The Secret Starbucks Drink to Order When You're Feeling Sick

The worst feeling in the world is the beginning of a cold. Your throat starts to tickle, which intensifies into full blown pain when swallowing. Suddenly you’re either congested, or your nose can’t stop running. And ugh, the phlegm -- so much phlegm.

The silver lining to being sick is that it is the best excuse to curl up in bed and drink endless cups of cozy, hot beverages. So when the beginnings of a cold crept up on me this week, I decided to turn to a cult Starbucks drink I kept hearing about on variouspartsofthe internet. Known as the Medicine Ball, though others call it the "Cold Buster," it's a concoction from the coffee chain that has no coffee, but apparently plenty of healing properties. Buzzfeed once described it as “basically a cough drop in tea form.”

Allegedly invented by a former Starbucks barista, the secret menu drink went viral on Instagram for being soothing and comforting. The recipe is a blend of hot water, steamed lemonade, one bag of Teavana’s jade citrus mint tea, another bag of peach tranquility tea, and a packet of honey. Some choose to add a pump of peppermint syrup, but I did without.

I'm not sure what I was expecting. It’s never occurred to me to steam lemonade… ever. But the Medicine Ball was delicious! It’s quite tart -- it definitely made my lips pucker upon first sip -- but it did feel soothing to my throat. The flavor of peach is subtle, and the honey adds a very light sweetness to the tea.

It's worth noting that the drink actually contains 33 grams of sugar in a single grande order -- which is approximately the same amount of sugar as an iced grande Caramel Macchiato, one of Starbucks more popular sweet beverages. That being said, my throat did feel some relief following the cold buster; I can’t tell you whether it was a placebo effect or not, but I think drinking hot tea with honey, regardless of the type of tea, is going to help alleviate throat pain.

After getting hundreds of requests for the citrusy drink across the country, Starbucks decided to formalize the secret menu item and offer it a permanent spot in their rotation back in 2017 under the moniker of "honey citrus mint tea."

My barista knew exactly what I wanted when I ordered a "Medicine Ball," but it might be easier to order it under its official name. Whether or not it actually busts colds remains a mystery, but it’s still a cup of comfort if you’re in need of a pick-me-up when feeling under the weather.  

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Kat Thompson is a staff food writer at Thrillist and passionate about teas, even when they're steeped in lemonade. Follow her on Instagram @katthompsonn