same day at a different Starbucks with a nice clean tumbler, there’d be no question you’d get your coffee. In year’s past there’s been no system to enforce once a day and I doubt this year is different. And in the big scheme of things, think about how much coffee goes down the drain.

  • Druseph Hotr

    Hey StarbucksMelody, my only response to this article is that on the card connected to the tumbler it says “brewed hot coffee or tea.” I just want to point that out. I bought this for my mom who purchases hot coffee 90% of the time, especially in winter.

  • Bridget Donovan

    I have one to sell for $20. PICKUP in the MD/DC/VA area. Will mail but only at buyers cost/risk. Reach me here: usvilady@aol.com

  • Jes

    I tried to use mine and the barista explained that I needed the app, a loaded card and to be a gold rewards member. I tried to find out this info online and couldn’t. Anyone have any details?

  • Melody

    @Jes – Your barista is incorrect. You don’t need to be a rewards member at all. That would defeat the purpose of the tumbler, and I am very, very, very sure you do not have to be a gold member to use the tumbler for your free refills. You should call Starbucks Customer Service and tell them what store you were at and give them your feedback, just like you indicated to me above. 800 782 7282. That store needs to get feedback so they get it right for the next person.

    Your story is common. It one of the reasons why I always call this the tumbler that isn’t worth it.

  • E Bishop

    I tried for a syrup add in today and had to pay the $0.50. Hoping it was just this location but not looking good so far. Anyone else have luck with a free add-in?

  • Kristina Keyton

    Used my mug for the first time yesterday and, unlike past years, Mistos do NOT count. This was very frustrating because it has worked the past several years in a row and that was the reason I put it on my wishlist. I don’t drink their regular brewed coffee, so I likely won’t be requesting this as a gift again.

  • Lucy Maestas

    How do you wash the lid does it come apart ? I use cream in my coffee and it is not easy to clean under the part that slides, I don’t want to break it but it seems like it should come apart.

  • Peter Mayne

    Just tried to use my tumbler at a “licensed” (not a stand-alone corporate) store in Regina, Saskatchewan near my office. It is a full Starbucks store with all the products/merchandise but located in the lobby of a hotel. Anyway, I was denied the “free” brewed coffee by the Barista. She said they don’t honor this deal because they are not a real Starbucks. This is nonsense as my daughter is a barista at a licensed Starbucks in the Save On Foods grocery store in Regina and they honor the tumblers there. I just called the Starbucks Customer Service line and they assured me that all locations should be honoring the tumbler. Frustrating… I will go back tomorrow and argue if needed.

  • Jax

    I have used it 3 days straight so far, twice in San Diego and today in L.A. No problems at all. I’m really loving it! Would buy again.

  • Jax

    Does anyone know if the mug will work at a Starbucks inside a US airport?

  • Kristine Smith

    I used my mug at the same licensed location for 2 days and received my usuasl chai tea latte no charge. Today, they denied it. I asked why since they’ve honored it 2 days previously, they said they couldn’t tell me. When I make them look at the mug and it clearly states only excludes Oprah chai and reserve coffee, they just blank stare at me. This is a 100% rip off by Starbucks! They shouldn’t print the mug this way if they don’t intend to honor it.

  • Eve Torres

    I, too, would like to know how to disassemble the lid so I can clean it. Coffee and tea remnants can easily get stuck in there. Seems like a huge design flaw if the sliding part doesn’t come off.

  • Melissa S

    Ugh, no misto here either, though it’s worked for at least the list two years. Frustrating to have a change.

  • Lina Petrosyan

    I asked three different baristas in the store when I purchased the tumbler if I could get iced coffee in it and they told me yes and that it would qualify for any of the “refill” drinks. I went into a different Starbucks and they told me that I couldn’t get iced coffee but they would honor it for that one time. Then this morning I went into the same location that I bought the tumbler at and they told me that I couldn’t get iced coffee in it. None of the baristas that told me I could were there, they were super busy, and I was late for work so I didn’t try to explain to them. I do plan to return to that location and talk to them about it. It’s really bummer because I have Starbucks daily and I don’t understand why this is so difficult for them to be consistent with it. This is in San Diego, by the way.

  • Sheri Conway

    I’ve used it 5 mornings in a row at 4 different locations and no problem at all. They just enter the 4 digit code that’s on the mug. I too would like to know if we can use them in airports.

  • E Bishop

    Should work in airports! This is my fourth year getting the mug and I have had to explain the mug to more baristas than ever before. I was able to use it at a Target Starbucks but the don’t use the number codes, they had to look for a button on their coupon screen. I also moved from Denver to the metro-Detroit area so maybe that’s the difference? Seems like quite a hassle to explain it every time I use it!

  • Brin

    I have had issues every time I have tried to use this tumbler since the first of January. In the past, I thought you would be able to pay for an upcharge on the drink if you wanted a mocha or whatever, but they just stare at me like Im an idiot and charge full price minus the ten cent reusable cup “discount.” The guy even tried telling me he would not put ice cubes in the hot tea to make it colder…Will not be buying this tumbler again.

  • RSF

    So far, so good. Have been using it everyday since Jan. 1 and no issues. Had to explain it during the first three days, but now they know me and the deal. Have not tried to use it more than once in one day. Does each tumbler have a unique code or does every one have the same code?

  • Ruth Purrington

    This refill tumbler is not accepted at Starbucks locations that are inside Target Stores. I was told that Starbucks inside Target locations are Targets not actually Starbucks. In Sayville, the manager is someone named Megan and was not there.

  • Connor Rodinson

    I discovered the the code on the cup works for chai tea latte and green tea latte.

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