What should I order at Starbucks?

Jun 27

This has to be the #1 question I've been asked over the years. People walk into Starbucks, see the unfamiliar terminology on the menu boards, get overwhelmed and feel completely lost. That's one of the reasons I started a website waaay back in the early '00s with drink info on it, to help people navigate the menu.

The problem is, “What should I order?” is a hard question to answer without context. It's like “What should I order at McDonald's?” or “What book should I buy from Amazon?” To give a useful answer, you need to know the asker's preferences and what they're in the mood for. I'll list some of the more common things people have in mind here and my suggestions for what to order. And remember — when in doubt, ask the barista.

I just want a coffee. Go ahead and order a coffee, that's totally allowed. If they're in the middle of brewing a new batch, or if they've stopped brewing the coffee you want for the day, they may offer you an Americano, a French press, or a Clover brew. All of those are pretty good options.

I want something kinda sweet but not too expensive or fancy. Try the vanilla latte. It can be made hot or cold, depending on what temperature of drink you're in the mood for.

I want that thing that's like a coffee milkshake. That's a Frappuccino. The most popular flavor is usually the Mocha Frappuccino, followed closely by the Caramel Frappuccino.

I need something with a lot of caffeine to wake me up. Try a venti (large) vanilla latte with an “add shot”. That will get you three shots of espresso in a moderately sweet drink. If you want to up the ante more, make it a quad (four shots). Careful not to overdo it, though — know your caffeine limits. If you need a lot of caffeine but don't want it to taste like coffee, get a venti white mocha with an addshot instead. It will be more expensive, but the white mocha syrup is very sweet, to balance out the espresso.

I want something with no coffee at all. There's lots of options. Want a hot drink? Try a hot chocolate or a chai latte (this has tea in it, so there's still some caffeine). Want a cold drink? Grab a passion tea lemonade, a vanilla bean creme Frappuccino, or one of their new Fizzio sodas.

I'm a tea drinker. You can get a regular tea (there's several varieties to choose from) or a regular iced tea, as well as a line of tea lattes and chai if you want something more than just tea.

I want something caramelly! For a hot drink, get the caramel macchiato (mah-kee-AH-toe) and make sure you stir it well before drinking. For a cold drink, get the caramel Frappuccino.

I need to get something for my kid. The pastry case usually has some milks and juices to choose from. You can also get a kid's hot chocolate (it's an 8 oz cup, and not steamed as hot as adult drinks), an apple juice, or a vanilla bean creme Frappuccino (this has a lot of sugar in it, however). If your kid wants something different, ask the barista if they can make it with no coffee, or at least decaf. Be aware that decaffeinated coffee is not caffeine-free, so it's best to avoid coffee-based things entirely later in the evening.

I'm vegan/lactose intolerant. Most espresso drinks can be made with soy milk. Be aware that the basic flavoring syrups such as vanilla and hazelnut are made with sugar, so if that is an animal product concern for you, avoid these. Seasonal syrups such as pumpkin spice may contain milk products; check with your barista to be sure. When I worked for Starbucks many ages ago I was told that the mocha syrup was vegan, but I don't know if this is still true. Your barista should be able to check the ingredients on the package or syrup bottle if you have questions. If in doubt, stick to simple drinks like coffee, tea, or the juices in the pastry case.

I'm diabetic/on a diet. Plain coffee and tea are extremely low in calories and sugar-free. However, if you need more sweetness in your drink, sugar-free syrups such as sugar-free vanilla are available. Most Frappuccinos can be ordered Light, which reduces the calories and sugar by about half. For more detailed information, check the nutrition info on the Starbucks website.

That covers the most common “what should I order?” questions I get. If you've got a request that's not on the list, leave it in the comments and I'll make a suggestion. And like I said before, you can always ask the person behind the register for advice. Be ready to give them a rough idea of what you like (hot/cold, sweet/not sweet, coffee/tea/neither, etc). And if you don't like what you get, let them know and they'll probably be willing to make you a replacement drink! (Just … don't drink the whole thing and then claim you didn't like it and demand a new drink. They may humor you but they've seen that con game before.)

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Review: Fizzio Lemon Ale (Starbucks)

Jun 24

A tall Lemon Ale.

A tall Lemon Ale.

The third soda in the new Fizzio lineup is the Lemon Ale. While not as well-known a flavor as root beer or ginger ale, and not alcoholic as its name might imply (it’s an ale like ginger ale, not like actual ale), the Lemon Ale still makes a good third member to the trio. When I ordered it, the barista identified it as her favorite of the three offerings, and I can see why.

Like its soda siblings, this drink is not too calorie-laden (80 calories in a tall) and is made from concentrate and then freshly carbonated with the new and mysterious Fizzio carbonation machine. The result is a soda that is quite sweet, and not at all tart like one might expect from a lemony drink.

I expected this drink to basically taste like a carbonated lemonade, but there’s more to it than that. It seems to have more citrus flavors in it than just lemon — in fact, it reminded me a little bit of the Peach Green Tea Lemonade. It’s fruity and very tasty, while not hitting you over the head with lemon flavor. If you like the various tea lemonades at Starbucks, you’ll like this soda.

