Thursday, May 11, 2017

I Tried Starbucks' Unicorn Frappuccino!

Fleeting thoughts on the mega-limited-time-only Starbucks beverage you've probably already forgotten about ...

By: Jimbo X

Sometimes, you just experience something so ephemeral that even as it happens in front of you it feels like something nostalgic from 20 years ago. I got that sensation when I tried Burger King's infamous "Halloween Burger," when I tried Pizza Hut's ill-received "Hot Dog Bites Pizza" and I definitely felt it when I tried Hardee's "Most American Thickburger." And - without question - I felt those odd pangs of insta-nostalgia as soon as I wrapped my lips around Starbucks' hyper-limited-time-only Unicorn Frappuccino.

By the time this thing has been posted, the heavily-hyped Unicorn Frappuccino has been out of Starbucks stores for nearly a full month. Most chains only carried the LTO beverage for about a week, and a much publicized ingredients shortage meant that many Starbucks across the States couldn't even make it for customers at all. So it's one of those things you had a super limited amount of time to try, and if you missed out on it - well, this is one of those things you may never, EVER get to slurp upon ever again. 

Of course I acknowledge the whole damn thing is just a crass marketing ploy by Starbucks - a feverish, marketing-engineered cultural phenomenon basically tailor-made for the "I've gotta' Instagram everything" crowd. It's outlandish and gaudy and weird simply for the sake of being weird, but really, what's so bad about that? Like that one girl in drama class with pink hair that always wears neon blue lipstick, this shit is supposed to try too hard, and that's kinda' its charm.

Aesthetically, at least, the Unicorn Frappuccino is pretty easy to describe.The thing is Barney the Dinosaur-purple, with a Smurf-blue squiggle running around it. The top of the beverage is basically a giant dollop of whipped creme, with a smattering of ultra-tart, sour raspberry artificial flavoring as adornments. So yeah, just in terms of pure visuals, it's basically what happens when you blend that gay Teletubby over ice and coffee and hawk it for $5 a cup.

Now, the taste, on the other hand, requires a little bit more insight. According to the official Starbucks website, the primary taste of the beverage is supposed to be mango, but personally, I just didn't see it (well, more like taste it, but you know what I'm trying to say here.) Yeah, I know they say it's supposed to have a dominant passion fruit taste, but really, the "pink powder" add-in is what really runs this particular show. Now, the official 'bucks website says the stuff is made out of a bizarre combination of artificial flavors (including cherry, sweet potato and even radish!) but deep down, we all know what kinda' make-believe fruit flavor the chain is really shoving down our throats - it's fucking raspberry. Don't give me none of that mess about the "blue drizzle" having white chocolate mocha sauce in it, this thing more or less tastes identical to a raspberry-flavored Slush Puppy, only sludgier and with more of a chunky, dairy-taste and consistency. Now, per Starbucks' own marketing materials, the beverage itself is supposed to change colors when you rotate the drink, but I didn't see that many revolving hues. Oddly enough, that little blue streak thingy remains almost perfectly consistent as you drink the motherfucker, and while it does taste noticeably thicker and pulpier than the rest of the drink, it doesn't really taste that divergent from the main raspberry-slush flavoring.

Which brings us to the speckles of artificially flavored sour grape. No, I mean literal sour grapes, not the figurative kind that almost everybody interprets incorrectly. Up top the Unicorn Frappuccino has a pretty big splotch of what I think is supposed to be sour raspberry (or maybe even sour blueberry) but really, it tastes more like super tarty artificial grapes than anything else. And rest assured, this shit IS STRONG. Think about the most potent Warhead or Sour Patch Kid you've ever eaten, and I guarantee you the syrup Starbucks used on this thing is at least 100 times more potent. Because I ain't got no gumption, I decided to lick the liquid residue off the top of my cup and I almost went into convulsions - this shit isn't just sour, it's a-mouthful-of-Sour-Patch-Kids-mixed-with-lemon-juice sour. Strangely enough, all that industrial strength sour juice doesn't really meddle with the overall beverage flavor as much as you think it would. Granted, it gives the raspberry slush a noticeable sour blueberry aftertaste, and once you get down to the last clump of mushy creme at the bottom of the cup it does taste remarkably like standard sour cream, but somehow, someway, it doesn't turn the beverage as a whole into an undrinkable, taste-bud-torturing elixir.

So, on the whole, I really can't complain too much about the overall product. Its aesthetics get a solid A for effort in my book, and the super fruity/kinda' sour milkshake consistency and flavor is definitely unlike anything you've probably ever tried at the franchise. Nutrition-wise, I reckon you already know what you're getting into here. At 410 calories a cup, it's pretty much on par with most of Starbucks' other event drinks, with about 10 grams worth of saturated fat lurking in the plastic container just waiting to make you fat, too. Probably the craziest thing about the beverage as a whole, I suppose, is the amount of sugar inside the frappuccino - an astounding 59 grams. That comes out to about 15 tablespoons of sugar, which yeah, is prolly about as bad for you as it sounds.

At the end of the day, it's a bit difficult determining the import of the Unicorn Frappuccino on contemporary pop culture/consumer culture history. Seeing as how the thing was literally only around for seven days, its general influence is pretty minimal, but considering how crazy everybody went for it when it was available at stores, you really can't write it off as an inconsequential relic of 2017, neither. The beverage was indeed a true First World consumer phenomenon, something so ubiquitous within the social media sphere that it was practically impossible to not be aware of the product's existence even if you never saw a single ad for it. I guess in the long haul the real importance of the Unicorn Frappuccino lies within the way it was marketed; eschewing traditional advertising methods, they just dropped they shit in stores for a week and let the Instagram-Uber-Alles novelty culture do all the heavy lifting for them. And needless to say, that approach just plain worked. The thing sold like gangbusters, everybody on Facebook was talking about it and posting pictures of it online and even if you don't like Starbucks or coffee in general, there's no way you couldn't have heard about it. Love or hate Starbucks, few companies out there know how to make "event foods" work, and even fewer know how to captivate (if not capitalize) on the post-Myspace cultural hivemind.

And come on - are you really going to bitch and complain about people showing off photos of food that looks like something the Lost Boys in Hook would've had for breakfast? I think not, America. I think fuckin' not.


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