Make Starbucks Iced Toasted Vanilla Oatmilk Shaken Espresso at Home

When Starbucks ’ new iced toasted vanilla oat milk shaken espresso debuted, I was one of the first people to try it. On the day it launched, I drove to my local Starbucks location in the Bay Area, picked one up, and shared my review.

In essence, I felt like the drink had a good and refreshing flavor profile (and the vegan element is cool) but that the toasted vanilla flavor felt a bit flat—more like a subtle vanilla overtone than something powerful enough to merge nicely with the inherent toastiness of the oat milk. I got the drink a few more times over the next several weeks, and a few of the ones I got had a better flavor profile than the first one. 

Based on my experiences tasting the iced toasted vanilla oat milk shaken espresso, I decided to see if I could reverse engineer the drink, developing my own recipe for a version I could make at home. It felt like a cool challenge, a way to save some money, and also a way to correct the things about the drink that didn’t work for me.

Here’s my recipe for making the Starbucks Toasted Vanilla Oatmilk Shaken Espresso at home.

Making Toasted Vanilla Syrup

If they haven’t done so already, Starbucks will probably launch a home version of the Toasted Vanilla syrup they use in the drink. I could have waited and tried to buy that, but instead, I decided to make my own. I felt like it was more in line with the spirit of duplicating the drink at home, and it would also allow me to create my own version with a more full-bodied vanilla flavor.

To make homemade toasted vanilla syrup, I started by mixing half a cup of cane sugar with about 1.5 teaspoons of real vanilla extract. It was important to me to use the real extract to get the true vanilla flavor instead of an imitation flavor. (Starbucks just says theirs uses “natural flavors” so it’s not possible to tell if it uses real vanilla extract or not.)

Looking at the ingredient list for the drink at Starbucks, I saw that their syrup uses real cane sugar, not corn syrup. That’s great and also confirmed my choice to use real cane sugar in my own copycat drink.

After thoroughly mixing the vanilla extract and cane sugar, I heated a skillet to very high heat with nothing in it. My goal was to create a very hot surface I could use to toast the vanilla sugar, creating the “toasted” flavor for the syrup. I poured in the vanilla sugar and immediately started moving it around the hot pan with a spatula.

The goal here is to create a sugar with a toasty flavor, but not to burn or caramelize it. I kept the sugar in constant motion for about 2 minutes as it browned lightly. As soon as a bit of the sugar started to melt, I took it off the heat. It smelled divine—like vanilla-flavored cotton candy!

I then set about turning it into a syrup. I mixed the mixture with half a cup of water in a small saucepan, heating and stirring it to make a simple syrup (simple syrup has a 1:1 sugar to water ratio.) I kept stirring for about 5 minutes until all the toasted vanilla sugar was dissolved and the liquid was clear. 

I tried a bit of the resulting homemade toasted vanilla syrup. It was awesome—sweet and with a strong vanilla flavor. Yes, it’s a lot of work to make the syrup yourself.  But you get a super clean and strong toasted vanilla flavor for your drink. And you can also use the extra syrup in other dishes. It’s definitely worth it.

Brewing Espresso

A shaken espresso drink isn’t complete without the espresso! To stay as true to Starbucks ’ version as possible, I took a look at the recipe Starbucks lists when you order the drink in their app. It calls for three shots of Blonde espresso for a Grande.

Blonde is a unique, lighter espresso roast. Luckily, Starbucks makes it for Nespresso machines as part of their Starbucks at Home program. That allowed me to duplicate the Blonde Espresso exactly. Using Blonde Nespresso pods from Starbucks (purchased on Amazon), I brewed three shots. Of course, you could always use fewer if you wanted a less coffee-forward drink.

Building the Drink

With the basic components in place, I set about building the drink. The signature element of a shaken espresso is that it’s shaken to introduce air into the drink, bring out the flavors in the ingredients, and cool the drink down with minimal dilution.

To accomplish this, I poured the espresso over ice cubes in an OXO Good Grips cocktail shaker. I then added my homemade toasted vanilla syrup. The recipe in the Starbucks app calls for 4 pumps of toasted vanilla syrup. That’s about 1.5 tablespoons. I added those into the cocktail shaker.

Finally, I added in the oat milk. I used Oatly unflavored oat milk. It’s toasty, delicious, creamy and 100% vegan, preserving the iced toasted vanilla oat milk shaken espresso’s vegan character. 

For lattes and other similar drinks at Starbucks, a Grande use about 12 ounces of milk. That felt like too much for the shaken espresso, which in my tastings had a more coffee-centric flavor. I decided to add in 8 ounces of oat milk instead. I capped the cocktail shaker and shook it vigorously and then strained the resulting drink into a tall glass with fresh ice.

The Results and Tasting My Drink

Then it was time for the moment of truth—tasting my duplicate drink! I took my first sip. It was fantastic. The at-home version still captured the strong and deep coffee flavor of the Blonde espresso, which is powerful but not bitter. It picked up the drink’s refreshing vanilla notes, too, and the shaking with air seemed to really bring out those flavors.

In my at-home version, though, the toasted vanilla felt like it has a deeper flavor profile, with more toasty, caramel, and butterscotch notes than the drinks I tried in-store. That’s probably because I made the syrup myself and thus ensured deep toasting of the sugar, right up to the threshold of caramelization. That made the flavor meld better with the inherent toastiness of the oat milk, giving it a stronger flavor base despite still being vegan.

Although I liked my vanilla flavor better, my drink was sweeter than the OG version. It’s possible that Starbucks uses less sugar in their syrup than I did, which might lend a less sweet flavor overall. Personally, I like sweet drinks. But for a perfect replica of the drink, I might dial back the amount of syrup I add a bit.

Making the iced toasted vanilla oatmilk shaken espresso at home also gave me some insights into how I’d order the drink at Starbucks going forward. I liked the caramel notes that toasting my sugar added. I might ask the barista to supplement the drink with a pump of caramel syrup when I order it again, to add that same caramel undertone into the drink.

Making this drink at home also made me think that all iced espressos should be shaken! It’s a simple step that adds a ton of body and flavor to your drink, as well as cooling it without the need for a bunch of melting ice. I’d definitely try shaking both vegan drinks and those with cow’s milk going forward.

I definitely plan to keep ordering the iced toasted vanilla oat milk shaken espresso at Starbucks, and I look forward to continuing to make my own versions at home, too.

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Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith is a food and travel photographer and writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His photographic work routinely appears in publications including Food and Wine, Conde Nast Traveler, and the New York Times and his writing appears in IEEE Spectrum, SFGate, the Bold Italic and more. Smith holds a degree in Cognitive Science (Neuroscience) and Anthropology from the Johns Hopkins University.

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