The Evolution of Frappuccino: The Story Behind Starbucks’ Booming Blended Coffee Drink

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Updated on February 4, 2024

Reviewed by Nouran Ashraf

Among Starbucks’ large variety of hot and cold beverages that are supposedly there to give you a little treat but end up, well, sometimes, confusing you, there on the menu screen resides the Frappuccino section, that parallel universe where everything is delightful and soothing.

Frappuccino looks so yummy and tastes great, sweet, and refreshing with a bit of coffee and a treat of heavenly whipped cream topped with spirals of golden caramel brulée.

Drinking a Frappuccino is a delightful experience. Besides the incredible deliciousness that makes your taste buds dance and the energy booster that can ameliorate your day, you do feel quite uplifted, amused by the luxury you bought along with the drink, emphasised by the drink’s fancy foreign name that makes you sound smart when you pronounce it and that little self-esteem uprising when you see your name written on the cup.

Frappuccino is a true revolution that lifted Starbucks to a whole new position in the coffee-making industry. In 2012 alone, its sales hit two billion dollars! Currently, it has around 36,000 varieties being sold in over 35,000 Starbucks stores in 80 countries!

So, what is the story behind that incredible drink?

Well, let’s find out.

depositphotos 144060381 stock photo iced caramel latte coffee in

Inventing Frappuccino

Frappuccino is a Starbucks trademark introduced to the market in 1995 and is now served in all Starbucks stores worldwide. That said, Starbucks did not actually invent it, but they, instead, bought it and started producing it under their name.


The story of inventing Frappuccino typically goes like that: George Howell, an American businessman and the founder of a coffeehouse chain called the Coffee Connection, had the idea to create a sweet frozen drink that blends ice cream and coffee in a way that imitates the Sicilian dessert cappuccino granita—that is a flavoured iced dessert where ice is blended with flavours and heavy cream.

And so, he did it.

Howell’s marketing manager, Andrew Frank, was the one who came up with that distinct name. Basically, Frappuccino is a combination of frappé, which means frozen or iced, and cappuccino since the new drink as well as the cappuccino granita both contain coffee. 

That said, frappé is, in fact, a Greek iced coffee beverage prepared by blending coffee, sugar, water, and milk. In some parts of the US, frappé refers to a milkshake made by blending milk and ice cream with different flavours.

Hello, I am Starbucks!

In the summer of 1993, the Starbucks Los Angeles store started experimenting with a cold blended coffee drink. Inspired by other coffee shops in the area, they wanted to provide a quick refreshing beverage to help customers bear the hot Los Angeles summer. 

So, they came up with a few iced coffee varieties; apparently, some customers were happy with them.

In the following year, 1994, Starbucks bought the Coffee Connection chain and therefore became the new owner of the Frappuccino trademark. They used the name for their newly developed blended cold coffee drinks. Then, they played with their recipe a little bit, mainly providing two flavours, coffee and mocha, and introduced their new invention to their stores in the US and Canada.

Once Frappuccino was out there, it boomed, selling 200,000 drinks in the first week, double what the sales managers had hoped for. In the second week, 400,000 drinks were sold, followed by another 800,000 in the third week.

The Evolution of Frappuccino

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The huge success of Frappuccino encouraged more innovation. In 1996, Starbucks introduced it as a bottled drink. Then came two new flavours, vanilla and strawberry, along with coffee and mocha.

After that, Starbucks had this idea of adding whipped cream on top, attracting customers who were not necessarily coffee drinkers to try a drink that had much more to do with delight than just coffee.

Flexibility is Success

So, in 1999, the Caramel Frappuccino came into existence. It was simply an iced caramel-flavoured blended coffee drink topped with whipped cream and caramel spirals. The cup was covered with a domed lid and served with a green straw. And all of these were introduced for the first time.

Soon Starbucks made it more flexible by offering non-coffee drinkers a chance to try the heavenly drink. So, they removed coffee from the equation, replaced it with cream, and introduced their new beverage under the name Frappuccino Blended Crème. 

Then they introduced Frappuccino Light which enables customers to lessen the amounts of any ingredients. In 2010, Starbucks accounted for all types of customers when they launched the However-you-want-it variety. For this type, customers get to design their own iced blended drink by choosing from an endless list of milk options, coffee types, flavouring syrups and sauces, toppings, and cup sizes.

