The last couple of months, I have really been enjoying iced coffee at Starbucks. I don’t know what it is about walking to the office with a reusable tumbler in hand full of iced coffee when the weather is hot and generally icky that makes it considerably more bearable. It is also a pretty simple drink to order — in a coffee place like Starbucks where guides are written to show you how to order a cup of coffee.

For the last couple of years I have been enjoying the Starbucks Via — earlier than most because Seattle was a test market for the product — and family in Seattle was kind enough to send us some after Elizabeth and I moved. I loved Via because it really was indistinguishable, in my sensitive coffee drinking mouth, from the drip coffee that I would buy from Starbucks or make with their beans.

I was therefore quite excited when I found out that they had a line of instant iced coffee that they were going to begin selling. I was given a sample packet and was immediately wary when I read that it came already sweetened. Here is why — sweetness in coffee is an incredibly sensitive thing. There’s a reason that coffee shops like Starbucks leave the sweeteners out for you to use with your own discretion — as much or as little as you like.

The instructions said to mix the powder with sixteen ounces of water. The problem with this is that if you have a glass that only holds sixteen ounces (such as the reusable iced drink cups from Starbucks) it leaves no room for ice. The first time I tried making the iced coffee, I put in the ice first and then the water, and it made dissolving the powder nearly impossible. I ended up stoppering the top and giving it a hearty shake to make something that resembled iced coffee.

When I took my first sip, I nearly spat it out. It was disgustingly sweet — as though someone took the essence of Candy Land and poured it into my cup. The second time I tried making the drink, I made it without ice, thinking perhaps it wouldn’t be too sweet if I used the right amount of water. No dice — it was still way too sweet. If I added any more water — it would have a vile, but diluted, taste to it.

I mentioned all of this to an employee when I went into Starbucks and he told me that the company is working on an unsweetened version. Until then, I suppose I will just stick to what is made in the store — or maybe brew my own iced coffee.

19 Comments

  1. Fascinating article, Gordon!

    It is strange how sweetness varies tongue by tongue. I tried a sip of the McDonald’s “Sweet Tea” and nearly gagged. Waaaaaaaaay to sweet for my taste, but it’s a top seller and people are crazy about it…

    Lipton’s “Diet” instant tea is also, similarly, sickeningly sweet.

    I agree the way to go is to give us a base mix, and let us sweeten to taste.

      1. In Nebraska if you ask for Iced Tea, you get Lipton’s instant with ice. No sweetener.

        When we visit relatives in Kentucky and ask for the same thing: We get what tastes like sun tea with tablespoonfuls of sugar. It is undrinkable, and if you ask for tea without any sugar, they won’t make it — because they don’t know how!

  2. When I worked at the photo studio in the UK, we did a photo-shoot in a soda bottling plant and they told us that according to which part of the country the lemonade was being shipped to depended on how much sugar got added to the mix. It appeared Northern parts of England preferred a sweeter mix.

    I find I am going away from sugar in my tea, probably because I drink too much of it and I haven’t found a sweetener I like so far, most taste vile.

      1. Tried Stevia, not liquid form though, the Raw Blue Agave Nectar sounds interesting. I don’t like the after taste of most sweeteners. The wife likes Splenda but I find it tastes awful.

  3. David,

    Raw Agave Nectar is slow to metabolize — so it’s like eating brown rice versus eating white rice. It is actually marked as being OK by the American Diabetic Association for its Low Glycemic Index. It doesn’t give you that crazy sugar high or that horrible sugar crash.

    1. We’ll have to see if it is available near us, the wife is diabetic and I’m trying to cut out too much sugar myself. But the occasional cup of tea with milk and sugar is good, we have switched from 2% milk to fat free milk.

      1. Mik!

        The next step to even better health and well-being is using soy milk instead of cow’s milk. You’ll feel better, get a cleaner protein, and it will pep you up instead of slowing you down. We like the Unsweetened Silk, but Silk has lots of delicious flavors now to help you make the transition and most mainstream grocery stores carry the brand now. They even make a Silk creamer for coffee and tea!

        We also discovered the new Almond Milk brands from Silk and Blue Diamond. They are quite delicious, but still a little too sweet for my taste.