Starbucks' Double-Dirty Grande Soy Chai Frappuccino

The Guilty Pleasure: (Double-) Dirty Grande Soy Chai Frappuccino The Place to Get It: Starbucks Coffee; countless locations Valleywide The Cost: $5 to $7, depending on how dirty you like it and how you pay What You'll Really Pay: 350 calories with whipped cream, 240 without. Counts more as dessert or siesta-time snack than beverage.

I need to start this Guilty Pleasure by saying I love the coffee culture that's developed in the Phoenix area. There are passionate artisans all over who roast beans and hone blends to create incredible coffee. But, as with bartenders who are equally proud of their craft (yours truly pleads the fifth), ordering a frozen drink is risky. If you're lucky, you'll just get a disdainful sneer as they fire up the blender. At many places, you'll get a pompous "We . . . don't do frozen drinks here," the subtext being "How dare you wish to sully my liquid gold!"

This, my friends, is where Starbucks comes to the rescue.

Arguably, Starbucks's signature drink is the Frappuccino. Under all that milk, sugar, and ice, good luck telling the difference between Starbucks' charred roast and a great local one.

Since Starbucks makes them almost constantly, you can order whatever frozen drink you like and the staff will whip it up for you with a cheerful smile, or at least minimal guff. The problem with the Frappuccinos (Frappuccini?) is that they're too sweet, more of a slushy candy bar than a coffee drink. My solution is simple: add espresso.

In my opinion, the best Frappuccino you can order is a Double-Dirty Grande Soy Chai Frappuccino. Everything comes together in perfect harmony. The size is right; the bigger Venti dilutes the espresso and chai. I like it double-dirty (with two shots of espresso) to counter the chai's intense sweetness. Be warned, I drink straight espresso and like it; most people will be happier with single-dirty. Then there's the soy. Usually, soy milk in coffee tastes funny. But with the chai Frappuccino, soy lets the intense flavors shine; dairy milk mutes everything.

A caveat on ordering: Starbucks brass calls this a "Two-shot Grande Soy Chai Frappuccino.. But on occasion, a staffer will get "shots" (espresso) and "pumps" (chai concentrate) backwards, and make a weak chai Frappuccino with zero espresso. If you tell 'em "double dirty" instead of "two-shot," you get what you want every time.

My one quibble is the price. Soy milk and two espresso shots adds more than two bucks to the base Frappuccino price, totaling almost $7 for just one drink. If you pay with a Starbucks card that's registered online, the soy substitution is gratis, bringing it down to six bucks and change. It's still crazy expensive for coffee, but it's also crazy-delicious. I'll call it a draw -- and an occasional splurge.

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