Currently, Frappuccino is served in all Starbucks domestic and overseas stores. The flexibility of the drink, the openness of Starbucks management, and the ongoing innovation allowed the creation of 36,000 types of Frappuccino now sold worldwide.

All of these combinations are basically However-you-want-it, for exotically creative things pop up when there are no rules.

depositphotos 115444802 stock photo cold drink chocolate frappuccino

Local Varieties

Interestingly, many of these ‘creative’ types are indigenous to specific regions and cultures. For instance, the Red Bean Green Tea Frappuccino is very popular in Asia. Instead of coffee, this type blends green tea with ice and tops it with sweetened red beans.

Greece has also developed their very own combination, the Yoghurt Frappuccino, which is only available there. They blend the famous Greek yoghurt with ice and flavour it with honey, strawberries, or bananas.

The Argentinian Frappuccino blends the country’s distinct ice cream sauce Dulce de Leche with ice, milk, chocolate chips, and coffee. It is served topped with whipped cream and caramel sauce spirals.

Though frozen blended coffee drinks are currently served in most coffee shops, the name Frappuccino is a Starbucks trademark and, therefore, cannot be used elsewhere. So, you will find the same drink in other stores but under the name frappé.

Iced Coffee Versus Frappuccino

Now that we know what Frappuccino is, many may wonder about the difference between it and iced coffee.

Well, it is just the way both are made that makes them different.

We know that a coffee drink is simply obtained by brewing ground coffee, which can be done in either of four ways: boiling, steeping, dripping or pressurising. Espresso is made by pressurising ground coffee and is considered an independent type of coffee compared to all the other coffee types made by different brewing methods.

Now all Italian coffees are espresso-based and typically served hot. When the idea of making iced coffee popped, all the other ingredients were mixed cold, except for the espresso, and poured over ice cubes.

So technically, every iced coffee is just coffee poured over ice. That said, Frappuccino does not use coffee cubes but instead blends them with coffee, resulting in a thick drink.

depositphotos 172524026 stock photo a glass of cold chocolate

Starbucks Common Frappuccino

Starbucks offers 33 different types on their official website, classified into Coffee Frappuccino, those with a coffee base, and the coffee-free Crème Frappuccino.

All types are blended with milk and flavours, topped with whipped cream, sparkled with spices or chocolate curls, or spiralled with syrups and sauces. They use either brewed coffee, instant coffee, or no coffee at all. The milk options also include whole milk, oat milk, or almond milk.

The Coffee Frappuccino has 17 different types, while the Crème Frappuccino offers 16 varieties. Interestingly, many of these types are not limited to only one flavour. For instance, there is the Peppermint Mocha Frappuccino which uses a combination of peppermint syrup and mocha sauce blended with milk and coffee and is indeed topped with whipped cream and drizzled with chocolate curls.

The flavours range between peppermint, pumpkin, apple crisp, mocha, white chocolate mocha, caramel brulée, chestnut praline (a caramelised chestnut syrup), chocolate or sugar cookies, toasted white chocolate, vanilla, and caramel. Starbucks also serves a Java Chip Frappuccino. Java chips are just the same as regular chocolate chips, yet, they have less cocoa and melt quickly.

The Crème-based Frappuccinos use the exact same flavours minus the espresso shots. In addition, they offer extra flavours that include Chai (tea with milk), strawberry, matcha (powdered green tea leaves), and vanilla.

And So…

That was the story behind and the innovation of Frappuccino, one of Starbucks’s most famous and successful drinks, the refreshing treat that has revolutionised the iced coffee industry.

In this article, we learnt how Frappuccino came into existence and how it eventually became a Starbucks trademark after the company bought the Coffee Connection, the American coffee house chain where Frappuccino was born.

The first Starbucks Frappuccino was a huge success, encouraging more innovation in the iced coffee drink. From adding different flavours and whipped cream on top and serving the heavy drink in a plastic cup covered with a domed lid, Frappuccino has now become one of the most consumed iced coffee drinks.

Nowadays, after over 25 years of being in the market, it is served in all Starbucks stores around the world with 36,000 different types, many of which are very culturally distinct from where they are served. 

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