Review: Starbucks Reserve Brings The Heat With 2 New Limited Hot Honey Drinks

Hot honey sure feels like a summer product. Yet if you're lucky enough to live in one of the handful of cities offering Starbucks Reserve's new hot honey menu items? The season will be landing just a few days into springtime. Rather than wait until June, you can stroll over and grab your favorite Starbucks beverage with hot honey — or order one of two specialty hot honey drinks: the Hot Honey Espresso Martini and Hot Honey Affogato.

There's no firm end date for the hot honey menu's availability (beyond lasting through the summer or while supplies last). But it's unlikely to remain available for a substantial period after its March 26 launch. Thankfully, the promise of spicy coffee should be enough to energize your steps and light a fire under you.

Now, you could always make your own version of hot honey if you miss the Starbucks window. But that sounds like a lot of work, and it's likely preferable to grab one of the Starbucks Reserve hot honey beverages while (and if) you can. Take a deep dive with us into these sweet and spicy coffee beverages as we review the Starbucks Reserve hot honey menu items.

How much do the Starbucks Reserve Hot Honey Espresso Martini and Hot Honey Affogato cost?

Pricing on these two menu items varies depending on which market you buy them. For instance, the Starbucks Reserve Hot Honey Affogato ranges from $9 to $12 (the expected cost at the New York City location) — a fairly minute price difference between locations. However, the same can't be said for the Starbucks Reserve Hot Honey Espresso Martini, which will set you back between $14 and $23 depending on where you buy it.

Frankly, well-heeled midtown Manhattan residents are used to paying a premium. But it's tough to swallow the $9 price bump (ouch) at the Starbucks Empire State Building Reserve store compared to the other two locations offering hot honey. Then again, the $23 price is only a slight upcharge from the $20 cost of the standard Espresso Martini served by Starbucks Reserve bars year-round.

Additionally, while those select Starbucks Reserve locations will also offer a hot honey upgrade for any beverage while supplies last, it's unclear just how much the hot honey addition will cost. However, we'd guess it'll be a similar cost to the $3 upcharge of the Hot Honey Espresso Martini — and would suggest testing it in your matcha latte (if you're the experimental type).

The Starbucks Reserve Hot Honey Espresso and Hot Honey Affogato are only available in these cities

Starbucks' limited-time hot honey flavor offering will only be available to coffee cocktail connoisseurs located in New York, Seattle, and Chicago inside the bars found at the Starbucks Reserve flagships in those cities. You can find Starbucks-brand Roasteries and Reserves in other cities, as well (Starbucks Reserve differs from regular Starbucks stores, remember). But whether it's the martini, affogato, or some other drink you want to zip up with the bee-sting bite of this infused honey? It's those three cities or bust if you want to try some hot honey upgrades this spring.

Furthermore, within these three towns, you won't be able to find the two specialty drinks outside the singular locations authorized to serve them. In other words, they're not city-wide menu items. However, don't get crestfallen if Scoville units are your personal brand of culinary excitement. Even if you're left in the cold without a burning tongue to keep you warm this time, there's always the possibility that hot honey will be made available at additional Starbucks locations in the future.

What ingredients are used in the Starbucks Reserve Hot Honey Espresso Martini and Hot Honey Affogato?

The base of the Hot Honey Espresso Martini is the Starbucks Reserve's extant Espresso Martini. Kalak single-malt vodka turns this pour into an adult beverage, while the flavors are boosted by vanilla syrup, Ancho Reyes Chili Liqueur, and Starbucks' hot honey. A cold foam — that's had the same chili blend mixed in before aerating — tops the martini. A charming line of black sesame seeds rests atop the foam as a garnish, and also contributes an intermittent earthy taste to the overall product of this triple-threat heater.

The Hot Honey Affogato, meanwhile, is a rich vanilla gelato scoop swimming in a pour-over of Starbucks Reserve espresso combined with Scrappy's Orange Bitters and Scrappy's Fire Tincture. It's then drizzled with hot honey and topped with a Filthy-brand Amarena cherry. It, too, combines spicy sources into a fiery flavor thanks to the firewater habanero tincture, which macerates the spicy pepper into a welcome additive for this half-dessert, half-coffee treat. This, in fact, is one of the more significant differences in the final flavor profile between the two beverages.

Although you'll have to decide for yourself whether these flames are full-on based on your personal comfort level, rest in confidence. You can request as much heat as you can handle from your bartender or barista if the standard serving doesn't challenge you.

