Review: Sparkd' Energy From Dunkin' Has A Buzz Of Caffeine But Not Much Flavor

Amid the everyday hustle, ducking into a coffee shop for that crucial midday boost is a reset ritual for many of us. These days, there are plenty of ways to do so without having to opt for traditional brewed coffee. Between Dutch Bros. Rebel energy drinks, Starbucks' Refreshers, and even Panera's Charged lemonade (if you dare), coffee chain menus across the country are offering rejuvenating flavors and rethought beverages. They're intended to deliver caffeine in a fresher format. Now, Dunkin' has joined the growing list of options with its Sparkd' Energy drink line. 

Here's the scoop: The Dunkin Sparkd' Energy drinks appear as an intriguing new way to enjoy a fruity, caffeinated drink. There's a buzz around this newest beverage. Seemingly a hybrid between an energy drink, sparkling water, and the fruity zing of Starbucks' Refreshers, the Sparkd' line had me intrigued enough to venture out of my coffee comfort zone.

This foray by Dunkin' brings the brand into somewhat uncharted territory with a beverage that's not quite like its usual lineup. It's clear the donut spot is aiming to shake things up. Whether this sparkle and hum hit or misses the mark depends on how much you're into the idea of caffeinated bubbles without the usual energy drink. Naturally, I had to give this a try. 

What are the Sparkd' Energy drinks?

The Sparkd' Energy line is effervescent, fruity-flavored beverages that Dunkin' markets as containing vitamins and minerals as well as a hit of caffeine. The mineral and vitamin blend includes B3, B6, and B12, as well as zinc and manganese. It also contains guarana.

Sparkd' comes as part of the Spring 2024 Dunkin' release. The beverage has been launched with two delectable options: customers can indulge in the Berry Burst flavor, a harmonious blend of raspberry and strawberry notes, or opt for the Peach Sunshine, a concoction that melds the tangy zest of late peaches with lychee.

The energy drinks stand out from the coffee-based beverages that are traditional at Dunkin'. The menu is already loaded with creamy, rich, or iced beverages, but Sparkd' drinks are fruit-forward, cold choices for those seeking an energizing sip without the earthiness of coffee or tea. Comparatively, Sparkd' Energy shares more in common with the growing segment of canned energy drinks.

Amplified by Dunkin's choice to use sparkling water, the flavor profiles of the two Sparkd' beverages — berry and summer fruit — create unique sensory experiences for the Dunkin' menu. These drinks are intended to be bubbly and effervescent, striking at a drink market that is clamoring for more options of fizzy water and added energy.

What's in them?

On my trip to Dunkin', I spoke with team members to learn a few of the ins and outs of how they make each Sparkd' Energy. The process is straightforward: Each drink starts with its unique flavored syrup, followed by a topping of chilled sparkling water. The syrup-to-water ratio is carefully outlined, with four pumps for a small, six for a medium, and a solid eight for those opting for a large.

Though the memo was mum on the type of sparkling water, while my order was being prepared, I noticed Dunkin' employees using Polaris Springs to add the fizz. Observation revealed an adamant direction: These drinks are stirred, not shaken. As a former barista, this rule makes perfect sense for a carbonated drink, unless you're in the mood for a mini explosion, of course.

Caffeine-wise, the numbers are pretty straightforward: 96 milligrams for a small, scaling up to 144 for a medium and topping off at 192 milligrams for a large. That stays consistent across the two options, ensuring you know exactly what caffeine kick you're signing up for, no matter the flavor. Even the smallest size has more caffeine than Red Bull, the popular energy drink brand. In addition to minerals, vitamins, and guarana, the beverages also include taurine, sugar (and stevia extract), and vegetable juice for color.

How much do they cost?

Pricing for Sparkd' Energy Drinks at Dunkin' is set at $4.99 for a small, $5.99 for a medium and $6.99 for a large. However, savvy customers can take advantage of coupons, offers, or rewards to reduce these prices even further. Interestingly, despite the price point, a promotional offer allows you to collect double the points when ordered through the Dunkin app — a fantastic opportunity to try more of this new energy drink once redeemed.

