Review: Starbucks' Oleato Coffee And Olive Oil Pairing Is More Gimmick Than Genius

Starbucks released Oleato coffee beverages on March 23 at select U.S. Reserve Roasteries (as in the coffee bars where you can obtain a buzz from signature coffee beans and booze from the chain's mixologists). Plus, exclusive Reserve branding in the form of black coffee cups adds to the feeling of exclusivity.

We made a visit to the Greenwich Lane location in the West Village of Manhattan to see if the latest caffeine drinks were simply genius or a gimmick. Heard of the fat-infused bulletproof coffee? Well, Starbucks entered the trend with its own healthy fats thanks to a partnership with Partanna extra virgin olive oil. The Oleato beverages are a line of hot and iced coffee drinks infused with olive oil — yes, the healthy and best if served fresh olive oil typically served in the U.S. with bread for dipping.

Is this a seemingly random combination? You bet. Are we intrigued? Absolutely. We give you a full review of the Starbucks Oleato coffees, so you know if it's worth updating your regular order.

Starbucks blends olive oil with arabica coffee

We thought that we had heard it all when it comes to unexpected additions to a cup of coffee, but Starbucks managed to surprise us with its latest iteration of arabica coffee blends taking inspiration from Italy. The brand says the inspiration for the drinks is a nod to the daily ritual of eating a spoonful of olive oil in certain regions of Italy. The country's affiliation with olive oil is ancient yet cultivation is mainly designated to areas south of Florence with Sciliy as a major hub of production.

The Oleato line consists of coffee drinks made with arabica coffee paired with cold pressed, extra virgin olive oil by Partanna. The brand uses Nocellara del Belice olives, also known as Castelvetrano green olives from the Sicilian town of Partanna. Castelvetrano olives are milder in flavor thanks to a lye-washing process.

Starbucks Oleato messaging says the company's interim CEO adopted the "uplifting ritual" of a daily spoonful of extra virgin olive oil after a trip to Sicily in 2022. The internet, however, is more contentious about whether people in Italy today actually drink oil for health or it's just fetishized along with the rest of the "Mediterranean Diet." While the Oleato origin story feels a bit like someone who spent a summer abroad and now won't stop wearing a beret, we do love our morning (and afternoon) ritual of coffee, so we're willing to give this style a try.

Availability of Oleato drinks

The Oleato line debuted in February 2023 at locations in Italy before crossing the Atlantic over to Southern California. The olive oil infusions will make their way to Japan, the Middle East, and the United Kingdom in a rollout throughout 2023. Not only will only select Starbucks Reserve Roasteries carry the line, but the availability of the five different beverages will vary based on the country and location. Stores in New York, Chicago, and Seattle's Pike Place Market received an early rollout, but drinks also became available in LA and across Seattle starting March 27.

Starbucks Oleato drinks in the U.S. include three core offerings: Caffè Latte, Iced Shaken Espresso (also called the Iced Cortado), and Golden Foam Cold Brew. The Starbucks Reserve in Greenwich Lane also offers the Oleato Golden Foam Espresso Martini, which debuted in Milan alongside an Oleato Deconstructed for espresso with passionfruit cold foam infused with olive oil; no word on if the deconstructed coffee will become available in the states. Our local roastery also offered an olive oil cake, which we couldn't resist.

Love the idea of making Oleato at home — or just want to try the olive oil without the caffeine? The Partanna extra virgin olive oil is also available for purchase in select stores.

Cost of the Oleato coffees

The price of the Starbucks Oleato drinks might be more or less surprising based on your familiarity with speciality coffees from the brand. We couldn't find any pricing listed online, but we did find one price list positioned on the Greenwich Lane Starbucks Reserve counter.

