And it’s not a one-off fad—coffee giant Starbucks is betting on it with a pilot program (dubbed as “Oleato”) of olive oil–infused coffee drinks in Italy, a country with a rich history of coffee bars that had resisted chains like Starbucks until 2018: If it can make it in Italy, it can make it anywhere. (Editor's note: As of March 27, 2023 Oleato is now available in select Starbucks stores in Seattle, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York.)
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What Is Oleato?
Oleato™ is the line of extra-virgin olive oil–infused coffee drinks with which Starbucks is hoping to capture consumers’ attention, to mixed reviews. Touted as a “transformational idea” by the company, it’s reported that interim CEO Howard Schultz came up with this infusion on a visit to Italy last summer.
I turned to a seasoned industry friend—Juliana LaVita, café supervisor at Blank Street Coffee in Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood—to make sense of what the hype is about.
So, do you just pour olive oil into your coffee? Not exactly. There are multiple ways to incorporate olive oil, “ranging from a sweet foam addition on top of cold brew to steamed milk in lattes with olive oil incorporated,” says LaVita.
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How to Make Olive Oil Coffee at Home
LaVita suggests starting with something as simple as a cafe au lait by making drip coffee and topping it with hot milk frothed with the addition of a tablespoon of a good extra-virgin olive oil. It’s optional to then add the “slightest touch of brown sugar or sweetener to taste,” LaVita says. But it “can also be enjoyed straight up," she adds.
She also recommends using an automatic whisk (or a standalone milk frother) if you don’t have a steam wand at home to froth milk but be sure to steam the milk before whisking. My colleague, Senior Science Research Editor Paul Adams, agrees. “The heat will make the milk protein hold onto fatty foam,” he says. If you’re using cold cow’s milk, Adams suggests adding a stabilizer or emulsifier, such as a small amount of liquid lecithin, can help.
For espresso drinkers, simply top your shot off with the same milk foam to make a cortado, latte, flat white, or cappuccino, depending on how much milk you use. LaVita recommends 1 tablespoon of olive oil for every 8 ounces of milk to start.
The Best Extra-Virgin Olive OilThere have been lots of changes in the olive oil world since we last tested supermarket olive oil—our previous winner swapped its source due to shortages, some brands have addressed quality in a new way, and a new trend of robust oils has hit the shelves. We’ll help you navigate the supermarket aisles.
What Does Olive Oil Coffee Taste Like?
“The addition of extra-virgin olive oil imparts both a silky texture to the drink, while also adding the slightest hint of nuttiness and almost buttery taste to the latte,” LaVita says. She was impressed with the result after making an olive oil latte for herself. “It’s not sweet per se, but it also curbs any bitterness from the espresso, providing a rounded quality to the overall drink,” she adds. She also notes that her friends in the industry are pleasantly surprised by how interesting it is and gave positive feedback after having tried it.
Adams doesn’t feel quite so optimistic about the foam’s application in coffee. “It tastes like a savory cream soup, which is delicious on its own,” he says, “but it doesn’t go well with coffee—it tastes like an espresso bisque.”
When I made myself a cup, I wasn’t sold after the first sip. I thought the presence of the olive oil lent the coffee a distinctively herbaceous aftertaste. But a couple of sips later, I started to warm up to the tinge of grassy flavors and the butter-like rich body.
Will I try it again if the mood is right? Sure!
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What Kind of Olive Oil Should You Use to Make Olive Oil Coffee?
LaVita says she’d consider mild olive oils that she’d use for baking an olive oil cake, which “could round out the bitterness of the espresso to provide a silky, slightly nutty taste.” (If you’re still indecisive about which olive oil to pick, we’ve reviewed both supermarket extra-virgin olive oil and the premium version with tasting notes for your reference.)