You may have heard recently that Starbucks has begun adding olive oil to its coffee. At first, this seems like a strange menu addition from the House of Frappuccino — but initially, it was exclusive to Starbucks stores in Italy, so perhaps the coffee giant is just accounting for differences in taste among cultures. At least, that’s what I thought until yesterday, when Starbucks launched these so-called Oleato drinks at a handful of locations in our country. Officially, Starbucks says this line of drinks “brings together an unexpected alchemy of Starbucks arabica coffee deliciously infused with Partanna® cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil.” As I learned during an ad hoc taste test, “infused” is putting it lightly. These drinks taste as if the oil has been forcefully pumped into the coffee, perhaps against its will.
It’s no secret that all Starbucks coffee has an extremely particular, and notably aggressive, flavor profile. Your enjoyment of it probably depends on how you think coffee should taste. But how should coffee with olive oil taste? Who knows? There’s no real precedent for olive oil coffee.
Instead, as a lovely barista at the Reserve, located under Howard Schultz’s very own New York City apartment, told us, this entire product line came about because Schultz himself was living in Italy for a bit when he encountered a man who said he drank a spoonful of olive oil every single day to keep him healthy. Schultz is nothing if not an Ideas Man, so he figured he’d do the same for his coffee, in the form of various foams and temperatures.
So now we have a new menu that includes the Oleato Caffè Latte, the only hot beverage of the bunch; the Oleato Golden Foam Cold Brew; the Oleato Iced Cortado; and the Oleato Golden Foam Espresso Martini. That’s four drinks, for anyone keeping track. (Two others — the Oleato™ Deconstructed, which Starbucks calls “an ode to the Italian tradition of combining olive oil with a squeeze of lemon,” and the Oleato™ Iced Shaken Espresso, “a coffee-forward beverage” that offers “notes of hazelnuts” — were unavailable.) I convinced my colleague and coffee expert Tammie Teclemariam to help me taste through the line to see, like, really … what’s the deal here?
Oleato Golden Foam Espresso Martini
Of course, we started with the espresso martini. It arrived filled to the brim, so I spilled a significant amount of the “golden foam” on my pants. Meniscus issues aside, this was a gentle introduction to the ultimately quite bizarre flavor profile that would linger through all of our drinks. So it’s vodka and coffee, as expected, plus cream and olive oil. Let’s note that unlike other flavor enhancers at Starbucks, this oil is not a syrup: It’s a pump of viscous liquid straight from the container. Despite that, you get sweetness first, then the olive oil.
Taken together, it feels a little bit like drinking a coffee after eating a plate of burrata. I can follow the logic — espresso martini 👉 olive oil martini 👉 espresso martini with olive oil 🤌 — but instead of tasting like an espresso martini made with oil-infused liqueur, it’s more like an espresso martini milkshake made in an olive oil–stained shaker.
Oleato Iced Cortado
While this wasn’t explicitly good, it is arguably the most creative drink that Starbucks is offering across this entire line. The drink is made with espresso, demerara syrup, and a dash of orange bitters. Then the chain adds oat milk “infused with” olive oil. It is then served over ice and finished with an orange peel. If you really want coffee that tastes like olive oil, this is probably your best option: The orange cuts through the fat and leaves you with something that is … balanced? (There’s a reason salad dressing is oil and acid, after all.) That said, I should clarify that we both thought this drink was not great, but it’s at least interesting.
Oleato Caffè Latte
This drink tastes like the smell of toast. That might sound like it works, but instead it’s oddly off-putting. “This reminds me of Coffee-mate,” said Tammie upon first taste. This is the only drink that is hot, which perhaps accounts for the odd film that lingers on one’s tongue after the drink is gone. I’m pretty sure one of the baristas grimaced as they handed us the lattes, which is all you need to know.
Oleato Golden Foam Cold Brew
This was the final drink we tasted, and it made me laugh out loud. It is almost unbelievably sweet. If Schultz really believes that olive oil is the key to healthy living, there is no excuse for the amount of sweetener that is put into this liquid sugar rush. And yet, the olive oil flavor is very “olive forward,” which is not really what you want when you’re essentially drinking coffee-flavored ice cream.
Coffee plus olive oil is a unique — but not altogether unpleasant-sounding — combination. What our tasting taught us, however, is that the overwhelmingly processed flavors of these drinks undermines the appeal of both main ingredients. If you really want the effect of olive oil in your coffee, you might be better off buying a squeeze bottle of Graza Drizzle and squirting a few drops in yourself. Then add a squeeze of lemon to balance it all out.