The Oleato Iced Shaken Espresso (listed as the iced cortado on the receipt and in signage) is $6. The only warm beverage, the Oleato Caffe Latte with oatmilk, comes to $6 to $7.50, depending on the size. The Oleato Golden Foam Cold Brew is also $6-$7.50 based on the size.  The Golden Foam Espresso Martini will cost $15 for the creamy, dessert beverage. We also ordered the olive cake (to balance out all the jitters), which is $8 per piece. So, these are some steep prices but some out-of-the-ordinary beverages.

The brand also offers a barista-led Oleato Tasting Experience to try the drinks under the guidance of a professional. The $60 Oleato tastings are available by reservation at Reserve Roasteries in Seattle and Chicago, as well as the Starbucks Reserve in the Empire State Building. Now, are the Oleato drinks worth the cost? We'll dig a little deeper.

Oleato Golden Foam Cold Brew

The Oleato Golden Foam Cold Brew is a dark cold brew topped with extra virgin olive oil-infused cold foam, which is designed to create a "subtle sweetness," according to the brand description. The cold foam hits with the sweetness up front but finishes with the strongest taste of olive oil out of all the drinks, which is a bit of a jarring juxtaposition of flavors. The nuttiness and thickness of the oil are a bit off-putting in comparison to the fluffy foam and cold brew.

We found the olive oil taste only gets weirder the more we sipped the sweet drink. Visually, the cold foam floating on the milky cold brew is quite attractive, so we could see this Starbucks coffee being a popular choice for the social media conscious.

We think the real issue with this drink is that the olive oil-infused cold foam means the earthy, viscous oil is the first thing you sip before the cold brew even has a chance to bring balance with its acidity and bitterness. Perhaps, if the foam was interpreted into the drink when it's served, it would be less overpowering. But, overall, it's just a no for us.

Oleato Caffè Latte with Oatmilk

We rejoice for the automatic inclusion of sustainable non-dairy milk in a latte, instead of having to opt for an up-charge on an already expensive coffee. The Oleato Caffé Latte with Oatmilk is a more straightforward choice: It's Starbucks blonde espresso roast with steamed oat milk that is blended with olive oil.

The slight nuttiness of the oat milk should complement the olive oil in theory, but the taste of the added fat is still quite strong. We find it easier to merge the flavors when it's blended into the drink, but there is the aftertaste that reads more like spoiled than elevated. This oil isn't a subtle inclusion.

The Oleato cafe latte with oatmilk is a marked improvement over the olive oil foam sitting on top of the drink: The blend is key. Be warned, if you leave the oat milk latte sitting for too long, you can expect a green layer of oil to rise to the top.

Oleato Iced Shaken Espresso

The Oleato Iced Shaken Espresso appears more like a cortado in size and it's milky in color; likely because it's officially named an iced cortado in Milan, but also all over the signage at the Greenwich Lane store. The espresso is sweetened and mixed with oat milk infused with olive oil. We like this version best thanks to the caramel notes, as well as the added melting ice to balance the taste of the oil olive. Instead of the nuttiness appearing as an afterthought that lingers on the tongue, all the elements merge into what we feel is a quite drinkable iced coffee.

To be fair, you have to like a sweeter coffee to enjoy this version, but it's much less saccharine than the golden foam. It's also a short drink, so don't expect to sip on this all morning. But, the ice in our drink didn't melt too quickly and dilute the overall flavor, at least not enough to notice.

We aren't thrilled with receiving a fully plastic cup since that's unlikely to degrade in a landfill in multiple lifetimes. Sure, we found the recycle option at the Greenwich Lane Starbucks Reserve, but seeing so many people take their drinks to-go in the container is a bit of a downer (the brand is developing sustainable packaging but only for paper cups). Is the olive oil still a surprise element every time we take a sip? You bet.

Oleato Golden Foam Espresso Martini

We've reached a lively zenith of the adult milkshake — without the ice cream headache. The gold foam, in our order, didn't overwhelm the trendy martini as it did with the cold brew. The taste of alcohol is present and welcomed when compared to some of the milkier pre-made options on the market. The espresso is strong without verging on bitter and the alcohol hits the back of the throat without souring the sip.

