Spring in Japan means sakura season, and while we’re still a few weeks away from the first cherry blossoms, Starbucks has released its line of sakura drinks, food, and merchandise designs. We stopped into the Starbucks near Kyoto Station yesterday to try a few items, along with photos of the merchandise.
Worth noting is that this is hardly unique to Starbucks. The store shelves have become a veritable sea of pink, as Japan gears up to celebrate this change in seasons as winter is starting to give way (it was 70 degrees over the weekend!) to warmer weather and more vibrant scenery.
In Kyoto especially, the changing of the seasons is significant. Each season is clearly delineated, and further broken down into sub-seasons. In March, bright floral kimonos begin appearing, as do pastel-colored kanzashi (hair ornaments). The city is quiet now, but Kyoto’s historic Higashiyama District is preparing for Spring Hanatoro next week, which will usher in the peak of cherry blossom season.
Back to Starbucks, there’s a range of new food items on the seasonal menu. In addition to Matcha items that are not available in the United States, there are now a slew of seasonal foods and beverages. Let’s take a look at what we’ve tried…
First up is the Sakura Strawberry Pink Milk Latte, which is a richly sweet drink with the most pronounced flavor being those of strawberry. There is a definite floral tone to the drink thanks to the sakura leaf base and finely-chopped pieces of sakura leaf and sake lees, too.
This also gives the drink a rich flavor so it’s more than just unconstrained sweetness. I liked this a lot, but between its sweet flavor and richness, it’s not something I could do daily. Part of that’s probably my own “fault” as I can’t help but order everything in venti sizes.
Next, we move on to the foods. Of the two things available at the Starbucks we visited, by far our favorite was the Sakura Chiffon Cake.
This light and airy cake was perfect for a sakura flavor. It was sweet but mild, and not as over-the-top as the latte. We’ve learned that sakura flavors are really all over the place, but the subtle floral taste of this was more what I expect when it comes to sakura. We’ll definitely get this again.
Above is the Sakura Doughnut. This didn’t really taste like anything in particular. It had hints of berries and flowers, I guess, but if you told me it was boysenberry instead of sakura, I would’ve found that equally plausible. Not something we’ll get again.
The ‘flagship’ drink in the Starbucks Sakura lineup is the Sakura Strawberry Pink Mochi Frappuccino. Unfortunately, every Starbucks we’ve visited has been sold out of this drink.
This being Starbucks, there’s also a wide range of merchandise available for sakura season. I don’t ever buy any merchandise from Starbucks, so I have no context of pricing, but I had serious sticker shock when looking at pricing. The cheapest item was just over $10 (USD) with the most expensive products costing over $40!
Anyway, here’s a look at what they had–several items were already out of stock, so apparently the prices aren’t too unreasonable for Starbucks loyalists!
Since I doubt I’ll do another post on this topic, here’s a look at the products in the “Japan Geography Series – Our Daily Story” for Kyoto:
What we probably will do another post on is the topic of sakura foods in Japan, if only because I need an excuse to justify eating all those sweet treats. So, stay tuned for that.
Overall, we think it’s pretty cool that Starbucks gets into the spirit of each season with special drinks, foods, and merchandise throughout Japan. Obviously, this appeals to Starbucks enthusiasts traveling abroad and wanting to try different things, but it also appeals very much to Japanese locals. Western brands like Starbucks, McDonald’s, and KFC are incredibly popular in Japan, and have been localized in ways that offer interesting twists. While we wouldn’t necessary recommend allocating your limited vacation ‘stomach space’ for a full meal at any of these fast food chains, we do advocate popping into them to see regional differences, and maybe trying a snack or two.
If you’re planning a visit to the Japan that includes Kyoto, please check out my other posts about Japan. I also highly recommend the Lonely Planet Kyoto Guide to determine everything you should see and do while there.
What do you think of these sakura items at Starbucks in Japan? Have you visited Starbucks while traveling abroad? Did you notice any unique wrinkles to the experience? Any thoughts or tips of your own to add? Does visiting Starbucks in Japan interest you? Hearing your feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!