While Starbucks is a Seattle treasure, the coffee powerhouse has been beloved in Japan since it first set up shop 25 years ago. While at first they kept it simple, the chain soon took advantage of the Japanese obsession with seasonality and exclusivity.
Nowadays, it’s not unusual for Starbucks to release new latte and Frappuccino flavors twice a month (and quickly sell out everyday before lunch in highly populated areas). Not to mention, some flavors will only be available in certain regions, so some super fans will travel across the country in order to keep up with the latest releases.
With so many Japan-limited flavors, it was hard to narrow it down, but here are a few our favorites:
American Cherry Pie
Cherry pie isn’t a common sight in Japan, mostly because cherries are so expensive!
Don’t let the word “American” fool you! This cherry-licious creation is only available in Japan. The drink is made with a rich vanilla-flavored cream with added cherry compote, is topped with whipped cream, and covered in a crispy pie crust dome. Almost too cute to eat, this drink is inspired by the nostalgic treat of a freshly baked pie.
Even though you may assume Japan is the land of cherries, given their obsession with cherry blossoms, actually, they’re not so common. You see, over many generations, cherry blossom trees were crossbred to produce beautiful blossoms. The cherries they do produce are pretty small and too sour for people to eat.
This means fruit-bearing cherry trees are actually pretty rare, and buying a bunch of cherries at the supermarket will cost you an arm and a leg, and that’s only if they’re in season. All the more reason to drink up (munch into?) this pie-inspired Frappuccino.
Sakura Blossom Cream
Every season, Starbucks Japan releases a new collection of cherry blossom themed merch
As we said, Japan goes crazy for sakura every year, and most companies join right into the frenzy. Starbucks has developed a reputation for really going all out during the season with sakura-themed drinkware collections, and of course, their sakura latte and Frappuccino, which are different every single year. While it was hard to pick a favorite, we had to go with the Sakura Blossom Cream Frappuccino.
What makes this drink so special? Besides being cherry blossom flavored, this is the first time Starbucks ever released a drink featuring rice crackers (senbei in Japanese). The creamy drink base is infused with cherry blossom flavor, with pink roasted rice cracker beads interspersed in the Frappuccino or topped onto the latte. Complimenting the slightly tart flavor is maple-flavored whipped cream, pink white chocolate “petal” shavings, and even more rice cracker beads for good measure. The contrast between the frothy drink and the crunchy senbei making surprise appearances is just perfection. Plus the fact that this dream is so darn pretty, we have to give it an A+.
Just like Starbucks Japan's creations, there's no end to the interesting flavors available year-round in a TokyoTreat Japanese snack box!
Goma Goma Goma
Black sesame is a popular choice in Kansai (Western Japan)
Bit of a divisive flavor here, but we had to give a shoutout to Kansai (Kyoto and Osaka) with this black sesame Frappuccino. The nutty, roasted flavor is an absolute favorite in the region and shows up as an option for pretty much every traditional and modern dessert (including ice cream!).
The frappucino is a milk/cream base infused with sesame flavoring and with added sesame syrup to create a beautiful white and black design before it is topped with whipped cream and sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds.
This drink is interesting for two reasons. First, the word goma, sesame in Japanese, is used three times because the drink uses three kinds of sesame seeds (white, brown, and black). It was also released at the end of the year to coincide with the tradition of kakizome. This custom takes place on January 2nd and, in the past, people would make their own ink, face that year’s lucky direction, and write a poem about their hopes and dreams. Nowadays, even though pen and paper are more commonly used, the homage to calligraphy with the black sesame syrup mixed into the white Frappuccino was appreciated by Japanese patrons.
Purin à la Mode
Pudding à la mode is a retro dessert that was popular in the 1960’s - 1980’s
Onto another Japanese classic: Purin à la Mode (purin means pudding in Japanese). The nostalgic dessert took off in the 1960’s, with the rise of cafe culture in metropolises across the country. It is a combination of steamed custard, with whipped cream, and glazed fruits.
Back in 2019, to celebrate the end of Heisei (the reign of the former Japanese Emperor, who stepped down) and the start of the new era of Reiwa, Starbucks created a limited-edition latte and Frappuccino. It was composed of a custard base, flavored with mango, strawberry and apple, a rich caramel syrup, whipped cream topping, and a finishing touch of maraschino cherries. Simple, sweet, and retro.
Crispy Sweet Potato
Roasted sweet potato is considered a sweet treat in Japan
Finally, we had to end with the crowd-pleasing Japanese fall flavor of roasted sweet potato. While there aren’t many individual vegetable vendors left in big cities like Tokyo and Osaka, somehow, roasted sweet potato trucks still make the rounds, especially when temperatures start to dip. In fact, the spuds are so special, there is even a grading system to differentiate varieties based on texture, flavor, and sweetness.
This drink gets its name from the crispy kenpi (roasted sweet potato candy) that is both mixed into the sweet potato-infused drink, and that is added as a garnish onto the whipped cream topping. Similar to the flavor of sweet potato pie, it’s a perfect fusion of the caramel sweetness of the potatoes with warm, roasted after tones. An absolute must for keeping warm on a chilly afternoon.
You’re My Favorite! No, Wait, You’re My Favorite!
For foodies, the best thing about living in Japan is that there is ALWAYS something new to try. So even though these are some of our top picks, our new favorite might be just around the corner.
Have you tried any of these Japan-limited drinks? Or are there any you’d love to sample? Let us know in the comments below.