Starbucks Undertow (Recipe and All that You Need to Know)

Every once in a while, customers make unusual orders that sometimes confuse the Starbucks baristas. Don’t get me wrong. Starbucks employees are highly trained but some drinks such as secret and TikTok beverages are rarely ordered and may be unfamiliar to them.

Starbucks undertow is a great example of a secret drink that your local barista may not be aware of. So, let’s break this specialty drink down and show you how to order undertow coffee like a pro.

Undertow Coffee

What is Starbucks Undertow?

Starbucks undertow is a layered, sweet coffee drink with a sweetened cold breve or milk at the bottom and a floating layer of hot espresso shots. Undertow coffee has a unique hot-cold and bitter-sweet sensation when it hits your mouth.

Jump to Recipe

You can customize Starbucks undertow by substituting breve with your choice of dairy or non-dairy milk and swapping espresso with ristretto for a sweeter finish.

Undertow coffee is also known as dirty coffee, John Wayne, or breve blast.

How Starbucks Makes Undertow Coffee

The undertow at Starbucks gets 1-2 pumps of vanilla syrup, breve, or milk and two shots of espresso/ristretto on the back of a cold spoon so that the espresso floats on the milk.

It comes in a short or tall cup and you drink it in one or two gulps for a quick pick-me-up experience.

How to Order Starbucks Undertow without Antagonizing the Baristas

Since undertow coffee is not on the Starbucks menu, most baristas may have never heard about this drink. As a rule of thumb, the best time to order a secret drink at Starbucks is when the store is not busy so that you don’t delay the queue while trying to explain your order.

To order undertow coffee at Starbucks,

  • start by asking for undertow coffee to check whether the barista knows the drink. If the barista does not know it, go to step two
  • and explain that you want two ounces of breve or milk with two pumps of vanilla and two espresso shots poured on the backside of a cold spoon. Insist that you do not want espresso to bleed into the milk.

You can not order Starbucks undertow coffee on the app as it is not on the menu.

How to Drink Undertow Coffee

Specialty coffee lovers appreciate that the secret to drinking Starbucks undertow is that you should taste the two layers simultaneously. Here is the best way to drink undertow coffee

  • Hold the cup in front of your mouth and tilt it to a 45 degrees angle with the cup’s rim touching your mouth. This way the warm espresso and the cold milk flow into your mouth together without mixing. So experience a warm and cold sensation in your mouth.

If the special undertow sensation is not to your fancy, simply mix the two layers and drink it in two gulps.

How to Make Starbucks Undertow Coffee at Home

Undertow coffee is a fairly simple drink to make when you have a coffee maker that makes espresso or espresso-style coffee.

Ingredients and Materials:

  • Two shots of espresso or ristretto
  • A sweetener such as sugar syrup or vanilla
  • Two ounces of cold milk or half and half
  • A cold spoon
  • A small cup


  • Add a splash (about two ounces) of cold milk or breve to a cup. If you have some homemade sweet cream, use it instead as it is similar to half and half and is already sweetened
  • Sweeten the milk with one tablespoon of vanilla or simple syrup and stir
  • Hold a cold spoon slightly above the milk with the backside facing up
  • Gently pour fresh espresso shots onto the spoon so that the espresso floats and does not sink into the milk. Enjoy your homemade undertow coffee.

Pro-Tip: Place a spoon in the chiller to cool it so that it does not heat up quickly when you pour the espresso on it to prevent burning your hands.

Undertow Coffee vs Caffe Breve

There are three main differences between Starbucks undertow coffee and Caffe Breve:

  • Undertow coffee is layered whereas cafe breve combines equal parts of breve and espresso.
  • Undertow coffee has a special hot and cold experience as it uses cold breve and hot espresso whereas cafe breve uses steamed breve and hot espresso
  • Undertow has a distinct bitter and sweet sensation due to the layers whereas cafe breve has a uniform taste.

What is Undertow Espresso?

Undertow espresso is simply a doppio or double ristretto shot which floats over a base of sweetened milk or breve to make undertow coffee. It is regular espresso that is poured using a special technique to float on milk or cream.

Some baristas prefer setting a cold spoon under the spouts of a portafilter so that the spoon breaks the speed of the espresso as it drops over cold sweetened milk. You need a spouted portafilter for this technique.

Another method is to pull the undertow espresso shots into a small cup and pour them from the cup over a spoon.

Quick Facts About Starbucks Undertow Coffee

Here are some quick facts that make undertow coffee a popular specialty drink.

  • It is a short layered drink of sweet cold milk/cream and espresso
  • Its distinct bitter and sweet layers deliver a unique sensation
  • When drank properly, undertow coffee has a hot and cold experience
  • Starbucks undertow is a secret drink so you may have to explain it to the barista when ordering
  • Undertow coffee has a unique espresso pouring technique to create the two layers
  • You drink undertow coffee by gulping it down in a special technique

Starbucks Undertow (Copycat Recipe)

Recipe by PatrickCourse: DrinksCuisine: American


Prep time


Cooking time





This is a simple copycat recipe for Starbucks undertow coffee that takes less than five minutes.


  • Two ounces of half and half

  • Double espresso

  • One tablespoon of vanilla syrup


  • Add half and half. Pour cold half and half into a cup
  • Sweeten. Add vanilla syrup and stir
  • Add espresso. Add the hot freshly made double espresso on the back of a spoon
  • Enjoy the drink


  • You can sweeten with a syrup of your choice including simple syrup
  • If you do not have breve, use cold milk


Patrick is first a coffee lover and then a trained barista. His bucket list includes sky diving and sipping on Java in the Himalayas.

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