A little extra oomph in your cup Power-tripping: Now you don't have to survive just on caffeine. Starbucks stirs vitamins into its Power Frappuccino.

May 29, 1998|By Stacey Patton | Stacey Patton,SUN STAFF

Want some coffee?

Decaf or regular? Swiss Mocha or Columbia Narino Supremo? Cappuccino or frappuccino? Riboflavin or pantothenic acid?

Huh?

Coffee lingo and the array of flavors got confusing long ago. But now the Starbucks Coffee Company has complicated the decision even more with its Power Frappuccino. For an extra 50 cents, you can get the frosty drink in a fortified version filled with vitamins and other nutrients.

Coffee and vitamins? Vitamins in coffee? Healthy coffee? Is this some sort of oxymoron? Or is it a breakthrough?

Joanna Mack, assistant account executive for Starbucks, speaks the truth: This is just another Starbucks invention.

"Starbucks continues to look for innovative ways for people to enjoy their coffee," she said. "The Power Frappuccino is a drink made especially for people on the go, and it is also better prepared to meet their demanding lifestyles." Adding vitamins is "an expansion of the coffee experience."

Iced coffee was a big hit last summer. Sales nearly doubled after Starbucks introduced the frappuccino -- a mix of dark roasted Italian coffee, milk and sugar served chilled or poured over ice.

Like the frappuccino, the Power Frappuccino also comes in three flavors -- espresso, mocha and vanilla. But it is packed with 25 percent of the daily values of vitamins A, B, B12, C, D, and E, as well as calcium, niacin, thiamine, riboflavin, folate, biotin and pantothenic acid.

Jerry Thorpe, regional marketing manager for Starbucks, recognized the advantage of adding vitamins to coffee because people are so health conscious these days.

"Nutritional trends are sweeping across America," he said. "We saw adding nutrients to our drinks as a way to expand our line of frappuccino drinks."

So will customers be buying the Power Frappuccino because the Starbucks folks say it has power, or because it really does have power?

"I'm surprised at how well it's doing," Thorpe said of drink sales. "With the addition of vitamins, this makes a good thing even better."

But Mark Mchugh, a professor of chemical engineering at Johns Hopkins University chuckled when he heard Thorpe's comments.

"Sounds like a marketing gimmick," he said.

Mchugh, who is a specialist in decaffeinating coffee, says he drinks about 30 cups of regular coffee a week. He was perplexed at how something that is not necessarily good for you could be slightly amended and then marketed as something good for you.

"What's not apparent to me is whether caffeine has an effect on the other nutrients in the drink," he said.

Neither Starbucks nor nutritionists at Hopkins knew of any research on the interaction between caffeine and vitamins.

But Dr. Robert Horner, a lecturer on biology at Hopkins, noted that caffeine is poisonous if taken at an extremely high amount. He said "it is unlikely that caffeine blocks the absorption of vitamins and nutrients."

What do the "real" experts think -- the coffee drinkers?

Joseph McCarthy, 24, a roofer from Severna Park, stops at the Starbucks nestled in the Mount Washington Shopping Center to buy a vendi-sized (there's that coffee lingo, again) Power Frappuccino.

"I think it's good that they put vitamins in the drink," he said while sipping on the thick, mocha-flavored mixture. "It tastes like a chocolate milk shake. I like it better than the regular frappuccino."

Chandi Banerjee, a physician from Lutherville, drinks decaffeinated coffee every morning before work.

"I'm just worried about the flavor of this new drink," she said before trying it for the first time."

She took a sip: The defining moment came.

She didn't seem to experience a sudden rush of energy. She didn't do flips. But her eyes widened.

"I like it," she said, nodding her head. "It tastes the same as the frappuccino. There's no vitamin aftertaste."

Pub Date: 5/29/98

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