Review: Starbucks Reserve Hot Honey Espresso Martini

The Hot Honey Espresso Martini features waves of flavors that never fully mingle after hitting you like a staccato shot. Coffee, honey, spiciness, sesame, then the actual heat behind that chili flavor: Each taste pops rapidly and boldly before being replaced. In our experience, the best way to enjoy this was with a small sip followed by a big "chew" swirling it around your mouth to force the flavors to blend. That might earn you an odd look at the bar, but if you're paying $23? You deserve to get every drop of enjoyment out of this drink.

And go that distance you should, as the Hot Honey Espresso Martini needs a bit of coaxing to deliver a premium experience. The heat is pleasant, but doesn't change the regular martini expression's taste too much outside of a lingering tingle. It's not a question of the heat level itself. You can ask for peak piquancy and our expectation is you'd still find the flavors are separate from (and mild in light of) the coffee — even as the burn sets in. In an odd way, it emphasizes the distance between the foam on top and the thin viscosity of the coffee beneath it.

Review: Starbucks Reserve Hot Honey Affogato

The Hot Honey Affogato is very rich — and small, which you'll be grateful for when the fat and sugar hit your tongue. At first, the spice is somewhat less pronounced here owing to the vanilla ice cream. But the heat increased by the end thanks to the hot honey, bitters, and firewater tincture. It's a bigger heat with less bite (think food cooked over indirect coals rather than open flames). We'd love to try Scrappy's Fire Tincture on its own to compare it to the taste difference herein.

Now, whereas the martini favored small sips swished to savor, the Hot Honey Affogato is best consumed fairly quickly. It'll likely melt swiftly, after all, turning from a spoon dessert into a shot. Of course, we're sure no one will judge you for tilting your head back to capture every drop rather than risk losing any from the spoon.

Additionally, its big fat-and-honey flavor yields a fun itch in the mouth after all is done. Though personal tastes put a lot of people at risk of finding this too sweet for more than a mouthful, it's definitely a success at what it aims to do. We may have preferred the martini simply because it's a quick sprint compared to the affogato's slog, but if you're looking for a carb-bomb? This is deeply satisfying.

How does Starbucks Reserve Hot Honey Espresso Martini compare with other limited-time Espresso Martini flavors?

The latest seasonal Espresso Martini expression offered by Starbucks Reserve doesn't exactly rate unfavorably to its predecessors. But compared to previous Espresso Martini flavors we've taste-tested? It is the least distinguished of the bunch.

All in all, the Hot Honey Espresso Martini is good, but not necessarily great — largely because its sweet heat doesn't do much to differentiate it from the standard order. In fact, its best qualities are innate to the Espresso Martini. Conversely, the Starbucks Reserve Peppermint Mocha Espresso Martini and Pumpkin Spice Espresso Martini variations brought a lot more oomph in our experience.

Though we've recommended previous Starbucks Reserve Espresso Martini iterations before, the Hot Honey Espresso Martini doesn't feel like enough of a change to make a difference in your mouth from the year-round edition. This drink is tasty, but considering it's only appearing in cities where legitimately legendary bartenders can mix you up a drink to remember for a lifetime? Its $23 price tag makes it tough to recommend in New York (if your location offers one for $14, however, you might not regret it).

Are Starbucks Reserve's Hot Honey Espresso Martini and Hot Honey Affogato worth the price?

Whether or not either Starbucks Reserve hot honey beverage is worth purchasing depends quite a bit on which location you buy it from. With a $23 price point, the Hot Honey Espresso Martini is probably too far of an expenditure for too little of an alteration. At the same time, it's a decent deal at $14 if you're in either Seattle or Chicago.

Now for the curious part. We'd probably prefer the Hot Honey Espresso Martini over the Hot Honey Affogato in a straight-up contest of what's more pleasant. However, it feels like the affogato is closer to being worth it comparatively — and slides into recommendation territory thanks to its fulsome body. There's no doubt after you've finished it you'll feel satiated between its fat and sugars. There's something to be said for this drink's ability to make you feel full (and thus gotten what you've paid for).

If you're concerned with value for your buck, go with the affogato. But if you've got money to burn either way and prefer our recommendation for taste, order the martini. Keep in mind we think it's essentially the same as the regular Espresso Martini for an extra $3 — though that's still a fairly cheap price to pay for a novelty upgrade.