Monday, August 08, 2011

The Starbucks green tea frappuccino - and how to get one that actually tastes Japanese

Japanese matcha frappuccinos and a matcha and chocolate danish.
One of my favorite American/Japanese mashups is the Starbucks green tea Frappuccino. The funny thing is there are still regular Starbucks visitors in the US who don't know this exists! It's not on the menu at most Starbucks, and the other day at my local store, a girl saw the barista handing one to me and exclaimed in shocked disbelief, "a green tea... FRAPPUCCINO?!?" But yes, they make them, and they've made them for probably a decade now. I swear for a while it was on the actual menu, but it hasn't been for some time now anywhere I go - but that doesn't mean you can't still get one.

(According to the Starbucks web site, some locations do apparently list a Tazo Green Tea Frap on the menu, but none of the locations I frequent do, and anyway I'm not talking about the Tazo version, which is apparently "infused with tropical fruit flavors".)

The green tea Frappuccino did actually originate in Japan - it is not an American interpretation, I mean ignoring the fact that Starbucks is an American company and "Frappuccino" sounds like a perverted interpretation of a faux-Italian drink. But the green tea Frap was invented by Starbucks Japan, in Japan.

When they brought it over to the US, they originally put it on the menu as a "raspberry green tea Frappuccino", apparently thinking that plain old green tea was just too sophisticated for Americans, who have to slather everything in some kind of sugary syrup to kill with sweetness the actual taste of whatever they're actually drinking. But they found that so many people were ordering it without the raspberry syrup that they eventually relented and gave us the pure green tea Frap. (Hint: if you are in a location that offers the Tazo version, you can probably ask for it without the tropical fruit flavors!)

The Japanese version is still a little different, though. I like their version even better (what did you expect?) - it tastes more like real green tea. I'm not convinced it's possible to really get an American one to taste exactly the same because I think the Frap base itself is probably different, but if you want to approximate the taste of the Japanese version, you can come pretty close now that Starbucks lets you make Fraps any way you like. Here's how to order:

American green tea frappuccino made to approximate the taste of the Japanese version

If you can't read that, the important parts are "1/2 CL" and "X Macha". I confess I'm not up on the advanced Starbucks terminology, but I basically order half sweetness and extra matcha. Japanese green tea Fraps are stronger and less sweet than American ones. 1/2 sweetness is still plenty sweet! I'm thinking of trying unsweetened next time, which they actually offered me a while back, before I realized I could go halfway. I gave the barista a pretty incredulous look myself at being offered an unsweetened Frappuccino, but apparently there are people who order them that way.

UPDATE! Unsweetened is definitely even closer to the original. The frap base is sweetened already, so there's no need for extra sweetness. Also, 6 scoops of matcha (in a grande) will get you almost 100% to a Japanese green tea frap, although I will admit that this will be a little strong for Americans who aren't used to the taste of real green tea.

Incidentally, if you're in Japan, you're actually looking for a "Matcha Frappuccino". Matcha is a particular type of powdered green tea (it is not a term interchangeable with green tea). I'm guessing they use the same powder here, which is why the barista wrote "X macha" on mine - but they actually put it on the menu that way in Japan. It's got a little more cachet than just calling it "green tea" there; "green tea" being a more generic catch-all term, like if Starbucks here were to just put "black coffee" on the menu, instead of listing the different roasts and bean varieties that they have.

Also!  Here's one more little thing I wish they'd bring over to the US:

Those are black sesame and matcha macarons.  (Not macarOOns... macarons).  Black sesame is kind of an acquired taste, but once you've acquired it, there is no better base for any sort of sweet food.  (I say "food" on purpose, not drink; I did have a black sesame bubble tea once and it was... how to put this... challenging.)  And it's the perfect little complement to a green tea Frap... unlike that matcha and chocolate danish I tried to make it through up in the pic at the top.  Green tea and chocolate... ugggghhhh!

About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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