Why can’t Starbucks figure out what to charge for an iced matcha?

Josh Stein

(Flickr/Creative Commons)

If you go into Starbucks and order a cup of ice water with a dash of matcha powder, there’s a good chance they’ll ring it up for just 80 cents. But if you order an iced matcha green tea, your barista might charge you something more along the lines of $3.65. Why the 456 percent increase?

Starbucks seems to have been caught off guard by the surging popularity of matcha green tea, and the company has not yet gotten all its shops on the same page in terms of what to charge. Starbucks employees have taken to Reddit to voice their distaste at what they perceive as customers gaming the system by asking for matcha powder as an “add-on” rather than as a specialty tea. “I work at a liscenced store and we charge .79 per scoop of matcha because we have been getting 15–20 of these a day,” wrote one Starbucks employee. “People get legitimately angry that they have to pay more than .86 for there venti 5 scoop matcha water.”

But that hasn’t stopped some Starbucks locations from catching on and charging the matcha powder and water mix for what it really is: tea. As one guy wrote to us on Twitter:

@ItsaMatcha@Starbucks Seriously, I go in and its $.80, then go back to the same place in the same day and suddenly its $3.65! #trynapunkme
— Darnell Dialls (@whosdd) May 6, 2015

While it’s true that matcha is more expensive than regular tea — and for good reason, which we explain on our FAQ page — there’s not really a good reason to pay $3.65 for a single cup of iced matcha green tea. We sell matcha that’s of as good or better quality (and organic) at $19.95 for 4 ounces. That comes out to about 25 cents per cup. (Our main competitors are at least double that price.) It doesn’t need to be more than that. Obviously, Starbucks is able to mark up its products more than most beverage retailers for a variety of reasons — intense brand loyalty being one of them.

I’m guessing Starbucks is busy huddling at corporate headquarters to try to come up with a standard matcha strategy. That will almost certainly mean a significant increase in prices for matcha, especially as the tea’s popularity shows no sign of stopping. Personally, I haven’t tried Starbucks’ iced matcha yet, but I’ve heard a lot of people on Twitter saying it’s not very good. My advice? Try making yourself a cup at home and see how you feel.