Starbucks' Summer-Berry Refreshers Review: Saved By The Boba

Starbucks is going trend-forward all summer long with its new menu.

First, the coffee chain tested the waters with fruity and flowery lavender, then it hopped on the spicy, sweet train by adding a chili powder blend to the menu, and now here comes the boba. Starbucks just debuted a trio of summer drinks that all include a new ingredient which the company is calling "popping pearls" in its press release regarding the drinks.

Boba, or bubble tea, originated in Taiwan but has become extremely popular in the U.S. in recent years. On an international level, this is not Starbucks' first venture into boba. In its Asia Pacific market, the chain has offered a Dark Caramel Coffee Sphere Frappuccino with "bursting coffee spheres" and a Peach Plum Pearls Oolong drink that included plum-flavored pearls.

"For summer, we are launching our first texture innovation, Pearls," CEO Laxman Narasimhan announced on the company's most recent earnings call. "This is the first of more texture-based innovations that our customers can expect in the coming years."

The new limited-time drinks here in the U.S. with this "texture innovation" are the Summer-Berry Starbucks Refreshers, which come in three versions: the Summer-Berry Refresher, Summer-Berry Lemonade Refresher, and Summer Skies Drink. One of the brand's beverage developers, Simon Vuong, who created the drinks, noted in press materials that the blue color to each drink was crucial in evoking thoughts of summer days by the pool and "bright skies."

As both a boba fan and someone with a craving for the sunny days of summer, I had to head to my local Starbucks to see if these drinks kick the season off right. Maybe berries and boba are what this summer needs. Let's find out.

Summer-Berry Refresher

Along with the popping pearls of raspberry flavor, all three of the new Summer-Berry drinks include a mix of blueberry, blackberry and raspberry flavoring. Since this refresher only includes water, the berry flavor mix, and a layer of the popping pearls, it makes for the truest test of Starbucks' recipe for the summer.

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The Summer-Berry Refresher has an unexpected artificial candy taste to it. The exact flavor is difficult to pinpoint at first, but cold teas do tend to have that subtlety to them. Without anything to punch up the berry flavor, and the water somewhat diluting it, the drink overall is just alright. This Refresher is enjoyable but doesn't pack enough oomph for me to want to reach for it again.

Summer-Berry Lemonade Refresher

By far the best of the trio, the Summer-Berry Lemonade Refresher delivers a balance of fruity and tangy that the others do not. The tart flavor of the lemonade complements the berry blend in the refreshing way that Starbucks intended for this menu. Plus, the literal pops of raspberry on the tongue from the pearls are like the cherry on top of this summer beverage.

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Of the trio, this Refresher is the most worth its novelty and closest to what I would order at a dedicated bubble tea shop. If you're going to try one of the brand's summer beverages, I would recommend this one.

Summer Skies Drink

The Summer Skies Drink consists of the same berry blend as the other drinks and a layer of the popping pearls at the bottom — but with the inclusion of coconut milk. Unfortunately for this drink, I absolutely cannot get behind coconut milk as a beverage inclusion, and even less so when it's mixed with raspberry, blueberry, and blackberry. Sure, it's all in the fruit family, but the sweetness and hint of nuttiness that comes from coconut milk doesn't mix well with the fruity flavors of these berries. This gives me Pink Drink flashbacks, and not in a good way.

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As baby blue and pretty as this summer sky might be, the real saving grace of the drink is the boba ... I mean popping pearls ... at the bottom. Using the large compostable straw included with all three beverages, I find myself glad the pearls overtake the majority of each sip. Otherwise, the visual appeal of this drink does not make up for its incoherent taste.

In the end, the new Summer-Berry Refreshers have some bright spots, even when the berry flavor trio doesn't hold up. Specifically, the raspberry-flavored pearls at the bottom of each beverage are the best recipe decision made by Starbucks. Hopefully, these pearls and potentially other flavors of them stick around even after the sunny days end.

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