Bullet-pointed summary:

  • What: Fizzio Lemon Ale
  • Where: Starbucks
  • Options: Just the size
  • Verdict: A fruity, lemony soda that is much more on the sweet side than the tart side.

Check out all three Fizzio sodas:

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Review: Fizzio Golden Ginger Ale (Starbucks)

Jun 24

A tall Golden Ginger Ale.

A tall Golden Ginger Ale.

Along with the highly anticipated Spiced Root Beer, Starbucks’s new lineup of “handcrafted sodas” includes the Golden Ginger Ale.

I was pretty excited by this, because ginger ale is one of my favorite drinks. Not only does it help calm upset stomachs, it’s a nice flavorful drink option that’s reliably caffeine-free and pretty widely available. So I got one the first day the sodas became available to check it out.

I was not disappointed. The Golden Ginger Ale is very gingery, and while it’s sweet it’s not overwhelmingly sweet for a soda. I’d put it a little lower on the sweetness level than the root beer. It has a clean, crisp taste with no extra nonsense and a good level of carbonation. To be honest, it’s one of the better ginger ales I’ve had. Definitely worth getting if you want a nice refreshing soda (or pop, depending on your dialect).

Like the other sodas, the Ginger Ale is pretty reasonable calorie-wise (80 calories in a tall, 100 in a grande) and made without high fructose corn syrup. It’s made from concentrate and freshly carbonated while you wait. Or while you fidget impatiently, if you’re me.

Bullet-pointed summary:

  • What: Fizzio Golden Ginger Ale
  • Where: Starbucks
  • Options: Just the size
  • Verdict: An excellent, refreshing ginger ale.

Check out all three Fizzio sodas:

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Review: Fizzio Spiced Root Beer (Starbucks)

Jun 24

After all the speculation, the day is finally here — the summer drinks have arrived at Starbucks, and that means the fancy new carbonation machines have been fired up and the “handcrafted sodas” are available. I hit up my local Starbucks to taste all three of them. What can I say, I’m a giver.

A tall Spiced Root Beer.

A tall Spiced Root Beer.

The soda that caused the most anticipation among my friends is the Spiced Root Beer. So naturally, that’s the soda I tackled first. Made from concentrate and carbonated in the new machine, this drink is served nice and cold, and as bubbly as a regular fountain soda.

This is no regular fountain soda, though. It’s one of the sweetest root beers I’ve tasted in my long years of beverage addiction, and the “spiced” part definitely adds to the flavor. Aside from the usual spices in root beer, this one has what tastes like cloves and maybe some cinnamon or cardamom. It’s not as heavily spiced as the chai or Vanilla Spice Latte, but it’s definitely different from a regular root beer.

These sodas are made without high fructose corn syrup or artificial flavors, and calorie-wise they’re not too bad. You can get them from a tall (80 calories) to a trenta (210 calories) and since they’re being heavily promoted right now you can probably find coupons or “happy hours” to get them pretty cheaply. Depending on your taste in root beer, this one might be a little overly sweet for you, but it’s a great addition to the menu for people who’re not in the mood for coffee or tea.

Bullet-pointed summary:

  • What: Fizzio Spiced Root Beer
  • Where: Starbucks
  • Options: Just the size
  • Verdict: A sweet, moderately spiced root beer that really hits the spot.

Check out all three Fizzio sodas:

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Review: Blackberry Mojito (Starbucks)

Jun 20

This is the second of the two shaken tea drinks coming up at Starbucks this year. And if you’re anything like me, or the baristas I got the drink from, you’re looking at the name and thinking “Mojito? Is this alcoholic or something?” No, it’s not alcoholic. Nobody seems to know why it’s named like that. I learned ages ago when I was a barista never to try to figure out the logic in the Starbucks marketing department. As a shaken iced tea, it can only be ordered “on the rocks”, in sizes from 12 ounce Tall to 30 ounce Trenta.

A tall Blackberry Mojito.

A tall Blackberry Mojito.

Like the Peach Green Tea Lemonade, this drink surprised me. Knowing Starbucks’s tendency toward sweet drinks, I expected the Blackberry Mojito to be similar to the Very Berry Hibiscus Refresher or the Passion Tea Lemonade.

But this drink isn’t actually very sweet — instead, it’s basically an iced tea with an understated hint of berry in it. It’s much more tea than berry. You could probably order it with some Classic syrup if you wanted a sweeter iced tea experience, but I think it’s best without it, so you can enjoy the uncharacteristically downplayed flavors.

I’m usually not a fan of iced tea overall, but if you are, and you want a drink that’s more “tea with a hint of flavor” rather than Starbucks’s usual “flavorings with a hint of tea”, give this drink a shot.

Edit: Now that Starbucks has info on this drink up on their website, I see that it can be ordered with lemonade. That would make it somewhat sweeter. It also mentions that the tea used is a blackberry green tea from Teavana, so I’ve corrected a sentence that referred to it as a black tea. Also worth noting is the tea in question is apparently called “Blackberry Mojito Green”, hence the name of the drink.

Bullet-pointed summary:

  • What: Blackberry Mojito shaken iced tea
  • Where: Starbucks
  • Options: Just the size
  • Verdict: A surprisingly understated berry flavor for iced tea lovers.
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