Released on February 21st, the drinks are a highlight of the Spring 2024 menu, yet it remains to be seen if they'll cement their place on the permanent menu or fade away with the season's change. The future of Sparkd' Energy Drinks likely hinges on how well customers receive them. So, if you find yourself enamored with this refreshing pick-me-up, make it a point to order it often. Your repeated order might just be the push needed to ensure these drinks become a Dunkin' staple.

Taste testing Berry Burst

Sampling the Berry Burst flavor, I expected a distinct mix of strawberry and raspberry. However, my experience leaned towards a muddled essence of mixed bush fruit, reminiscent of the generic medicinal taste often encountered in assorted fruit blends. Despite this, the crispness of the sparkling water made a notable appearance, lending a zest to the drink. Still, I found myself wishing Dunkin' had chosen to highlight a specific berry type for a more defined flavor profile.

Despite the flavor ambiguity, the visual appeal of the Berry Burst cannot be understated. Its rich, dark pink hue is strikingly vibrant, making it a photogenic choice that pops in pictures. This aesthetic appeal is further enhanced by the contrasting bright orange and pink straws, adding a playful and inviting touch to the overall presentation. I also noticed just how much ice is in this drink. The crew members virtually filled the cup to the brim with ice, so it was certainly a cold one, leading to a little less beverage for your money.

Taste testing Peach Sunshine

Diving into the Peach Sunshine is billed to blend peach with a hint of lychee, yet Dunkin's pitch of lychee flavor left me scratching my head. Honestly, the lychee was elusive, and I'm not convinced that these two fruits are naturally a match made in flavor heaven. The "Sunshine" part had me imagining a more straightforward peach and orange melody, which, in my opinion, would align closer with the drink's sunny feel. Between the two, Peach Sunshine took the lead as a favorite, and interestingly, it also won over another taste-tester who came along.

Some in our group hold particularly difficult-to-satisfy opinions about sparkling water. Yet Peach Sunshine earned a thumbs up, which spoke volumes about how Sparkd' could hold up to others who are picky about their fizz. It suggests that despite its unexpected mix, this drink manages to capture the essence of what makes a sparkling beverage enjoyable and may have the right fizz to charm even those with a similar palate.

Dunkin's Sparkd' Energy vs Starbucks Refreshers

Initially, finding a direct comparison for Dunkin's Sparkd' Energy Drinks within the realm of coffee chain offerings was a bit of a challenge. After all, a sparkling, mixable beverage isn't exactly commonplace in these settings, save for a few places. However, with a subtle categorization under the "Refreshing Sips" section of the menu, there's a nudge to compare these against the similarly-styled Starbucks' Refreshers.

I've always enjoyed the Starbucks Refreshers lineup with evolving flavors and the blend of fruitiness, caffeine, and the almost juice-box-like experience they offer. However, if your palate favors the Starbucks' Refresher's experience, Dunkin's new energy drinks might not hit the mark for you. The distinctive sparkling character of Dunkin's offerings significantly influences taste and texture, setting them apart from the smoother, juice-like feel of Refreshers.

Moreover, when it comes to pricing, Starbucks Refreshers edge out as more wallet-friendly, even at the smallest size. A tall Refresher is priced around $4.45, a grande at $4.95, and a venti at $5.45. This price comparison, coupled with the different sensory experiences each beverage provides, suggests that while both aim to refresh and energize, they cater to distinctly different consumer preferences. If the effervescence of sparkling water isn't your cup of tea, you might find yourself leaning more towards the territory of Starbucks' Refreshers.

Verdict: are they worth a taste?

The key to determining if Dunkin's Sparkd' Energy Drinks are up your alley boils down to one critical preference: How do you feel about sparkling water? If you're a fan of flavored sparkling water, then chances are you're going to enjoy this line of drinks as a refreshing, flavorful, and novel way to perk up with a burst of caffeine. However, if sparkling water has never really been your thing and you gravitate towards straightforward coffee or juice for your liquid pick-me-ups, these drinks won't do it for you.

For me, these offerings just didn't meet expectations, and I likely won't be ordering them again. As a general rule, I enjoy energy drinks, often reaching for a can of Red Bull. Still, I stay away entirely from sparkling waters, and that's basically what these taste like. They don't pack the same intense flavor punch I look for in my drinks. This result was surprising, given the marketing behind Sparkd' Energy. The effervescence and uncertain flavors were different than the anticipated outcome.