Aug 04, 2023

Why Starbucks Is Swapping Out Its Ice Machines

Goodbye cubes, hello nuggets.

Jelisa Castrodale has been a staff writer with Food & Wine since 2019.

Farknot Architect / Shutterstock

We’re pretty sure that nobody had this one on their May Bingo cards: it has been a really big month for… water at Starbucks. Just last week, the Seattle-based coffee chain announced that it would start charging $1 extra for any Refresher drink made without water, and now the company is changing things up with its frozen water, too.

Starbucks is rolling out new ice machines to its U.S. locations, and the upgraded equipment will now produce “nugget ice” (often called "pebble ice") instead of the chunkier style of ice it currently has. “As we continue to innovate and make investments in the Starbucks Experience for our partners (baristas) and customers, we are introducing new machines that make nugget ice to select stores this year,” a Starbucks spokesperson confirmed to Food & Wine.

“Customers who have tried the nugget ice in our hand-crafted iced beverages during testing had a resoundingly positive response. Like many of our recent investments, this machine allows partners to focus on delivering the Starbucks Experience while hand-crafting the same delicious, high-quality iced beverages our customers have come to expect from Starbucks.”

Starbucks certainly has incentive to focus on its iced drinks. Last August, Starbucks founder and then-CEO Howard Schultz said that 75% of the chain’s beverage sales in Q3 came from cold beverages. “We’re at the early stages with cold beverages in the modifiers and customization, and that gives us a competitive advantage,” he said during a quarterly earnings call, adding that iced drinks were the go-to choices for Gen Z, largely due to all of the customizations they could make.

The new ice machines’ arrival was reportedly mentioned in a recent edition of Starbucks internal “Now Brewing” publication. “The new Follet Nugget Ice Machine will produce all the ice needed in your store by consistently producing throughout the day, all while using less water,” the text read, according to a post on the r/Starbucks subreddit. “All beverage recipes will remain the same and stores will receive individual communication when install is ready. Stay cool!"

A Starbucks spokesperson confirmed that these machines would roll-out to stores over the course of several years, and the first installs would be at stores that produce a high-volume of cold drinks and “will benefit most from the efficiency of the new nugget ice machine.”

Some of the discussions about the upcoming ice swap on r/Starbucks and r/StarbucksBaristas concerned whether or not nugget ice melted faster than other ice shapes, and whether that would lead to watered-down drinks. The Starbucks spokesperson addressed those claims and said that the chain had “conducted several tests,” ultimately determining that nugget ice didn’t melt any faster than the existing style of ice. They also said that the actual ice scoop will remain the same so, going forward, each drink will still be made with roughly the same volume of ice.

We’d like to say that this may be the last water-and-ice related change at Starbucks — at least for the rest of the summer — but who knows? Next week could be steam’s big moment.