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TikTok Influencers and Starbucks Competing for Drink Combos

From left to right, a Berry Caramel Frappuccino and The TikTok Drink, just two of the supposed 170,000 drink combos available at Starbucks.
From left to right, a Berry Caramel Frappuccino and The TikTok Drink, just two of the supposed 170,000 drink combos available at Starbucks. TikTok

TikTok — and Starbucks — have forged drink combos that have lines growing at the coffee chain and baristas annoyed at having to make such complex drinks, according to several news reports. Thing is, Starbucks helped to create the issue itself. 

The chain that turned regular drip coffee into $5 Caramel Snickerdoodle Macchiatos is now caught up in an arms race with TikTok users to make the most complicated drinks and its coffee producers behind the counter are the ones suffering. While coffee makers labor to produce dozens of bizarre concoctions dreamed up by TikTok influencers, Starbucks is just as guilty as social media for making this mess. 

In its marketing, Starbucks stated that, in addition to the beverage options on menu boards, there are 170,000-plus ways baristas can customize beverages. This week, the ubiquitous chain announced its latest seasonal drinks, which include the Caramel Brulee Latte, Chestnut Praline Latte, and Toasted White Chocolate Mocha. While these might not be as distinct or as dense as say, the Berry Caramel Frappuccino (via TikTok user “coffeefanatics”), which is a “Strawberry Açaí Lemonade with apple juice, strawberry purée and double scoops of mango dragonfruit and strawberries, double-blended with a caramel drizzle on top” — they’re still light years away from a simple cup of coffee or tea. 

(It should be noted that the user, Ryan Gawlik, is a barista himself. There seems to be a schism between these übermensch coffee stars and people who prefer to perform their regularly assigned duties instead of transcending that traditional role into more and more ludicrously complex duties.)

The Wall Street Journal quoted Roger Huang, a Buffalo, New York Starbucks barista as saying that he takes pride in his skill at assembling TikTok drinks, but that the constant variations can be exhausting.  

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It has become a social media challenge to find different ways to customize the 10 different options Starbucks lists on its cups. Although these increasingly complex drinks can be a headache to minimum-wage workers, the “Starbucks Secret Menu” (#starbuckssecretmenu) has more than 210 million hits. 

Anna Faber, another barista and a college student under TikTok handle “Annalovescoffee,” posts concoctions to her 107,900 followers. In July, however, she responded to questions, via signs and sentences, that they were so irritating to put together that she was quitting her job.

“are frappucinos (sic) annoying to make?”


“are you quitting soon?”

“yes in August”

Anna may have quit her job, but she was still posting new mixes as of Oct. 22. The lesson: Social media can be hard competition to abandon. Especially if the combinations are seemingly endless.

Starbucks can be a great caffeinated choice for a number of reasons. Its menu has plenty of options and franchises usually include locally made snack options. Maybe it’s time to give overworked service workers and other customers waiting in line a break and stick to the already extensive menu.

Read More: Forget Starbucks — Brew Coffee With This Keurig

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Matthew Denis
Matt Denis is an on-the-go remote multimedia reporter, exploring arts, culture, and the existential in the Pacific Northwest…
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