It's not every day Starbucks makes what they consider a drastic change to their menu. Nor is it every day you're invited to hop on bar and make one for yourself in Times Square. But this is what fast-paced, big-city living and hard-hitting food journalism is all about, and one day you may find yourself squirting out an exquisite interlaced syrup pattern atop a brand new Hazelnut Macchiato, and wonder: How did I get here?
I am not the target audience for a Hazelnut Macchiato. Or a hazelnut anything, really—more Nutella for you!—but this special occasion required a little toughening up. Did I want to make several? Did I want to make them over ice? Did I want to wear the apron? Did I want to try a spoonful of the hazelnut syrup all on its own? What? I didn't? But I did anyway?
For the first time in sixteen years, Starbucks has shoved over some space on its year-round menu for a new espresso drink, which debuts today across the United States. The Hazelnut Macchiato: not a diminutive, demitasse-sized sipper but a latte-scale dessert drink, layered with syrups at the top and bottom and built for the sugar-rush-hour of modern American living. (No doubt the continued insistence of the megachain to use the term "macchiato" to refer not to an "espresso marked by foam" but "a large cup of milk marked by a bit of coffee and dessert syrup" will infuriate your local independent coffee artisan, who will find herself disappointing yet another generation of customers with tiny, non-sundae-toppinged-drinks.)
Like its older sister the Caramel Macchiato, the Hazelnut Macchiato is deceptively built atop vanilla syrup—a couple of pumps to sweeten the base for steamed 2% milk and Starbucks' dark-dark espresso roast. The theme flavor comes only at the end, measured out carefully in a specific pattern of cross-hatches and swirls conceived to dispense just the right proportion of viscous, hazelnutty goodness. A lid completes the 180-calorie (for a 12 ounce tall) equation: without the plastic, foam-limiting top, your hazelnut-drenched foam will slide rapidly towards you in a hazelnut avalanche, creating a wildly imbalanced flavor combination (and in some, a moustache). The lid reins in the top just enough to allow the vague coffee flavor of the drink to come through: more super-sweet vanilla-milk than anything else, before the thickly-buttery-nutty hazelnut begins to work its charms.
Starbucks' baristas are quick to point out that you're welcome to order your Hazelnut Macchiato in whatever custom configuration you like—whole milk, skim milk, over ice—"handcrafted to each person". Personally, I might ask them to hold the syrup, dark roast espresso, and topping—but I'm weird like that.
About the author: Liz Clayton drinks, photographs and writes about coffee and tea all over the world, though she pretends to live in Brooklyn, New York. She is currently compiling photographs of the best coffee in the world to be published by Presspop this spring.