Starbucks Undertow (Everything You Need to Know)

Every once in a while, customers make unique orders that, sometimes, throw the Starbucks baristas off. Don’t get me wrong: Starbucks partners are highly trained but some drinks such as secret and Tiktok beverages may be unfamiliar to them.

Starbucks undertow is one such 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 it.

What is Starbucks Undertow?

Starbucks undertow is a layered sweet coffee drink with a bottom layer of sweetened cold breve and a floating layer of hot espresso shots. It is also known as dirty coffee. You can customize Starbucks undertow by substituting breve with your choice of milk and swapping espresso with ristretto.

Other names for Starbucks undertow are John Wayne and breve blast.

Breve is another name for half and half.

How Starbucks Makes the Undertow

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 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. You get to 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
  • Your choice of cold milk or half and half
  • A cold spoon
  • A small cup


  • Add a splash (about two ounces) of cold milk to a cup
  • Sweeten the milk with vanilla 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 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 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.

Starbucks Undertow Coffee Quick Facts

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


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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