Early in the pandemic, people discovered a darkly funny way to track COVID-19 outbreaks: When cases spiked, more Yankee Candle customers would complain online about the candles being “scentless.” The most likely explanation was that they’d lost their sense of smell due to COVID-19.
Over the past couple of weeks, several TikTokers have noticed a similar way to track the spread of Omicron. There’s a growing theory that more people buy Starbucks “medicine ball” teas during a COVID-19 outbreak, hoping to sooth their symptoms with lemon and honey.
“I know that Omicron is here and more people are getting COVID in my area because the Starbucks near my house has been out of medicine ball teas for the past three days,” said TikToker @webbiefoot, showing a screencap of the Starbucks site. All the teas are sold out.
The “medicine ball” teas are just varieties of hot tea with lemon and honey, a classic treatment for the common cold. They’re sweet and comforting—and have no real medical benefits. The Starbucks website lists them under generic names like Citrus Defender, to avoid suggesting that they contain actual medicine.
Responding to @webbiefoot’s theory, TikTok commenters chimed in with anecdotes about their local Starbucks running out of tea ingredients. It’s hard to draw reliable conclusions about whether this is a supply chain issue or a direct sign of COVID outbreaks. But the COVID-19 theory is plausible because many people do purchase lemon/honey tea when they feel sick.
One Starbucks TikToker even posted a skit about how ordering medicine ball tea is an immediate red flag. Now viewed 1.8 million times, it shows a barista hastily putting on his mask as a coughing customer orders the tea.
Another viral TikTok shows a different barista reacting in horror to the number of customers buying medicine ball tea. So yes, this is definitely a thing.
TikTok is also full of tutorials on how to make your own medicine ball tea, including at least one video specifically aimed at people with COVID-19.
With more than 50,000 views in two days, the tutorial explains, “This is what you do when you have COVID and you get addicted to Starbucks medicine ball, and they run out ingredients because everyone else is addicted too.” The recipe is very simple, involving lemon tea, peach tea, lemonade, and honey. In other words, you should definitely stay home and make it for yourself.
The Daily Dot has reached out to Starbucks for comment.
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