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.
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.
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.