Beverage innovation is plentiful in the specialty coffee sector. Whether it’s using new brewing methods or adding unique ingredients, more and more coffee shops are creating specially-crafted drinks to stand out.
One of the most recent examples is olive oil coffee, made popular by Starbucks earlier this year. In February 2023, the chain launched its new Oleato beverage line. The range of hot and cold coffee drinks are infused with Partanna extra virgin olive oil.
Many high-quality olive oils have delicate and unique flavours, which are often similar to and can complement tasting notes in specialty coffee. Moreover, adding olive oil can even enhance the texture of a beverage. But this needs to be done carefully and intentionally to achieve the best results.
So, is olive oil coffee simply a passing trend, or does it have a place in specialty coffee shops? To find out, I spoke to Morgan Eckroth, 2022 US Barista Champion and coffee content creator, and Rohan Cooke, owner of Golden Brown Coffee. Read on for more of their insight.
You may also like our article on the pistachio latte.
What is olive oil coffee?
Before we explore olive oil coffee, it’s important to understand the parallels between specialty coffee and high-quality olive oil.
First and foremost, both are major agricultural commodities which require careful and skilled production, harvesting, and post-harvesting practices. Additionally, both coffee and olive oil undergo strict quality control measures, as well as sensory assessments to identify aromas and flavours.
Like coffee, the quality (or grades) of olive oil can vary widely – ranging from olive-pomace oils to extra virgin olive oils. Furthermore, in terms of flavour, there are many similarities between specialty coffee and olive oil. For example, according to the International Olive Council, there are four main flavour profiles:
- Intense green fruitiness
- Medium green fruitiness
- Mild green fruitiness
- Ripe fruitiness
Despite the comparisons, adding olive oil to coffee is a relatively new concept. However, other similar drinks – most notably butter coffee – have been popular for some time now.
Olive oil has also long been a prominent ingredient in baked goods and other sweet foods in certain cultures, such as traditional Mediterranean cakes and ice cream.
Who invented the drink?
Starbucks was arguably the first coffee brand to successfully launch olive oil coffee beverages, which are all made with oat milk. The chain’s Oleato drinks – which include the Oleato Caffè Latte, Iced Shaken Espresso, and Golden Foam, as well as several signature Reserve beverages – are available in select stores in the US, UK, France, Italy, Japan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait.
Former CEO Howard Schultz was inspired to develop the Oleato beverage range following a trip to Sicily, where it’s customary to drink a spoonful of olive oil every day. After adding it to his coffee, Schultz stated: “it produced an unexpected, velvety, buttery flavour that enhanced the coffee and lingered beautifully on the palate”.
However, Starbucks wasn’t the first company to create olive oil coffee. Rohan explains that in 2022, Golden Brown Coffee developed a plant-based milk olive oil coffee drink.
“Olive oil is a source of fat, so we added it to a plant milk to mimic cow’s milk,” he says. “When we tried it, we were surprised to find that the drink tasted good – the milk was silkier and the flavour was brighter and more vibrant.
“Coffee and olive oil are a big part of Italian culture, so combining the two is going to get people’s attention – or even raise a few eyebrows,” he adds.
How to add olive oil to coffee drinks
Although you can add olive oil to both hot and cold coffee drinks, Rohan explains that you tend to get the best results when steaming milk with olive oil. This helps to emulsify the oil and the milk as much as possible so they don’t split.
Morgan agrees, saying: “I haven’t been able to taste all of the Oleato drinks, but when recreating them at home, I found the hot versions to be more enjoyable.
“With iced drinks – whether shaken or not – the olive oil tends to separate and form a layer on top of the drink,” they add.
To create the right balance of flavour and texture, it is recommended to add around a tablespoon of olive oil to your milk of choice. As whole cow’s milk has a high fat content, it’s best to use milks which contain less fat. These include skimmed cow’s milk or oat milk.
However, it’s essential to always use high-quality olive oil – otherwise the drink may taste rancid or bitter.
“Much like coffee, it’s all about the quality of ingredients,” Rohan says. “You need to use premium cold-pressed olive oil that tastes fresh and peppery.
“We tried using cheap, low-quality olive oil from a supermarket and it was very unpleasant,” he adds.
It’s also important to consider which kinds of coffee to combine with olive oil. Rohan says he prefers to use a bolder-tasting coffee to compete with the earthy, herbaceous flavours in olive oil.
“For instance, a medium roast espresso blend including a chocolate-forward Brazilian and a sweet Colombian coffee would work well,” he suggests.
Morgan also recommends using a medium roast, saying: “Any coffee that has a good body and is more chocolate-forward is a good place to start.
“However, I highly recommend experimenting with different coffees, too,” they add.
Just a fad – or a potential signature drink?
Over the years, specialty coffee has embraced many different flavour combinations and signature beverages. These include the espresso tonic and pumpkin spice latte. However, for now, it’s unsure whether the same can be said for olive oil coffee.
While high-quality olive oil can taste sweet, fruity, and herbaceous, most people only associate it with savoury cuisine. In line with this, it may take some time for olive oil coffee drinks to become more popular.
“I see it as more of a fad,” Morgan tells me. “From what I’ve seen online, reactions to the Oleato drinks have been mixed. I don’t see this trend progressing much further.
“However, I’m always intrigued by which beverage trends will catch on and become more widely accepted,” they add.
Rohan agrees, saying: “I think olive oil coffee is a fad that won’t last in the long term. It may pop up here and there as a signature beverage, but not as an everyday coffee drink.”
As of now, Starbucks has yet to report on how successful its Oleato drinks have been. But given that these drinks are still only available in select stores in a small number of countries, this could be a sign that sales remain relatively low.
Moreover, some people have even complained of experiencing stomach issues after drinking olive oil coffee. This could be because of the higher fat content of these drinks, as well as the fact that caffeine is a stimulant while olive oil is a relaxant, so consumption of both can lead to stomach cramps and pains in some cases.
Using olive oil at the World Barista Championship
Many competitors use unique and unusual ingredients at the World Barista Championship – especially during the signature beverage round. In the coming years, it’s possible we may see more baristas use olive oil in their routines.
“I haven’t seen olive oil added to beverages in many coffee shops, but it has been used as an ingredient in barista competitions,” Morgan explains. “For example, at the 2023 US Barista Championship final, Dakota Graff used a single origin olive oil in his signature beverage round.”
In his routine, Dakota explained he added 10g of olive oil to his signature drink to “balance the sweetness of the fruit-infused espresso, as well as the syrup”.
Ultimately, for now, Morgan believes that olive oil is something of a “novelty” ingredient.
“Its appeal is primarily because it’s a new ingredient being added to coffee,” they say. “After seeing infinite variations of different syrups and milks used to create signature drinks, olive oil is a more eye-catching option.”
There is certainly some interest in olive oil coffee. The unusual yet complementary flavours, along with creating a more smooth and silky texture, can be appealing to both baristas and consumers.
However, only time will tell just how popular olive oil coffee will become in the long term. For now, it seems as though many specialty coffee shops are passing on this trend.
Enjoyed this? Then read our article on whether specialty coffee will also see record cold coffee sales like big brands.
Photo credits: Morgan Eckroth
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