Chirping birds and longer days are definite signs of impending summer. Seventy-degree afternoons and ever-so-slight tan lines? We’re basically there. But nothing is quite as indisputable a summer-marker as the moment coffee chains launch their new iced, caffeinated beverages.
This year, they’ve all come to play. It seems to be the summer of both light dairy alternatives on one end of the spectrum, and over-the-top sippable desserts on the other. Just to be clear, we’re here for both.
Most of these new drinks got the red-carpet marketing rollout, with each of their respective brands hyping them up as the most refreshing thing you’ve tried since, well, last summer. But only one can snag the crown as the number one iced coffee drink of summer 2K21. Read on to find out which one rose above the rest. And for more, check out We Tried the Most Popular New Fast-Food Burgers and This Is the Best One.
Starbucks says they made this one to evoke memories of “a day at the fair.” Look, I get everyone is nostalgic for pre-pandemic summer fun, but the fair? Personally, I’d prefer my memories of days at the beach to be evoked. But to each their own!
This bad boy, which launched just this week, is made with funnel-cake flavored syrup and I can confirm, it just tastes sweet. It’s allegedly topped with crunchy funnel cake pieces, although I didn’t spot any on mine. And then there’s the dusting of powdered sugar.
To the chain’s credit, the layers of strawberry puree are pretty awesome and taste just like the kind you might find on top of a funnel cake. At a fair. (Maybe I’m not as anti-funnel-cake-frap as I thought.) However, this one didn’t deliver quite the cake-laden hype it promised.
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As more of a coffee purist, the second I read about this new launch I had two thoughts in rapid succession: “gross,” and then, “fun.” Upon tasting it, the flavor lived up to that summation pretty exactly. The first sip was abrasively sweet, and then you get the rainbow sprinkles in the second—which, let’s be real, is a fun concept.
Dunkin’ describes this drink, which is essentially iced espresso with Butter Pecan flavoring, topped with whipped cream, caramel drizzle, and rainbow sprinkles, as “whimsical.” What is with these escapist summer coffee vibes? While better than the Funnel Cake Frap, I’d say this one is still only drinkable if you have an extremely high tolerance for sugar.
This is not a summer-specific beverage, but since it was launched last fall, this will be the first summer it’s available. Plus, with what Chick-fil-A’s done to upgrade their coffee, we were curious to sample anything on their new and improved java menu.
If you don’t stir the cold brew first (I, unfortunately, did not), sip one of this guy is pure chocolate syrup. It wasn’t a bad way to jumpstart my morning, but I didn’t really need the added caffeine rush after that loaded sip of pure sugar.
The Mocha Cream actually could have ranked higher if there was just a little less (okay, half the amount) of chocolate syrup coating the bottom. Chick-fil-A’s iced coffee is good! The syrup dump and heavy cream just made it almost impossible to taste.
Points for simplicity, here—not to mention points for the fact I was able to indulge in Coffee Bean on the East Coast for the first time in years.
This iced latte incorporates Coffee Bean’s new Dark Chocolate Syrup into the classic iced latte. It actually tasted really similar to Chick-fil-A’s creation, but was a little lighter on both the syrup and the milk.
The star of the show in any Coffee Bean iced coffee, as any West Coaster knows, is the ice. The chain uses small round ice cubes, and somehow, it truly makes their iced drinks taste better.
The name here was enough of a draw: another new specialty drink that’s made with a milk alternative? I’m all about this plant-based trend.
In practice, Starbucks’ new chocolate almond milk java is almost as good as the name would lead you to believe. The almond milk adds an earthy texture to the flavor, which complements the chocolate well.
The reason this didn’t rank higher? The chain leans too much into the chocolate flavoring, and it’s simply too sweet to be refreshing.
A coconut milk latte for summer is a brilliant idea for both health and marketing reasons. Chalk it up to my lack of barista experience, but I didn’t realize it was possible to make a latte with coconut milk. The consistency is nothing like other milk subs.
But Dunkin’ did it, and they did it well. This is perhaps the most refreshing of this year’s summer coffee lineup, with a more subdued sweetness than any of the others we tried. Will definitely drink again.
Pro-tip for when you try: ask for it without the signature Dunkin’ flavoring that they definitely still slipped in. This guy would be better off without any added sugar at all.
This summer’s spread is really running the gamut of new milk options, and while coconut milk is perhaps the most fitting for the season, it’s really exciting to see a national chain lean into oat milk on the level that Starbucks has.
This one says “brown sugar” in the name, which put me in the right headspace to expect the burst of sweetness when it hit. The oat milk made the drink naturally creamier, which was a nice touch for an iced beverage. But I think the real winning aspect of this coffee simply comes back to its base: the blonde roast. You can taste it at the core of this drink, and it sets a delicious tone for the entire experience.
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