Taste-testing the newest member of the tea latte lineup.

It’s been many years since matcha lattes became a regular fixture on the Starbucks menu in Japan. But just like there are all sorts of different coffee beans, there are also all sorts of tea leaves, and Starbucks recently expanded its latte list to include oolong tea lattes too!

We sent our Japanese-language reporter Yuko Sawano out to try one for herself, and she wasn’t quite sure what to expect. While green tea has proven itself as a capable latte partner, oolong tea has more floral and herbal notes in its base flavor, which could make the introduction of steamed milk and sweetness a bit too much to cram into a single cup taste-wise.

But before the taste test came the smell test, and it had Yuko feeling a lot more confident about the flavor, since the aroma riding the rising steam was a unique mix of enticing sweetness and crisply refreshing tea elements.

Taking a sip, Yuko was happy to discover the Teavana Zen Clouds Oolong Tea Latte (to use its full name) tastes even better than it smells. Most of Starbucks’ tea lattes are especially sweet, but the oolong latte is less sugary, more mature, and exquisitely balanced. The milk softens the bitterness the oolong would have by itself, but there’s not so much creaminess as to leave any lingering oiliness, and each sip comes to a clean, smooth finish.

As she continued to drink, Yuko got another pleasant surprise. Since the tea bag is left in the cup, as time passes more of the tea seeps into the milk, giving it a more robust flavor and keeping your taste buds from becoming desensitized.

Prices for Starbucks’ oolong tea latte start at 440 yen (US$3.80) for a short, and really the only negative about the drink that Yuko could think of is that it might be a little lacking in sweetness for those who are used to more saccharine tea lattes. That’s an issue that’s easy to resolve by asking for extra syrup when ordering, though. The Starbucks staff at Yuko’s branch had some other customizations to recommend too, like swapping in almond milk or making it a breve latte by using a 50:50 ratio of steamed milk and cream, so she’s now thinking about having at least three more oolong lattes to see which one she likes best of all.

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[ Read in Japanese ]