Starbucks tests syrup extracts instead of sugary syrups.

In Portland, Oregon, Starbucks is testing a new idea for your latte, Frappuccino or whatever: Your beverage flavored with a syrup extract and sugar on the side. Rather than large bottles of a sugary flavored syrup, your barista would add a flavor extract and then you can customize how much sugar you want in your drink.

The syrup extracts look like this:

2 -1 - 20170311_162455 syrup extract

2 - 1 - 20170311_162503 Syrup extract

You can have your drink, your way: The amount of sweetness you like:

2 - 1 - 20170311_162012 your coffee your way sign syrup extracts

I asked to smell both the classic vanilla syrup (with sugar) and the vanilla extract, and I can say that the extract is much more aromatic. With this new system, the barista adds a certain number of shakes of an extract and then separately pumps in a simple syrup for the sweetener. It’s possible to order your drink with just flavor and no sugar. I tried this with a Cinnamon Dolce Syrup Crème Frappuccino. What I got was a beverage with very subtle flavor. You would think that it would be very cinnamon-y but it was plain and subtle. I would say that sugar seems to enhance the flavors like vanilla, hazelnut, caramel, or whatever you choose.

While this idea sounds like a great idea on paper – separate the sugar from the flavor – I can see both some big pros and cons.

On the plus side:

  • Diabetics or others who are trying to control sugar in their lives can get a healthier drink option.

On the down side:

  • It might frustrate customers that they have to re-learn how to order a drink. Now it’s not a “Tall Vanilla Flat White” rather, a “Tall 2 Shakes Vanilla 3 Pump Sugar Flat White.” (I’m not saying those are standard amounts of extract and sugar, just giving an example that ordering could become more confusing.)
  • It might be frustrating for baristas to have to explain this to every customer, especially in the drive-through. It could have a steep learning curve as customers try to figure out how they like their beverage.
  • It seems like you get a much more inconsistent drink. When baristas pump syrups, the mechanism does a really great job of control how much syrup you get. Turning a bottle upside down and giving it a “shake” is going to give you a more inconsistent amount of extract. If the bottle is full, you’ll get more than when the bottle is nearing empty. A stronger shake might give you more extract than a gentle shake.
  • Whether or not we like it, Americans love sugar. It’s not just Starbucks. If Americans really wanted to eat healthy, the candy aisle at a typical grocery store wouldn’t exist, and Girl Scouts would stop selling Girl Scout cookies. If someone wants a 20 pump caramel Latte, so be it. No drink judgment here. I can think of a million more damaging things that people do to their bodies on a regular basis. However, this entire system may just end up being very unappealing to the customers who want a very sweet beverage. They might be discouraged from coming back. And truthfully, most Americans are in love with carbohydrates, especially sugar.

This kind of idea has been suggested on before. (Did you know there’s a website where you can submit an idea for Starbucks?). Here’s one idea called “Using Flavor Extracts” and another here.

In case you don’t know what the old system of bottles of syrups and pumps looks like, here’s an example. (Image borrowed from

Caramel syrup


Edit: Just want to add, if I think Starbucks can get through a steep learning curve phase and figure out a way to have a more consistent dose of extract, this could be brilliant. It’s a great idea with some operational challenges.

(There is a more mobile-device-friendly version of the same article here.)

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  • T

    In order to maintain consistent order format, I would think customers would order a Tall Vanilla Flat White and it would be the standard recipe. The new flavor system would be a boon for anyone desiring to customize their drink and a non-issue for those who like the drink recipe as it is. Of course, this assumes that the ‘shake’ method is standardized. Otherwise as you mentioned, flavor could vary.
    I think this is a great idea, mostly because I don’t care for very sweet coffee and usually request fewer pumps of simple syrup whenever possible. I think my daughter and her friends, two of whom are diabetic, would also appreciate this and I hope it is tested widely so I can try it!

  • Eagle Archambeault

    I wonder what they’d do for things like the white chocolate syrup though. I can’t imagine an extract would work for some flavors as well when they don’t really have a natural source.

  • Carol

    I would love this. I would get the drink with just the extract and then put a Splenda in it.

  • Patrick

    We have this in Sacramento area as well, ordered my carmal macchiatto that same way I always do. tasted amazing and I asked them about it.

  • Kristin S

    I would LOVE this! For years I’ve asked if they would ever consider not-sweet syrups. More often than not a barista responds with, “you can get sugar free.” Um, I want NO SWEET. Sugar free is even sweeter. I resort to the vanilla powder sometimes. I’m tempted to carry almond extract! Oh, I love this idea. Keep the sweet out of my espresso. :-)

  • Laura

    I am in Sacramento, where the entire district is being tested. I asked my barista about it and she said classic was being discontinued once they finished the formula for all of the frap bases to work with the simple syrup.

    Now, I have had frappacinos with the extract and simple syrup sweetener, but my daily shaken black tea has become a nightmare. I’ll admit, I am pretty particular about my drink: a Trenta black tea, 10 classic, no water, lite ice.

    I hadn’t had a my tea since they rolled out the ‘testing’ in February/March. My daily morning routine of mobile order was ruined. I tried working with the team to find a version of simple syrup or liquid cane sugar that could work, but no.
    I went to the Bay area for a week long conference and realized they had classic and I hugged the barista because I could order my drink. I’m pretty disappointed about the change, I’ve had to stop using mobile order and go in and talk to the shift lead about my order (using classic in my drink goes against the current policy).
    All in all, I’ve been a gold member for 7+ years, I spend over $3k on my Starbucks habit (slightly embarrassing when you add it up) and this might be the thing that finally makes me look elsewhere for my caffeine fix.

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