While Starbucks makes for a more dessert option, compared to the Via Carota bottled cocktails also released in 2023 (which we can't stop thinking about), we appreciate Starbucks' made-to-order option. We also noticed several people imbibing the vodka-based espresso martinis while at the Greenwich Lane location. Whether they added the olive oil, we can't say (at least one customer walked away with a double fist of Oleato espresso martinis before we left), but we found this addition to the Starbucks Reserve lineup to stand up to the pre-game weekend ritual. The taste of neutral olive oil at the end of the last sip was actually enjoyable this time around. Maybe it's just the alcohol talking; it's hard to say.

We also managed to dump a hefty swill of the drink before it even reached our lips due to the generous pour to the very rim. Thankfully, the cold foam made the ideal dipping sauce for the olive oil cake. Buen apetito!

Olive oil cake

The olive oil cake appears to be a seasonal addition to the menu to accompany the Oleato introduction. The circular cake is pretty moist and sweet with only a hint of the earthiness of olive oil. We detected quite a bit of lemon, which creates a balanced acidity to the simple cake. We also liked the addition of powdered sugar and pistachios on top for added texture.

For anyone looking for a mix of sweet with savory, this could hit the right notes. If you're worried it'll be too sweet (definitely toes the line), add the optional drizzle of olive oil on top. We decided to skip this step but can see how the topping might help avoid a saccharine taste. As classic croissant stans, the olive oil cake is a nice reprieve from the ordinary sweet-meets-savory options. Full disclosure, we did have trouble finishing it, but we suspect that we'll order another one of these cakes if the occasion presents itself.

Bulletproof versus Oleato

The bulletproof premise is that fats like MCT oil and butter in coffee will make the make coffee less acidic and could slow hunger cravings. Bulletproof elevated coffee as a meal replacement — but certainly didn't invent it — and most of the dubious science claims come from the debate of what foods can live under the umbrella term of "healthy."

Not all '90s trends are back, now that research has changed our collective embrace of "low-fat" lifestyles, namely with healthy fat options like olive oil and avocado. Ghee's use as a medicine is ancient and studies have shown the dairy-free fat is largely neutral or can even reduce triglycerides (but other studies claim the opposite for those predisposed to high cholesterol). But, not all professionals support the benefits of butter or ghee in your coffee because the oils contain saturated fat — but much less than a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich, so if you have high cholesterol, maybe skip both for breakfast.

All that said, we can't help but view Starbucks' Oleato approach as jumping on the caffeine-with-fat trend. Most health professionals (and Italians) will agree a drizzle of olive oil over a meal will more than suffice. If you already drink bulletproof coffee, then Oleato might be fine in a pinch. We expect, however, you won't replace your ghee with olive oil at home. Olive oil has too strong of a flavor compared to ghee or butter's creamy emulsion.

Is the Oleato worth it?

So, after tasting all the Oleato coffee drinks at Starbucks, would we recommend trying them? It depends. Are you a fan of bulletproof coffee, or are you interested to try these bold blends out of curiosity? Maybe you have some extra cash burning in your pocket? Then, yes, it's worth the taste test for the Oleato iced cortado, the gold foam martini, and, perhaps, the cafe latte with oatmilk. Skip the golden foam cold brew, though, or at least don't say we didn't warn you.

We feel this line of drinks is more for the headlines than the longevity on the menu. Still, we hope the olive oil cake stays on the menu for a while and that more people find a smoother transition into their morning jolt of caffeine thanks to the pairing of healthy fats.

Pro tip: Starbucks is currently offering samples of the three Oleato core beverages at the Greenwich Lane Reserve Roastery — but we imagine most of the select locations will offer free tastes to promote the new line. If you're interested in a quick taste, then stop over. The iced cortado (or iced shaken espresso, if the online messaging is to be believed) tasted even better in sample size thanks to the robust inclusion of an orange peel, which was either left out or drowned out in the full-size version.