Review: Starbucks Refreshers – Strawberry Lemonade, Orange Melon, & Raspberry Pomegranate


Believe it or not, the top 4 bottled/can coffee brands are all controlled by Starbucks, thanks to the North American Coffee Partnership they have with Pepsi. Per BevNet’s John Craven, they own $886 million of the $904 million ready-to-drink RTD coffee category. And as we noted in our preview story, the company has good traction in the energy drink market thanks to Doubleshot Energy. With their latest trio of products, Starbucks Refreshers, they aim to take a little more of the “$8 billion energy category“.

Except this time, they’re doing it with stevia — that ‘natural’ sweetener that has all the buzz these days.

Starbucks Refreshers - Strawberry Lemonade, Orange Melon, & Raspberry Pomegranate

Starbucks Refreshers: Strawberry Lemonade, Orange Melon, & Raspberry Pomegranate

The product line consists of three flavors — Strawberry Lemonade, Orange Melon, and Raspberry Pomegranate — each packaged in an individually-sold 12 oz can. The idea here is a “light energy” drink. While there is no direct caffeine listed in the ingredients, the ‘energy’ side comes from green coffee bean extract… and a healthy dose of ginseng. As noted in a USA Today article, each can contains 40 to 55 mg of caffeine. In comparison, a 12 oz can of Mountain Dew contains 54 mg of caffeine, while a 12 oz can of Red Bull contains a little over 155 mg.

The big difference here is that the primary sweetener used is stevia. No aspartame, sucralose, or acesulfame potassium (Ace-K). It’s a pretty bold step that helps get the calorie count down to 60 per can. These products have some pretty wide distribution as well, being available at Starbucks stores, as well as convenience stores, gas stations, and wherever you’d buy groceries.

The cans themselves have a pretty sharp design. They don’t look like energy drinks; they seem “milder” in appearance. In fact, the style reminds me a lot of Pepsi’s discontinued Tava line, which came in cans that were about the same size as Refreshers. In both cases, these “sparkling beverages” showcase a female-focused design. The slim cans all feature silver on the bottom, with an upper colored portion reflecting the flavor of the drink, anchored by the Starbucks logo. They key marketing phrases include “natural energy”, “green coffee extract”, and “real fruit juice” (each with 25% juice, per the ingredients). The main functional selling point is the inclusion of B-vitamins along with ginseng. Starbucks seems to have been working on this line for a while, as the trademark (#85090198) was first filed back in July 2010, claiming “beverages made with a base of coffee.”

Starbucks Refreshers Strawberry Lemonade

Starbucks Refreshers Strawberry Lemonade

Let’s start with Strawberry Lemonade, which seems quite carbonated and bubbly. The drink is light purple in color with a slight berry scent. The use of the word “light” is appropriate, because Strawberry Lemonade — as well as the other flavors — does not feel heavy. In this case, the drink starts out with a muted strawberry flavor, with the lemonade cutting the edge a bit with a softer mid-drink experience. The aftertaste is pretty clean, though you do note the use of stevia. Still, it’s refreshing and rather pleasant.

Starbucks Refreshers Orange Melon

Starbucks Refreshers Orange Melon

Jumping over to Orange Melon, I couldn’t help being reminded of breakfast and orange juice. This drink is yellow/pink in color, with a citrusy scent that brings a sweet morning fragrance to your experience. Carbonation is very evident, as is a small dose of bitterness associated with the orange on the front end. The watermelon flavoring seems to smooth things over into the finish, with an aftertaste that seems to stick around longer than we noted with Strawberry Lemonade. It’s a different combination with the orange and melon together, somewhat hard to describe. However, that odd combo is actually very good.

Starbucks Refreshers Raspberry Pomegranate

Starbucks Refreshers Raspberry Pomegranate

Finally, we have the Raspberry Pomegranate flavor, which is probably the most predictable when you think about a light, sparkling beverage. Everyone throws pomegranate into the mix! This drink is red/purple in color and has a prominent raspberry scent. Compared to the first two flavors, I’d say that the taste of an alternate sweetener is more obvious here, as well as the use of a grape and apple base. That said, Raspberry Pomegranate is quite tasty, but probably the most “low-calorie flavored” of the bunch.

In all 3 drinks, I didn’t experience a big rush or crash of energy, though you could tell something was going on with the ginseng, at least in feeling just a tad bit more alert.

Overall, I’m quite impressed with the Starbucks Refreshers line and would highly recommend them. The fact that they were able to take fruity flavored drinks and make them taste great, while also making them low-calorie and contain a little “punch” of energy, is excellent. It’s obvious a lot of testing was done to find the right mix of flavors and sweeteners, because these seem very solid right out of the gate.

Starbucks Refreshers Strawberry Lemonade
Carbonated water, fruit juices from concentrate (white grape, apple, lemon, strawberry), erythritol, natural flavors, green coffee bean extract, citric acid, vegetable juice (color), rebaudioside-A (stevia leaf extract), panax ginseng root powder extract, ascorbic acid (Vitamin C), niacinamide (Vitamin B3), calcium D-pantothenate (Vitamin B5), pyridoxine hydrochloride (Vitamin B6)

A 12 oz can contains 60 calories, 5 mg sodium, and 19 g carbs (13 g sugars). Recommended daily values of vitamins are covered with 20% Vitamin C, 25% Vitamin B6, 25% Niacin, and 25% Pantothenic Acid. Each can contains 50 mg ginseng, breaking down to 4.2 mg/oz.

Starbucks Refreshers Orange Melon
Carbonated water, fruit juices from concentrate (white grape, apple, orange, watermelon), erythritol, natural flavors, green coffee bean extract, citric acid, ascorbic acid (Vitamin C), rebaudioside-A (stevia leaf extract), beta-carotene (color), panax ginseng root powder extract, niacinamide (Vitamin B3), calcium D-pantothenate (Vitamin B5), pyridoxine hydrochloride (Vitamin B6)

A 12 oz can contains 60 calories, 5 mg sodium, and 19 g carbs (13 g sugars). Recommended daily values of vitamins are covered with 100% Vitamin C, 25% Vitamin B6, 10% Vitamin A, 25% Niacin, and 25% Pantothenic Acid. Each can contains 50 mg ginseng, breaking down to 4.2 mg/oz.

Starbucks Refreshers Raspberry Pomegranate
Carbonated water, fruit juices from concentrate (white grape, apple, pomegranate, red raspberry), erythritol, natural flavors, vegetable juice (color), green coffee bean extract, citric acid, ascorbic acid (Vitamin C), rebaudioside-A (stevia leaf extract), panax ginseng root powder extract, niacinamide (Vitamin B3), calcium D-pantothenate (Vitamin B5), pyridoxine hydrochloride (Vitamin B6)

A 12 oz can contains 60 calories, 5 mg sodium, and 20 g carbs (13 g sugars). Recommended daily values of vitamins are covered with 100% Vitamin C, 25% Vitamin B6, 25% Niacin, and 25% Pantothenic Acid. Each can contains 50 mg ginseng, breaking down to 4.2 mg/oz.

Full Disclosure: These beverages were provided compliments of Starbucks