The secrets behind Starbucks beverage innovations in Asia
How do you create inventive, beautiful and delicious beverages for people who love the new yet treasure the cultural culinary traditions of old?
It’s a question that Vanessa Chan, Ellis Ng and their teams consider every day as they brainstorm, test and perfect new beverage recipes designed especially for Starbucks discerning customers across Asia Pacific.
They’re constantly creating, always in pursuit of the next must-have beverage… created and served as only Starbucks can.
Today, they’ve agreed to sneak us an inside look at how their respective teams develop innovative beverages that are uniquely Starbucks across 14 diverse markets in the Asia Pacific* region.
Kate Tanquary interviews Vanessa Chan, senior manager, product, and Ellis Ng, senior manager, product development and innovation, Starbucks Asia Pacific.
Exploring new ways for customers to experience local flavors and traditions
Home to some of the world’s most diverse coffee and tea drinking cultures, Asia serves as a constant source of inspiration for Starbucks. This week it launched the 47 Jimoto Frappuccino® blended beverage series to mark Starbucks 25th anniversary in Japan. Thoughtfully created by local partners, each of the 47 beverages celebrate the communities across Japan’s 47 different prefectures, paying tribute to their unique cultures and tastes. For the Asia Pacific development teams, locally-relevant inspiration is just as important.
“Our creative process for creating seasonal beverages starts with the customer in mind. We create innovative experiences that excite our customers, providing a variety of choices so they can find the beverage that is right for them,” says Ellis, who leads product R&D for Starbucks Asia Pacific.
“Based on the unique Starbucks Experience we want to provide our customers, we work with our insights team and suppliers to identify unique ingredients from across the region that complement the flavor profiles of our coffees and teas.”
The team then takes a selection of beverage ideas to partners across Starbucks 14 markets in Asia Pacific to ensure they align with local nuances and customer preferences. Once a shortlist is narrowed down, it’s time to get creative: “By focusing on the latest trends, combined with high quality ingredients and a passion for craft, we’re able to develop beverages that delight our customers’ thirst for innovation,” says Vanessa.
Innovating the tea experience to suit evolving lifestyles
As you’d expect in a region with a deep appreciation for tea, creating innovative tea experiences that fit customers’ evolving lifestyles is an important focus for Starbucks in Asia.
“During the past 18 months our lifestyles have changed. Customers are increasingly exploring plant-based foods, and looking for the occasional light indulgence that makes their day as they navigate this new normal,” says Vanessa. “Expanding our tea platform to cater to a variety of routines is another way for us to surprise and delight our customers.”
From the soft mouthfeel of Azuki beans to the chewiness of jelly chunks, Asian beverages are defined as much by texture as they are by taste. Starbucks limited-time Tea-logy range and this summer’s Zen Cloud Oolong Tea beverages mix seasonal fruits with Teavana™ tea bases, using a variety of foam flavors and fruit jellies to create an interesting mouthfeel, making for the perfect seasonal refreshment.
“We continue to experiment with texture, having recently created an aromatic tea foam which is thicker than our cold brew foams. It’s the perfect light indulgence that elevates the tea experience,” shares Ellis.
Customers across Asia can enjoy its silky texture in beverages including Starbucks® Cocoa Golden Monkey and Starbucks® Triple Golden Monkey, serving as the perfect complement to the bold and fragrant Asian flavors of the new Teavana™ Golden Monkey Black Tea.
Starbucks also continues to expand its use of plant-based ingredients across its tea range. By using plant-based milks such as oat milk to premium Teavana™ tea bases, the team has created a fresh take on Asia’s much-loved milk tea beverage, catered to customers’ lifestyle preferences.
Infusing beloved flavors with a fresh twist
In Asia, holiday celebrations are unique from one community to the next, presenting a creative challenge for the product team. “For our customers in Asia, sharing food with family is what makes festive celebrations so special,” says Ellis, as he talks about the creative process behind Starbucks much-loved Holiday beverages.
“The idea of sharing a warm apple pie with our loved ones inspired us to create our Jolly Baked Apple series. Pairing fruit with coffee sounds like an unexpected combination, but we created a caramel-like baked apple flavor that complements coffee, while evoking that feeling of sharing your favourite holiday pie with friends and family.”
From festive traditions to the art of tea, Asia Pacific was also one of Starbucks first regions to launch Starbucks Pure Matcha globally. Using high-quality pure Japanese matcha tea powder gives the team flexibility to adjust the flavor, sweetness and intensity of its seasonal matcha beverages. This year, the result was the Pistachio Pure Matcha Latte, an earthy twist on customers’ favorite Matcha Green Tea Latte.
The team frequently looks to local innovation across the wider region for examples of how Starbucks is creating new beverage experiences, and customers are increasingly seeking out local ingredients and flavors. Baristas in Ibaraki, Japan, created the IBARAKI Melon Igappe Creamy Frappuccino® Blended Cream to celebrate the area’s most popular fruit. Elsewhere in Asia, Starbucks Coffee Korea invited customers to celebrate strawberry season with limited-time beverages featuring premium local Seolhyang strawberries.
“Our farmers and suppliers are a constant source of inspiration, as they have their fingers on the pulse of the specific ingredients and flavors that resonate with our local audiences,” Ellis shares.
Taking innovation to the next level
Asia Pacific continues to lead tea innovation for Starbucks globally, and the region continues to debut new flavors and iconic beverage collections, such as the Cherry Blossom series, which are born in Asia but go on to become loved by customers around the world.
Beyond its stores, Starbucks provides customers with locally-relevant ways to enjoy their favorite beverages in channels outside retail stores. Customers in Japan can brew their own hot and iced coffee at home using single-serve origami filters, developed first for the local market. And for those on the go, Starbucks also developed a series of seasonal Chilled Cup beverages, available across convenience stores in select markets across Asia.
Looking toward the future, Asia’s dynamic culture and rich traditions inspire Vanessa and Ellis to imagine new ways to perfect the Starbucks Experience for customers.
“For us, Asia is like the perfect mood board. It has rich coffee origins, a huge tea culture and diverse cuisines – all underpinned by a desire for the new. This helps us create breakthrough beverages that are unique to the region, delivered in a way only Starbucks can,” they add.
*Starbucks Asia Pacific comprises of 14 markets, excluding China and Japan.