Starbucks Corp. (SBUX) offered its three new tea flavors for free on Friday afternoon, and TheStreet was there to try them out.
To provide more options to the growing number of Starbucks customers who order their iced tea unsweetened, the company introduced Teavana Shaken Iced Tea Infusions, a new line of shaken ice teas, on Tuesday. The Seattle-based coffeehouse chain celebrated the launch by offering the tall 12 fluid-ounce drinks for free on Friday from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.
"We realized we could appeal to our tea customers looking for ways to customize their tea just as coffee drinkers do with their espresso beverages," Melynda Cheng, a Starbucks product developer, said in a statement. "Unlocking tea from sweetness and honing in on flavor was one way to achieve this goal."
The tea infusions come in pineapple black tea, peach citrus white tea and strawberry green tea, though customers can customize their order by pairing a type of tea with any of the flavors, according to the announcement. The drinks contain tea, fruit and botanical blends and are sweetened with liquid cane sugar. They have no artificial flavors or sweeteners. A tall size has 30 calories and 8 grams of sugar.
Previously, the coffee chain was flavoring iced teas with syrups.
Starbucks acquired Teavana Holdings Inc. in December 2012 for $620 million ($660 million in 2017) in cash.
TheStreet visited Starbucks to try the new tea infusions. Read on below.
After visiting a nearby Starbucks that was not offering the special promotion (No wonder it had a short line!), I walked just two blocks to another location at 55 Broad St. in Manhattan, New York City's Financial District, where the news was out about the freebie.
The coffee shop was abuzz with young professionals looking forward to the free tea flavors, and the line stretched from the cash registers to the back of the store and turned all the way to the end of the counter. One person entering the coffee shop asked a patron with a tea in hand, "How long did it take?"
The line's length, however, was deceptive, as I was at an order station and requesting my strawberry green tea infusion within three minutes.
The space was busy, with people working off laptops and looking at phones, as those who already had their orders were enjoying the comfortable space that reflected the cobblestone street outside with old fashion-style street lamps incorporated into the seating. The round ottomans did not seem great for fostering conversation, but the booths in the back appeared to provide some more private space.
Most people, however, were coming in and out. They crowded near the pickup area, as they awaited their order to be filled.
With the crowd of about 20 people waiting at any moment, it took about five minutes to get my tea, giving me the chance to speak with other Starbucks patrons who said they were excited to try out the new drink.
Kathryn Alessi of Brooklyn, NY ordered the peach citrus white tea.
"I like it a lot," Alessi told TheStreet. "It's delicious. It was very peachy."
Jessica Fox, also of Brooklyn, ordered the pineapple black tea infusion.
"I can taste the black tea," Fox said. "It's nice, but I don't really like the pineapple. It doesn't taste like a natural pineapple, but I'll drink it. I'm glad I got to try it."
Despite the complimentary drinks, both Alessi and Fox said it was the barista that made the trip worthwhile. Enthusiastically announcing the names of the orders above the noise of the restaurant, the barista donned a smile as he handed the drinks to the customers.
"He is amazing," Alessi said. "I loved him. I just want to go over and give him a hug. He was great."
Starbucks grew its brand on providing a personal experience, with baristas learning the name and order of regular customers. Since implementing its Mobile Order & Pay app nationwide in September 2015, however, the company has received criticism from employees and customers alike about the high traffic and busy baristas that took away from the experience Starbucks fans had enjoyed. A new gadget may be helping with that, though.
Not long later, the barista called my name and said, "Here you go. Have a charming day."
That's a good way to describe the new strawberry green tea infusion — charming. The drink was refreshing and had a slight tangy flavor. Its green tea was evident in the taste, and the strawberry provided just the right amount of sweetness.
Although I got my order for free on Friday, the drink would normally cost $2.95 and $3.21 with tax, according to the Starbucks app. That's less expensive than the company's iced coffee and tea lattes, but more than the $2.65 Iced Caffé Americano. I say, it's a nice way to treat yourself.