Starbucks is dropping protein-packed coffees, but are they actually healthy?


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It seems like every other week Starbucks releases a new over-the-top drink, named after unicorns or zombies. And while the coffee chain isn’t going to scale back on rainbow-colored frappuccinos anytime soon, they also have an ever-expanding list of healthy options, too. Besides matcha and off-the-menu drinks, as of today, they’re serving up two new plant-based, protein-packed coffee drinks.

Couple those two buzzwords with the fact that their customers are skipping piping hot cups of Joe in lieu of cold bevvies (in fact, according to Starbucks project manager Rachel Dietrich, iced drinks make up 50 percent of drink sales, up 37 percent from five years ago…even in winter), and it should come as no surprise that the two newbie drinks, an almond protein blended cold brew and a cacao protein blended cold brew, hit all three of marks. “We know people want coffee and protein, and they’re also on the go,” Dietrich explains. The concept is pretty smart. Now, you can have your coffee and breakfast all-in-one.

The concept is pretty smart. Now, you can have your coffee and breakfast all-in-one.

So…how do they taste? First up: The almond protein cold brew, which has a consistency similar to a frappuccino. I like the taste, which resembles an almond-y coffee. “To make it, we slow-steep cold brew concentrate and mix it with almond milk and almond butter,” Dietrich says. “And it’s sweetened with a banana-date blend, with a bit of coconut sugar.”

So how does it stack up nutritionally? A grande (the drink’s one-and-only size) has 270 calories, 12 grams of protein (great!), and 16 grams of added sugar/22 grams of sugar total (not-so great). Here’s the good news: You can still get all that protein with virtually none of the sugar using an easy ordering hack: “Instead of asking for the banana-date sweetener, ask for it to be made with half a banana. Then there will only be two grams of added sugar,” Dietrich says. Bless up for that sugar saver.

The second drink, the cacao protein blended cold brew hit the spot for my chocolate-loving sweet tooth. What I liked about it is that it tasted like real cacao; not a pump of chocolate syrup. “That’s because it isn’t a syrup,” Dietrich says. Besides the cold brew concentrate and banana-date sweetener, it’s made with coconut milk and cacao powder. This one clocks in at 250 calories, 10 grams of protein, and 20 grams of added sugar/26 grams of total sugar. A lot of sugar? Yup, but Dietrich says the banana hack works here, too, bringing the added sugar down to 6 grams.

“We’re all about customization,” Dietrich says, adding that the drinks can also be made with with decaf espresso shots if you don’t want the 180 milligrams of caffeine, or, you can skip the coffee component all together and just order it as a protein drink.

Like everything else at Starbucks, you can make your order as healthy as your heart desires.

If you’re wondering whether cold brew is healthier than iced coffee, here’s the verdict. Plus, check out the health benefits of cacao.  

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