black tea matcha starbucks tea weird

The Tea on Starbucks

What happens when you marry matcha & black tea powder?

– Care Elise, in Questions I Wish I Had Never Asked Myself

I think Starbucks makes a half decent matcha latte. Hold up tea purists, and let me explain.

Lactose doesn’t sit well with my stomach and I like the milk choices that the ‘Bucks offers (particularly the coconut, since it’s sweetish and I rarely add syrup to drinks). When I’m onsite with a client for long hours, it’s not like I have the facilities to steam or froth my own milk, and sometimes I like to break my fasts with a latte. *shrug* It just happens that one of my biggest clients has a Starbucks downstairs from their office.

You can get plain steeped tea at Starbucks, but most people don’t realize that Starbucks doesn’t use loose leaf tea in its lattes. Their mixed/blended drinks are either made from tea powder or tea syrup/concentrate. The one exception is the Royal English Breakfast latte, which uses a steeped tea bag. 

Starbucks’ chai comes in a carton. Their ice teas are pre-made concentrate too, unless you order one of their few loose leaf blends and request it over ice.

PRO TIP: Order a venti cup of ice alongside your grande steeped tea and DIY your iced tea, otherwise the tea bag probably won’t be left in hot water long enough to steep properly.


Starbucks black tea and rooibos are both tea powders, and obviously so is the matcha. In case you were thinking it was its own thing, the blossoming rose latte is just rooibos powder and rose syrup. 

I’m not going to get into the marketing brilliance of Starbucks using tea powder (the lowest commercial grade of tea) in milk and syrup concoctions (because really once you steam some milk and add flavoured sweetener, who can tell?). It makes sense that Starbucks, with drive thrus, a to-go clientele, and long line ups at peak times, needs to get customers’ drinks ready FAST. Tea powder and concentrates that mix directly into hot water mean that baristas don’t have to worry about steeping times. Their staff don’t have to babysit most of their tea menu to make sure they’re steeped properly or at the right temperature.

Considering Starbucks’ business model, it makes a lot of sense to treat tea this way. Even though they bought Teavana, they are a coffee company. Even though it seems like their tea latte options have expanded, coffee is their baby. That being said, the tea purist in me rebels every time my client offers to buy Starbucks. But it happens frequently enough that I’ve got some go-to favourites.

Unsurprisingly, all of them involve matcha. I feel like it’s the only tea that should be a powder.

My go-to’s are: 

  • matcha latte (non-sweet, sub coconut milk), 
  • matcha slushie (non-sweet frappucino, sub almond or coconut milk, no flavour base/milk base, add two extra scoops of matcha and argue with the barista that yes, you know it’s not going to taste sweet and the texture will be different and that’s kind of the point),
  • Their summer iced matcha drink thingy with coconut milk and pineapple ginger syrup (half sweet).

Do you see a pattern yet?

Granted, with tea powders, you’re getting a lot of the insoluble nutrients that you wouldn’t get without eating the leaf, like fiber, protein, chlorophyll, Vitamin E, antioxidants, beta carotene, crude fat…(keeping in mind that some of these are in extremely small quantities). But I have a hard time getting past the flavour of black tea powder – it’s just… different.

So today, I thought I would be adventurous. I would be a self-experimenting tea adventure scientist. I would try blending two flavours and see what happened. 

I ordered this.

I joked with the girl that I was working with that I was getting the tea version of swamp water.

I had hoped there might be layers of flavour, and that the extra vanilla powder on top would help to smooth over any weirdness.

Instead, I had more of a Shoukugeki no Soma (Food Wars) experience. The not so good kind.

I was expecting the delicate nutty umami of matcha gliding across my palette like an airy green gown followed by a billowing train of rich black tea undertones. It would greet my taste buds with a tiny royal wave and a friendly coconut smile. 

Instead, I got a matcha that didn’t waste time with formalities. It stormed into my mouth and punched me in the tastebuds without stopping to say hello.

Then came the black tea, too rich when drenched in coconut and following matcha. Like sand washing up on beach it left a slight gritty texture in my mouth.

Rich, strong. Definitely matcha dominated. It tasted a bit better once it cooled down. It felt like the flavours had time to settle and then it was a bit more mild.

It was the best of teas, it was the worst of teas…”

– Care Elise, reflecting on her life choices, 09/23/20

Overall, not the greatest marriage of flavours.

TLDR: Maybe next time I want to try something weird, I won’t get a venti.