Saturday, December 11, 2010

Frappuccino...You want any fries with that?

My favorite thing to order at Starbucks is a Frappuccino. 

I first discovered these with my best friend, Matt, somewhere around the 8th grade. My first Frappuccino was a Venti Caramel Frappuccino. I ate the whipped cream off of the top. Then I was done.

Turns out the caramel Frappuccino is a tad too sweet for this coffee lover.

Still, my first introduction to the Frappuccino certainly was not my last. Over the years, I've acquired fast favorites. My first regular order was the tried and true Mocha Frappuccino. I then progressed to the Java Chip Frappuccino. After that, Peppermint Java Chip. Now I live on Caramel Mocha. The mocha does an excellent job of taming the sweetness of the caramel, and the mix of the two flavors is, quite frankly, divine.

So, as you can tell, I'm no stranger to Frappuccinos, be it texture, flavor, consistency, etc.

Recently, Starbucks changed how they make the Frappuccino. Instead of a vague "base" specific to the trademark blended drink, they're now "However-You-Want-It" Frappuccinos. There are defnitely a lot of positives when it comes to the recipe change. For instance, now you can choose which kind of milk you want— 2%, soy, whole, or what have you. Also, there is more room for customization. And the consistency is, in my humble opinion, much better than that of the previous Frappuccino, which tended toward allowing the flavor to be sucked out in such a way that in the end, you were left with a sort of slushy flavorless icy substance in the bottom of your cup. (Which I always drank, anyway.) Now, if anything starts to settle, a quick stir with the trademark green straw rights those wrongs immediatly.

I'm a big fan.

However, with more room for customization comes more room for inconsistency.

For example there are two Starbucks that I frequent here in College Station. I love both. And the baristas at both are fantastic—friendly, welcoming, conversational. No complaints. But when the new "However-You-Want-It" recipe was first introduced, both stores made Frappuccinos that tasted completely different from one another. The one closest to me—which had been the one I visited most frequently—started turning out Frappuccinos that tasted way too much like milkshakes. Suddenly, I could hardly taste the mocha. I could only taste the milk. And while the consistency of the drink was excellent, the overall experience was anything but. The flavors were all wrong. Consistently all wrong. As a long-time Frappuccino fan, I was concerned. I thought, "That's it. I've had my last delicious Frapp."

I even remember calling my Mom and filling her in on my woes. I was, with a heavy heart, grieving the loss of my long time favorite beverage.
No two Frappuccinos taste alike!

Then I made a trip to the Starbucks on the other side of town. With trepidation, I ordered my usual—a Caramel Mocha Frappuccino.

Lo and behold, it was excellent!

I was thrilled. Unlike the unappealing milkshakyness of the other Frappuccino I'd had, this one was perfect. It had a rich mocha taste and a smooth, creamy texture. The milk was much more subtle, but still pleasant, and best of all, very fresh. My faith in humanity—or at least in Starbucks—was restored.

Which got me thinking. Why the inconsistency?

This has been a problem I've experienced for my entire Frappuccino-drinking life. An extra pump of mocha can be totally different from place to place. Even the amount of time the blend the drink changes the experience. There's nothing more frustrating than having a particularly delicious Frappuccino one day, then returning the next expecting the same level of yum, and being utterly disappointed. But you can't complain that the barista made it wrong. Because they didn't. They just made it. And it turned out different.

I'll always love you, Frappuccino.
Even if you do let me down sometimes.
This is a problem, Starbucks! I consistently enjoy the atmosphere. The baristas are consistently friendly. But the drinks are consistently...inconsistent.

I'm not sure what could be done to solve this problem. And I AM sure that it's not going to keep me from my beloved Frappuccinos. But I do feel it's important, as a customer, to be allowed to expect some sort of consistency in flavor when they order the same coffee. And also, I'm just curious as to whether or not I'm the only person who's encountered this as an issue.

Either way, each trip to Starbucks is a toss-up on whether or not my drink will live up to the one before it. Or, if the one before it was wonderful, if the next will surpass it. It's like I never know what to expect except a drink that won't taste the same as it did the last time I ordered it. I love Frappuccinos, but I don't love those odds.


Melody206 said...

awesome blog post. I love that you wrote honestly about going through disappointment with the new Frappuccino, and then finding it all over again. I have never been much of a Frappuccino drinker so the change didn't really affect me. The only thing I noticed is that the "light" version of the new Frappuccino tastes drastically different to me, and not really in a good way. Thanks for the great Frappuccino photos too!

Linda said...

Hello P to P!

