Starbucks Cold Foam Vs. Sweet Cream: What's The Difference?

Starbucks is one of (if not the most) popular chain coffee shops in the world, and it is almost undoubtedly the largest, with more than 35,000 stores around the globe, per Statista. People seek out Starbucks over other local and chain coffee shops for a variety of reasons, including convenience, prices, customization, and variety.

There is something for everyone on Starbucks' drink menu, from plain black coffee to classic lattes and cappuccinos, and their world-renowned seasonal drinks, like the beloved pumpkin spice latte or the peppermint mocha, entice customers throughout the year. Any one of Starbucks' popular drinks can be customized with additional syrups, flavoring, or kinds of milk, as well as additives not exclusive to the chain coffee shop but certainly popularized by it — like cold foam and sweet cream. Both of these two add-ins are popular, but on the surface, you may have trouble telling the difference between them. While they're similar, there are critical differences ranging from how they're made, when they're used in drinks, and what they taste like.

Cold foam is blended nonfat milk that tops your drink

Starbucks hardly invented foam as a coffee additive — that's been around since at least the early 20th century with the popularization of the modern cappuccino, per History of Coffee. Foam is more technically known as frothed milk, which is usually created by heating the milk to incredibly high temperatures and aerating it to create bubbles, or simply steaming it (via A Couple Cooks).

This is what makes cold foam unique: The milk is frothed without the introduction of heat. According to Starbucks Stories & News, cold foam is actually made by blending cold, nonfat milk, creating a velvety texture and flavor without actual cream. Unlike hot frothed milk, the science here relies on the lack of fat in skim milk. This is because, when blended, the fat in milk breaks down and the resulting, unstable foam quickly starts to merge with the drink, explains Science Meets Food. Because the more uniform, nonfat cold foam holds its shape better, it'll sit pretty on top of your beverage a lot longer.

Cold foam automatically comes with quite a few drinks, including the Cold Foam Cascara Cold Brew (and its Nitro Cold Brew counterpart) the product debuted with in 2018. It can also be added to just about any hot or cold drink, found under the toppings option in the Starbucks app.

Sweet cream is a smooth, vanilla-based add-in

One of the major distinguishing factors between Starbucks' cold foam and sweet cream is that the foam is specifically not a cream product (as we've seen, it wouldn't work as well if it were). Sweet cream, on the other hand, is just that, and while it's not something Starbucks invented, the chain does have its own formula.

Traditional sweet cream is similar to half-and-half, with a high fat content but no added sugar, according to Cocktail Party. Starbucks' sweet cream, however, is a vanilla-based, high-fat cream product with added sugars, imparting a sweet, syrupy flavor to your coffee drinks. Similar to cold foam, it was introduced with a cold brew product: 2016's Vanilla Sweet Cream Cold Brew, per Starbucks Stories & News. However, whereas cold foam is made of just nonfat milk, Starbucks' sweet cream is made of 2% milk, heavy whipping cream, and vanilla syrup (via Hey Joe Coffee). These ingredients are mixed into one solution, but it's not blended or frothed. You can find it in the add-ins section of the app and use it like a regular cream to augment your favorite eligible beverage.

So, while cold foam sits on top of your drink, sweet cream goes inside to add some sugary vanilla flavor and creamy goodness to your libation of choice. If you're in the mood to treat yourself, you could even order both with your next cold brew!