Now that the weather’s getting warmer, the cold drinks are returning to a prominant spot on Starbucks’s menu, like swallows returning to Capistrano. The most popular cold drinks are always the Frappuccinos, but what if you want something a little less overwhelmingly sugary? Fraps are often pointed out by diet websites as a terrible vortex of calories, even after the Lite versions came out. And it’s true — if you’re watching your intake of sugar or calories, the Frappuccino is often a less-than-ideal choice.

As part of their branching out into fruitier drinks, Starbucks released the Refreshers line. Originally it was just the Very Berry Hibiscus and Cool Lime Refreshers, but a year ago they brought out a third flavor — Valencia Orange.

Because I, like many people in their thirties, am trying to shed a few pounds I’ve gained from unhealthy eating, I picked up an orange Refresher to check it out. Note that the Refreshers are available in an instant VIA powder as well as a barista-forged drink; this review is of the drink as made at Starbucks itself, not the powder (which comes out similarly and is pretty decent too).

This drink is very, very orange-flavored. It’s not quite as strong as real orange juice but resides somewhere on the orangier side of the spectrum from OJ to Tang. The Starbucks website describes it as having flavors of jasmine, apricot, and cardamom. To be honest, none of these really stood out to me. The impression I mostly got was “pretty orange, plus something extra”. It’s quite good, in my opinion, but if you pick this up hoping it’s going to be as cardamom-y as, say, the Vanilla Spice Latte was, you’re going to be disappointed.

If you’re on a calorie budget, your best bet is always plain coffee or tea. If you’re thirsty, your best bet is water. But sometimes you really want something sweeter, and at 90 calories for a grande plus a buunch of vitamin C, the Valencia Orange Refresher isn’t a bad compromise. Despite looking like juice, this drink does have caffeine in it, from an extract of unroasted coffee beans. If you’re looking for a good wake-me-up drink that’s good news, but if you’re looking for something to sip in the evening you might want to get an iced passion tea or passion tea lemonade (ask for less sweetener to bring down the sugar).

Bullet-pointed summary:

  • What: Valencia Orange Refresher
  • Where: Starbucks
  • Options: None that I know of, other than size
  • Verdict: A tasty, fruity drink if you’re looking for something cold and less “heavy” than a Frappuccino