Earlier this week, we sent one of our editors on a mission: to find out whether something billed as a Starbucks secret menu item exists at all the chain’s stores. The short answer: no, but if you describe the drink, any store will make you one, even though they’re kind of a pain and usually reserved for special occasions.
To review, we had read that the drink called the “Undertow,” also known regionally as the breve blast, John Wayne, speedball, bludgeoner, or cup of love, was a secret menu item consisting of cold half-and-half with flavor syrup and shots of espresso poured on top, creating a neat hot-and-cold effect.
The location near Kate’s office made a tasty drink that was sort of like an iced latte with no ice. Sounds drinkable, but was missing the point. Readers weighed in to help aspiring undertow drinkers out.
Molly, a former Starbucks employee, explained the precise technique needed to keep the dairy and coffee separate enough to hold their temperatures:
The trickiest part of an undertow (which I consumed daily at 4:00 am at the start of each morning shift) is that after your milk and flavor of choice have been poured into the small cup, you have to position the wide stirring spoon on top of the cup face down. As the shot is pulled, it slowly cascades down the back of the spoon and into the cup to keep the two liquids from combining and ruining the effect. Sounds like a minor thing, but really it’s key to keeping the desired effect of the undertow intact.
Kevin explains exactly how you should drink the undertow. He was a regular at his local Starbucks, and says that the drink was made for employee celebrations. Regulars who were regular enough got to share in that. His version was made with simple syrup, not flavored syrup, but the other ingredients were the same: half-and-half and dissipated espresso floating on top.
You do have to drink it quick. They suggested drinking it like a shot. Normally the hot espresso would burn your tongue, but not on this drink. By turning the cup up quickly and drinking it all at once, there is a peculiar sensation as the strong coffee and the sweetened milk mix. It sort of “swirls” in your mouth when you’re doing it right.
James, a longtime Starbucks partner (sorry, Starbucks, we’re going to keep calling them “employees”) explains that most people who order the Undertow are people who have either just been hired, or who heard about the drink somewhere and think that it makes them look savvy and hip to the secret menu. The problem? “There’s all sorts of little variations – so it creates more of a customer issue when people order it and get something they’re not expecting,” he explains. “Everyone hates making them.”
Instead of ordering an “undertow” and acting smug, just spell out the ingredients and technique to prevent disappointment and confusion. Maybe do that whenever you order a supposed “secret” item.