We Try the New Valencia Orange Refresher and Orange Spice Iced Coffee at Starbucks

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[Photographs: Robyn Lee]

Last summer, I could hardly escape my apartment without a free sample of the new "Starbucks Refreshers" being foisted upon me by an eager employee of the Starbucks next door. While the Berry Hibiscus and Cool Lime flavors lived up to the "refresher" moniker, I couldn't imagine wanting to shell out around three bucks for a full cup, so I would continue to refresh myself with several little plastic cups a day as I went about my daily errands.

Anyway, tales of my possibly unethical sampling aside, today we tried the newest Refresher flavor for summer 2013: Valencia Orange. But before we get to that, the reason for my aforementioned unwillingness to actually buy one: the Starbucks Refresher is a confusing beverage. It's neither coffee nor juice. It's neither lemonade nor iced tea, and it's not soda either. Turns out, it's actually a move by Starbucks to enter the energy drink market—the Refreshers are "lightly caffeinated" using green coffee extract, which comes from green (unripe) coffee beans, and is marketed towards Starbucks customers suffering from the afternoon slump.

Unlike any energy drink you might find at the convenience store, the Valencia Orange Refresher came with an orange twist floating at the top, cocktail style, which was a nice touch. Starbucks boasts that the drink offers "jasmine, cardamom and apricot" flavors, but the first two are virtually undetectable. The apricot note is subtle enough to miss, but on a second examination I think it's what's cutting the citrus and lending the drink some of its intense sweetness. The result is a drink that tastes less like a freshly squeezed Valencia orange and more like a fancy cup of Tang or Hi-C. It's refreshing in a guilty pleasure, should-be-in-a-juice-box way—if you happen to be nostalgic for the Tang of your youth, this is the perfect summer beverage for you. Otherwise, skip it.

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Orange Spice Iced Coffee is another new offering on the Starbucks menu. While I normally take issue with the idea of flavored coffee (exhibit A: the dreaded blueberry iced coffee at Dunkin' Donuts, which makes me cringe), this new drink is pretty unoffensive to even the most flavor-averse. The cinnamon is a welcome addition to the full-bodied roast, and there's a healthy sprinkling of orange zest suspended throughout. If you don't happen to suck up any of the orange bits through your straw, there's not much orange flavor in the coffee, so you'll want to stir as you sip. (Once the orange detritus has drifted to the bottom, you're left with a regular old iced coffee with cinnamon.)

To me, the biggest flaw here is that the combination of cinnamon and wintery citrus doesn't scream "summer refreshment!" like Starbucks wants it to—it screams holiday cheer, like cozy cinnamon hot chocolate and an orange from the bottom of your stocking.

Have you tried these new Starbucks drinks? What did you think?

About the author: Lauren McInnes is an intern at Serious Eats. You can read about her brave forays into German cuisine at thedailyberlunch.blogspot.com

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