Halloween Taste-Testing: Starbucks Japan Autumn Menu 2012

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Starbucks Crunchy Caramel Latte and Pumpkin Muffin

One thing I love about living in Japan is trying the seasonal sweets and drinks in cafes, conbini, and grocery stores. “Seasonal food” is partially the function of the availability of the harvest, such as a café’s changing the menu from summer blueberry cake to fall fig tarts for desserts; however, part of “seasonal food” is more related to cultural perceptions of seasons and their associated foods: Pepsi’s Salty Watermelon soda and Pocky’s and other company’s mint flavors for summer probably had less to do with available ingredients and more to do with the collective consciousness of what are summer flavors; Candy Corn Oreos come from a desire for Halloween food, not from the candy corn harvest.

I love Halloween and autumn, and with more companies in Japan creating Halloween flavors or packages for their products, I’ve decided to do a series on taste-testing these products.These food-related posts will be reblogged at The Lobster Dance as part of my annual Halloween cultural series, so if you’re interested in the non-food side of Halloween here, please check it out.

While I’m not a huge fan of Starbucks’ coffee in and of itself, I do like trying their seasonal drinks. The summer campaign of iced coffee was not terribly exciting: “It’s Coffee. It’s Cold” read the signboard in front of the shop. (Oh, really?) On September 1, the signboard changed to feature their fall flavor: crunchy caramel, and so while everyone back home was bragging about their pumpkin spice lattes, I decided to give the local fall menu a try.

Pumpkin Muffin (パンプキンマフィン)

Image from Starbucks website. http://store.starbucks.co.jp/food/bakery/4524785201545/

I want to know who wrote the copy for this: “A muffin with the richness of pumpkin and a light sweetness.” There is nothing subtle about the sweetness here. I know my sugar preference is much lower than most Japanese people’s, let alone most Americans’, but eating this “muffin” along with the sweet caramel drink felt like I had hopped on the express train to Diabetes Town with stops in Sugar Shock and Cavity-ville. If I had realized the muffin were going to be that sugary, I would have gotten a regular coffee, or, better yet, skipped the muffin for something savory that actually had protein in it. As for the “rich pumpkin,” the inclusion of a center full of kabocha-an (kabocha mixed with sweet bean paste) was creative but not enough to salvage the flavor or lessen the sugar content. My teeth hurt thinking about it.

 

Also of note: the muffin is 410 calories. For the sake of comparison, I probably eat 350-400 calories’ worth of breakfast with two of my homemade muffins and coffee with milk (no sugar). (Starbucks’ muffin is about the size of two muffins.) No big deal, right? All calories are not created equal. I can’t confirm this on the website’s nutritional information, which only lists calorie counts and allergens, but this pumpkin muffin tastes like the first ingredient is sugar. Too sweet, not filling, not kabocha-y enough, and definitely not healthy. Skip it. Time to make it myself, I suppose!

 

Crunchy Caramel Macchiato (クランチキャラメルマキアート)

Crunchy Caramel Macchiato (hot/iced), Frappaccino
http://www.starbucks.co.jp/products/?nid=pc_tbn_lto

With a short size coming in at 194 calories for crunchy caramel hot macchiato (154 if you get skim milk, which I did), it’s not the worst drink you could have as a dessert. The caramel flakes were interesting, and there was a good balance of caramel, milk, and coffee. I think the only difference between this and a caramel macchiato is the flakes. Not exceptional, but not bad.

So here’s the real question: how to go about making a pumpkin spice latte sans American pumpkins and without spending all one’s cash at the import store? (Yes, you are supposed to use pumpkin puree in it.) And there’s this week’s research project.

Stay tuned here and at The Lobster Dance for more Halloween in Japan!

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8 Comments Add yours

  1. Leah says:

    Reblogged this on The Lobster Dance and commented:

    I’ll be covering food-related Halloween posts over on I’ll Make It Myself! this season and reblogging here. Enjoy!

    1. Anne says:

      I love the seasonal drinks at Starbucks! I have very fond memories of a cherry mocha they had a few years back during the winter holidays. Was very sad to see the promotion end!

      I look forward to reading more Halloween-related posts! I miss Halloween festivities… The holiday isn’t really celebrated all that much here in Australia (and Japan has the cutest decorations!)

      1. Leah says:

        Glad to hear it! Seeing Halloween go from Basken Robbins-only to all over Japan (off and on) over the last 10 years has been really interesting. KitKat and Mister Donut both have Halloween flavors this year, too, which, of course, I’ll blog about. Thanks for reading!

  2. Anna says:

    I’m a big fan of anything fall-限定 (at least back home)–and pumpkin is my biggest weakness! Practically anything that catches my eye gets taste tested. (This can be a bit hard on my wallet.)
    Ever since September rolled around, I was wondering how Starbucks’ pumpkin muffins stack up. I’ll be looking forward to that recipe! :)

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