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Stoutaccino? Starbucks Tests Coffee With Beer Flavors

In some parts of the U.S., Starbucks is testing a latte flavored with roasted-stout notes along with its seasonal autumn drinks such as the Pumpkin Spice Latte, seen here at front.
In some parts of the U.S., Starbucks is testing a latte flavored with roasted-stout notes along with its seasonal autumn drinks such as the Pumpkin Spice Latte, seen here at front.

Reports that Starbucks is testing a new coffee drink for autumn that incorporates "toasty stout flavors" has set off a debate over how such a concoction might taste — and questions over where customers can find one. The Dark Barrel Latte was "inspired by the rise of craft beers," the company says.

This isn't the first time beer and coffee flavors have mingled. But the relationship has largely been a one-sided one, with artisanal and specialty beers adopting coffee flavors years ago. Many ales have been flavored with espresso, for instance. And the combination of Guinness with espresso is established enough that it's known as the Muddy Dublin in some corners and the Dufrain in others.

Starbucks' Dark Barrel Latte is being tested in "a handful of our stores in Ohio and Florida," a company spokesman says. The company doesn't yet know if it'll expand the drink into other markets.

It also remains to be seen whether the new latte might turn the tables and spark a new branch of coffee that incorporates beer flavors. The company says its latte doesn't contain alcohol and is flavored with a syrup that also has chocolate notes. It's topped with "whipped cream and a dark caramel drizzle."

The stout-flavored latte made headlines after a Starbucks employee posted an image of an info sheet about the new drink on Reddit. People who had tried the drink — and many who hadn't — started a discussion about its merits and where it can be found.

"I had one this morning," one commenter wrote, "liked it quite a bit. Maybe it's because I'm pregnant and craving beer. Definitely like a mild stout, but noticeable malt and banana notes. I hope it makes it out of the test market."

Others said the drink was too sweet. And one person dismissed it by saying, "Adding a syrup with artificial flavor to coffee to try and make it taste like beer just sounds dumb."

Starbucks says its new latte is also available in Frappucino form, which called to mind the spat between the coffee giant and a small brewer in Missouri. As we reported in December, Exit 6 brewpub owner Jeff Briton responded to Starbucks' request to stop using the name "Frappucino" to describe his drink by sending the company a check for the $6 he said he made off it. (For the record, the beverage combines a vanilla creme ale with Founders Breakfast Stout.)

At the time, Briton said he laughed after getting the cease-and-desist letter. In a letter to the company, he wrote:

"We never thought that our beer drinking customers would have thought that the alcoholic beverage coming out of the tap would have actually been coffee from one of the many, many, many stores located a few blocks away. I guess that with there being a Starbucks on every corner of every block in every city that some people may think they could get a Starbucks at a local bar. So that was our mistake."

With the recent Starbucks test of a latte with beer flavors, we're looking at that lighthearted dispute in a new light, as the distinction between beer and coffee seems to be eroding further. And it made us wonder how people feel about mixing two beverages that often spark very passionate feelings.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.