- Starbucks baristas say they've been asked to make strange blue drinks that aren't on the menu.
- Customers referred to them as the "tropical drink," "tropical refresher," and "forbidden refresher."
- The drinks are almost certainly based on a prank that surfaced on Facebook and TikTok.
- See more stories on Insider's business page.
Starbucks baristas have been mystified by requests to make bright blue drinks known as the "tropical drink," "tropical refresher," and "forbidden refresher."
The drinks have a few things in common, current and former baristas told Insider. One, they all appear to share the same blue hue. Two, they're not on the menu. Three, their color can't be achieved with any of the chain's usual ingredients.
And four, they're almost certainly based on a prank that surfaced on Facebook and TikTok.
Four current and former Starbucks workers told Insider that customers had asked them to make one of these three blue drinks. Some said customers had shown them TikTok videos of the drinks. Three others said that customers hadn't requested the drinks but that they'd heard about them through social media.
But what of the blue color?
Most Starbucks staff who'd come across the drinks speculated that the blue hue could only be achieved with Urnex, a cleaning fluid used on coffee-making equipment. A current barista in New York suggested the color might come from blue Gatorade.
A spokesperson for Starbucks said: "This is not a real drink and not available in our stores. We have rigorous food safety procedures in place of which use of a chemical in a beverage violates these standards. We are not aware of any incidents in which a customer was intentionally or unintentionally served one of these beverages."
Gary Ladewig, a former Starbucks barista in Illinois, described the blue drink as the "Urnex refresher." He told Insider that it originated in a Facebook group for Starbucks baristas that isn't affiliated with the company.
Ladewig said it was "just a joke that happened on one of the Starbucks Facebook pages" before getting leaked onto TikTok. No customer had asked him to make the drink, he added.
The prank blue drinks seem to poke fun at the craze of customers asking Starbucks baristas to recreate elaborate, customized beverages that appear on TikTok. Sometimes the drinks can't actually be made, and staff have to explain that they might be pranks, baristas said.
In one TikTok video purporting to promote the blue drink, a customer appears to arrive at a Starbucks drive-thru and ask for a "tropical refresher." After a jump cut, a Starbucks employee hands the customer a bright blue iced drink. After another jump cut, the customer shows the label, which indicates that the drink is a "Vt Strbry Acai Rfr."
In the space on the label that usually lists drink specifications and modifications, it simply says "Tropical Refresher." (Starbucks does sell a line of Refresher branded cold drinks, including a Strawberry Açai Refresher, but none of these drinks are blue.)
One TikTok user commented that they didn't think this was a real drink. The user speculated: "This is most likely Urnex (starbucks cleaning product) and water lmao."
Another user commented: "This doesn't exist. They trollin [sic] you. Don't be that person. Starbucks has no drink that is blue. 5 and half yr Starbucks partner here."
Insider obtained footage of a TikTok video that no longer appears online. In the video, a Starbucks worker shows off a bright blue drink and says: "Have y'all tried the new tropical refresher? It's blue."
A comment on the TikTok video says: "I remembered seeing a a [sic] picture of iced urnex which is also blue so after my shift I searched on tik tok 'tropical drink'. They wanted iced cleaner lol."
The footage was shared in a private Facebook group for current and former Starbucks baristas. One member of the group told Insider: "The posts in the Facebook group are just inside jokes among baristas, [none] of us are trying to promote these things to customers. I don't think that's necessarily true for the TikToks though."
Nat El-Hai, a former Starbucks barista in Beverly Hills, suggested that the fake blue tropical drink probably originated from a barista who posted it on TikTok as a joke. El-Hai told Insider that several customers had ordered what they called "the tropical drink" and said they'd come across it on TikTok.
One barista said that customers sometimes got "frustrated" when told that the "tropical drink" wasn't real. Some customers "accuse us of lying or withholding product from them," the barista said.
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