I completely agree! And so well said! For dietary reasons - I get the light mix. It does taste different from the full on Frap. I sometimes wish I could get the best Frap barisras to show the rest what they ate doing differently.x.

Maybe it's just love of the drink or process...

Heather said...

I totally agree with you. This is my biggest beef with Starbucks, I don't like how sometimes a drink can be perfect, and the next day, (same people making the drink, same location, same everything!) but my order can taste totally different! SUPER frustrating.

Ben Burleigh said...

Ok, I have a confession to make - I'm not much of a starbucks fan. Period. About the only thing I ever do when I even go the starbucks is the Vanilla Bean Frap. I know, it's lame. But I have just never had a good SB experience.

However, we have a local coffee shop that I go to which is EXCELLENT! It's called Davincis, and its the place where every cup is a masterpeice.!/pages/Davincis-Coffeehouse/97603912118

Love it!

Megan said...

I so totally agree! At least they've gotten a little more consistent the longer it's been. Hopefully, eventually they will be 99.9% consistent.

MissWoodhouse said...

Great post subject, Sarah, one that I think a lot of people can empathise with. From behind the counter, the scene wasn't all pretty either. We went from 3 steps to 8, consistency was shot to hell, taste was off, and the "rules" left us no room to make a drink that we could feel pride in handing off.

So, we break "the rules." We adjust. Some of us can do it perfectly well, and make a much better quality drink. Others...would be better off following the rules. But how do you tell a barista that their drink is too icy? or too sweet? or generally horrible? It's hard. Human nature is human nature...Starbucks tries to standardize us, but it's nigh impossible. Unless they fully automate the process, baristas are going to excel and bomb at making drinks.



But anyway, thanks for your great write up...and thanks for not giving up on your beloved frappuccinos. I hope to make one for you someday. :)

Sarah said...

@Melody—Thank you! That’s a big compliment coming from you. :-D
I wanted to be honest about how I felt. Not only to express my own disappointment—then eventual rediscovery—but also to make it clear that, although more consistency would be great, one bad experience does not mean they’ll all be bad experiences! And I’m glad you like the photos! I’m pretty proud of them. :-)

@Linda—Hello! Thank you for commenting! I think the problem is, now that there are so many steps in the Frappuccino-making process, there’s way more room for little tiny differences. One barista told me a Frapp can even taste different just depending on how fast or slow a particular barista pumps in the syrup—slower pumps = more syrup, and vice versa. Fortunately, every barista I’ve ever encountered has been very gracious about remaking my drink if I’m really that unhappy with it. Still, in a perfect world it would always be fantastic! ;-)

@Heather—YES. Exactly. I don’t blame the baristas so much as the process. Granted I’ve never worked for Starbucks, so I really can’t offer any suggestions for how to make that better. But at least I know I’m not alone!

@Ben—Nah, a Vanilla Bean Frapp isn’t lame! If that’s what you like, it’s what you like! Local coffee shops are great! There was never a really good one in my home town that would last very long, but down here in College Station there’s a pretty good one. Local shops tend to have such a fun and unique atmosphere! I checked out Davincis twitter page—Love the logo! If I’m ever in the area, I know where to grab a cup of coffee!

@Megan—I hope so, too! It has most definitely gotten better the longer the process has been in place! :-)

@MissWoodhouse—Why thank you! And I totally understand—I don’t envy you guys, having to learn a new system for a product that’s been a staple of Starbucks stores for a while now! There’s such a weird balance between promoting a new way to make an old favorite while at the same time reminding people that you guys are still learning, too. That’s why I never blamed the baristas for it—unless it was something like getting my order completely wrong after being obviously distracted while I was ordering. Ha!

The beauty of the new Frappuccino is the ability to customize. Unfortunately, that’s also one of its bigger issues. And if it comes to fully automating the process, if that means I don’t get any interaction with my favorite baristas, I say bring on the Frappuccino masters along with the Frappuccino faux pas.

Thank YOU for the great comment! And I will never give up on the Frappuccino. Our love is too strong. ;-) And I hope you can make me one someday, too! I have a feeling you’re one of the masters.

Brandi said...

Great post! I couldn't agree with you more, which is why I learned to make Starbucks at home. I love being able to adjust the flavors to my liking. And I hated being able to get some of my favorites only around the holidays. I just posted a recipe on my blog if your interested!

let me know if you make one. I'd love to hear what you think!

Sarah said...

Thank you! What a great idea! I'm totally going to have to try out your recipe! I'd save a ton of money if I could make Frappuccinos at home. :-)

As soon as I get a chance to make one, I'll let you know how it turns out!