Secret Menu Adventure: Consumerist Tries To Order An ‘Undertow’ At Starbucks

specialundertowthoughtsHere at Consumerist’s virtual headquarters, we were reading a Starbucks fan blog, as we do, and noticed a passing reference that took us by surprise. A post mentioned a “secret menu” drink called the Undertow, which consists of hot espresso on top of cold half-and-half and flavored syrup. This sounded both confusing and delicious, so we made the editor whose office is closest to a Starbucks go out and try to order one.

The Internet learned of the drink’s existence from Starbucks Melody, who described a version of it now available at Starbucks’ upscale Roastery shops. Melody described it as follows:

The Undertow has been around for a long time, unofficially, as an off-the-menu Starbucks drink. When done correctly, it’s about a 4 to 6 ounce beverage, with cold milk on the bottom with espresso shots floating on top. In the Starbuckian world, I’ve heard a lot of people order it with vanilla syrup or even white mocha sauce on the bottom (or pre-stirred in with the milk).

The upscale version uses half-and-half and Madagascar vanilla, but the point is to drink the beverage quickly enough so that the layers don’t mix and hit your mouth as two separate temperatures. Alternate names for the drink are the breve blast (breve is a fancy coffee word for half-and-half), John Wayne, speedball, bludgeoner, cup of love, and some other inappropriate names that we won’t repeat.

We learned the basic recipe poking around online, and dispatched Kate Cox to a Starbucks in downtown Washington, DC. No one at this particular Starbucks knew what an “undertow” was, or recalled anyone asking for one before, but they were happy to make one. It cost $3.53 (plus a tip for being great and making the drink.)

Was it any good? Kate’s verdict: it tasted like a regular old iced vanilla latte from Starbucks. Maybe if she had gulped it down right away, there would have been the novel mixing of flavors and temperatures. Instead, she said that the overall effect was that of an iced latte that wasn’t watered down with melted ice.

If you’ve ever ordered this beverage, or you’re a Starbucks partner who wants to berate us for even publicizing such a thing, you can reach us at

(Thanks to Eater for pointing us to this story.)

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  1. JoeBlow says:

    As I respond to most articles referring to “Secret Menus,” THIS IS NOT AN EXAMPLE OF A SECRET MENU. A secret menu is when the staff are trained by their employer to know what to make, and how to charge it. This, like nearly every “secret menu” article, is about applying a name to a custom order, and seeing if the people working at starbucks that particular shift are familiar with it. Its like walking into a sandwich shop and ordering saying “I’d like to order a Pretentious Customer,” with pretentious customer standing in as the name for the non-existent item you are ordering. The kid behind the counter is going to need to know what it is you actually want, because nowhere on his register is there going to be a button for the pretentious customer. They may need to figure out what the closest base item would be, and add any up-charges for add-ons. Same story here. I’ve had undertows at Starbucks before. At the recommendation of the the staff behind the counter. I know that because it’s not on the menu, officially or secretly, not everyone at that location knows how to make one, so if I don’t see anyone I recognize, I ask if anyone knows how to make one. The information you should have is going to be the recipe, and how you usually see it rung up, I think it’s usually two shots of espresso, and a charge for milk and a charge for a pump of syrup. You then have to tell them how to put it together. I think to layer the espresso, they’d usually pour it over the back of a spoon or something. It tastes great. Not a secret menu.