Food Biz

The Psychedelic New Starbucks Drink That’s Galloping to a Store Near You

April 18, 2017

I’m somewhat astonished that Starbucks’ latest drink is not a hoax. The Unicorn Frappucino, primed for a national rollout tomorrow, is a drink seemingly engineered for Instagram virality, capitalizing on a trend that gained groundswell last year. It is the kind of drink one would imagine only belongs in the minds of those who dream up “secret menus," yet it's somehow muscled its way into actual stores.

#unicornfrappuccino #believe #colorchanging #flavorchanging #mindchanging

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As of writing, an official press release for the flavor hasn’t hit my inbox yet. It’s nowhere to be found on the company’s website. But it’s real, and there are stray reports that it’s hit some stores in various parts of the country already; scroll through the #unicornfrappucino hashtag on Instagram for a real trip.

This comes mere months after Starbucks debuted its Cascara Latte, seemingly a grab for third-wave coffee prestige; the unicorn frap is a drastic change in tone. It confuses me as to what the company’s ultimate aspirations are. Rumors began circulating of this drink's existence last week, on the Starbucks-devoted subreddit, when some stealthy Starbucks employees began posting pictures of bags of suspicious pink powders and saltshakers filled with blue crystals in their stores’ storage rooms.

When these are blended with the usual frappucinno ingredients, the drink takes on the appearance of a Betty Crocker berry fruit roll-up, its colors cosmically vulgar. But Mike Fahey of Kotaku’s Snacktaku column describes it as a mango-flavored drink with pink dye, offset by sour, citric notes from its blue drizzle. (Fahey is married to a Starbucks barista, which explains why he was able to get his hands on the drink.) “This is a drink that feels like it was specifically designed for teens, young adults, and 40-ish men sitting in the Starbucks parking lot filming Snacktaku videos,” Fahey declares. “It’s all about the spectacle.”

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I guess that’s right. I haven’t had a frappucino in years, and Fahey’s assessment doesn’t exactly inspire confidence that I should begin again. I'll likely hold off on trying this drink; the images may go down easier.

UPDATE, 11:45AM: Speak of the devil! In a bizarre bit of kismet, the Starbucks newsroom issued a formal press release for the Unicorn Frappucino at the exact time we published this story. The company has indicated that the Unicorn Frappucino will be available in stores as a limited-time offer from April 19 until Sunday, April 23. Get it while it's hot.

Have you seen the Unicorn Frappucino in the wild? Let us know in the comments.

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Mayukh Sen is a James Beard Award-winning food and culture writer in New York. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Bon Appetit, and elsewhere. He won a 2018 James Beard Award in Journalism for his profile of Princess Pamela published on Food52.


BerryBaby April 21, 2017
Found it.:.about sugar scaring them. I don't indulge in sugar so a treat once a month isn't sonething I get concerned about. The one I ordered was a Tall. I tasted the sour sprinkle and didn't eat the whipped cream as I'm not a fan of whipped cream. However, the drink portion was really good, like a mango milkshake. It was not overly sweet.
BerryBaby April 21, 2017
Where is the post? Thanks!
Mm April 21, 2017
I agree with Kt4. See post today.
BerryBaby April 21, 2017
First Starbucks I went to Sold Out! Tried another and they had the Unicorn.
Honestly, I really enjoyed it. Mine was not too sweet and tasted like a Mango Milkshake. Could have done with the sour sprinkle on top, but other than that I'd buy it again. Maybe it depends who makes it for you? But it was refreshing and would be great on a hot day. Those that make comments without trying it, should try it. You can't judge a book by its cover!
BerryBaby April 20, 2017
Chefs weighed in on the Unicorn drink with not so great comments, which isn't really fare as none of them tasted it. It seems fun and I'm having one tomorrow. No worse than a milk shake or ice cream float or sundae topped with hot fudge and whipped cream!
Carmen O. April 20, 2017
I'm disappointed to see content like this here. Burger chain plugs next week?
Kt4 April 20, 2017
The sugar content alone scares me. Then market it to kids? Ugh.
Kate April 20, 2017
I tasted a sample in our local store and it's not good. Very tart. Like pixie stix. Looks like it's targeted at the My Little Pony crowd but I think they will be disappointed.
Kelsey B. April 20, 2017
Spotted today in Union Square... Makes me sad for humanity.
E April 19, 2017
I shared this theory with my usual Starbucks barista earlier today, after I ordered my very boring order of unsweetened green iced tea : I think this drink is timed perfectly for the ahem 4/20 festivities of tomorrow, because you know what the revelers of 4/20 love - trippy things. Also, the Instragram youths (differs from me, an Instagram old who lurks to look at cute animal or food photos) have been buying this drink LIKE CRAZY. Every under 22 at my Starbucks or on the street near a Starbucks had this drink, and they were trying to take the perfect 'gram. Oof! Do what makes you happy?

My barista actually gave me a little bit from the extra of a frap he made... it was insanely sweet, but the sour aspect was actually kind of cool? I couldn't taste the mango or any of the other included flavors except pure sugar though.
BerryBaby April 19, 2017
Sounds fun in strange way that I might try it. Have a free drink card so why not? I'll report back.
Tiffany April 18, 2017
I know there will be all sorts of haters. But maybe we should stop and think that if this drink sounds absolutely terrible to you, possibly it is aimed at someone else. Personally I am a Starbucks fan and would never order this for myself (being partial to the non-fat caramel macchiato). But I have a 13 year old daughter who would love one as a special treat. She's no less a customer than anyone else coming through the door. I think the drink is silly and fun and not bad marketing for a limited-time offering. I'm sure they'll get tons of free press.
Whiteantlers April 18, 2017
I think "cosmically vulgar" is a delightfully apt description of this abomination and if I DO happen to see one in the wild, I will flee in the opposite direction. I can't remember the last time I patronized a Starbucks and since I don't fit into the demographic of who will buy and drink this, there is little chance of me hopping on a bus in search of unicorns or a neighborhood Starbucks.