Coffee is an exciting topic. It acts as arguably the best pick-me-up on the planet, and smells divine enough to make getting out of bed easier. But no news in the caffeine world hits consumers quite as hard as a new drink on the Starbucks menu.
Case in point: Yesterday, the internet started to percolate over rumors of the latest and greatest espresso offering, the Undertow. By today, Starbucks fans were fully freaking out, praising it as the brand’s best secret menu item (seeing as it’s exclusively offered at the company’s only official roastery, in Seattle).
So I decided to do some digging, and what I found might surprise you. Here’s everything you need to know about Starbuck’s “newest” and “most exclusive” drink:
1. It’s basically a sweetened, souped-up double shot.
The ingredients are: vanilla syrup, milk or “breve” (half-and-half), espresso shot.
2. It’s been around for a while.
At least seven years, in fact. The earliest image we found on Flickr Creative Commons describes the drink exactly and dates back to 2009. Plus, we found a few online forums discussing the bev. Coffee blogger Starbucks Melody says it’s been offered, unofficially, as an off-the-menu espresso.
3. Some baristas still don’t know what it is.
Despite its long secret-menu tenure, the Undertow is not super well known, even by Starbucks employees. I dug up an October 2012 thread on a Reddit forum dedicated to Starbucks baristas in which one coffee crafter asked peers about “weird customer terms” a.k.a. uncommon orders. The Undertow was the first to be mentioned and questioned… and then the query was followed by a few comments about how amazing they are.
4. There’s a very particular way to pour it.
Here’s how your barista prepares the Undertow: Pour about an inch of cold half-and-half (or milk) into a small cup or glass, then add two pumps of Madagascar vanilla syrup. Prepare espresso and let it brew, then pour over an upside-down spoon so that the hot espresso shots will float atop the cream or milk. “It’s the most ridiculously over-the-top process but it’s tasty,” one barista wrote.
5. And even a technique for sipping it.
There’s a specific drinking approach to make the most of your Undertow. One barista said, “Drink it at a 45-degree angle,” while another advised, “You have to chug the Undertow, otherwise it defeats the purpose of feeling the cold and hot ‘currents.'” Basically, don’t let it all mix together and get lukewarm.
6. It’s a totally unique coffee-drinking experience.
According to one Reddit user and fellow barista, it’s a lot of work but worth the time and effort. “The main reason I really enjoy Undertows is that if you drink it quickly enough you feel the hot espresso shots on the roof of your mouth and the cold milk on your tongue at the same time,” he wrote. “Kind of a funky sensation!”
7. It holds up the line.
Holding the spoon and adjusting the espresso release requires some precision. “That’s 20 or 30 seconds I could be using to either set up or finish another drink. Or even help the next guest in line,” another barista wrote.
8. The Undertow goes by a few other names.
Like “Breve Blast” and “John Wayne.” We’re not sure about the origins of any of the monikers, but it might be best to try ordering any of them at your local Sbux before describing exactly how to make it.
9. It will set you back more than a latte.
Or even the new Latte Macchiatto. According to Starbucks Melody, the sole Starbucks Roastery in Seattle charges $5.50 for the drink. “It does feel a little spendy [for] a small beverage that will be gone in a few gulps,” she wrote.
10. You can hack it like a frapp.
Starbucks Melody mentions hearing people ordering the Undertow with white mocha sauce instead of vanilla syrup. Some barista Redditors suggested coconut and hazelnut syrups as well. Go nuts!
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