A hanami dango drink designed to capture the joy of cherry blossom viewing.

Today is an unseasonably warm day in Japan, with a high of 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit) forecast, making us feel that spring really has sprung around the country. Another sign of the changing seasons came in the form of Starbucks’ brand new Sakura Frappuccino, which made its debut with perfect timing on this beautifully warm day, and our reporter K. Masami was there early to get a taste of it as soon as it was released.

The highly anticipated new drink is called the Hanami Dango Frappuccino, and it’s been billed as “a Starbucks version of the Japanese cherry blossom viewing experience.” Japanese-style Frappuccinos are quite rare, even in Japan, and this one is inspired by hanami dango (“flower-viewing rice cakes”) a traditional skewered sweet containing three rice cakes — one coloured pink to represent the sakura buds, one coloured white to represent the flowers in full bloom and one coloured green to represent the leaves once the flowers have fallen.

▼ The traditional hanami dango can be seen on the top right of this promotional poster, carried by a bird.

Starbucks often impresses us with its skill at replicating real-world treats in drink form, so Masami was curious to see if the Hanami Dango Frappuccino would live up to her high expectations. She also likes to get in first with staff-approved customisations, so after consulting with the barista, she added citrus pulp for an additional 100 yen (US$0.67), in line with their recommendations.

▼ The Hanami Dango Frappuccino (花見だんごフラぺチーノ) costs 628 yen ($4.18) before tax, or 690 yen with tax, so her total with the 100-yen customisation came to 800 yen, after tax.

That wasn’t a bad price for a limited-edition drink, and when she received it, she loved the way the citrus pulp added a splash of orange at the bottom.

Aside from this orange layer, the drink looked no different to a regular version of the Frappuccino, and her gaze soon settled on the topping, where she could see a beautiful scattering of pink, white and green rice cake pieces. They were so tiny yet so similar to the hanami dango she’s used to seeing it was as if they were made for a small borrower like Ghibli’s Arrietty.

▼ Adding to the beauty of the drink are shavings of pink chocolate, resembling a carpet of fallen cherry blossom petals.

Beneath the beautiful topping was a soy milk base blended with white bean paste, strawberry sauce, and cherry blossom-flavoured sauce. The soy milk was key to bringing the flavours together, and every sip delivered a subtle cherry blossom sweetness to the tongue.

Once she pushed the straw further into the cup to add a hit of citrus to the mix, the flavour profile became distinctly more bittersweet, but the cherry blossom notes still remained strong. However, as she made her way through the drink, Masami realised the highlight for her was the tiny pieces of chewy dango, which were spread generously throughout the drink, providing bursts of fun texture to contrast with the creamy smoothness.

The new Hanami Dango Frappuccino certainly tasted as good as it looked, and all the different elements were perfectly aligned to create just the right balance of flavours. It’s a fantastic dessert drink that captures the joy of Japanese flower-viewing in a cup, and  Masami is keen to return to get another taste of it, perhaps served in a sakura mug with a cherry blossom doughnut on the side, while it’s on the menu until 12 March.

Photos ©SoraNews24 
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