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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How to order coffee at Starbucks

Jun 15

Here’s a question I get a lot: “How do I order coffee at Starbucks?

There’s something about the ubiquitous green-aproned store that seems to intimidate people who’ve never been in one before. They get the impression that there’s some kind of complex lingo they’ll never be able to understand. There’s so many jokes about how the size names are bizarre and the drinks are complicated that people think it’s too difficult.

Well folks, have no fear, I’m here to sort you out. Here is the super-complex, amazing, mysterious way to order coffee at Starbucks. Wait in line, and when you get to the cash register and the person in the green apron asks you what you want, utter the following code phrase:

“I’d like a medium coffee, please.”

That’s it. If you’d like a small or a large, use those words instead. They’ll take your money and pour you a coffee. It’ll run you somewhere between one and two dollars in most American stores.

Starbucks does have weird drink size names (and the story behind those names is here). But the people behind the counter are human beings and they know what small, medium, and large mean. You can use them. It’s okay. They don’t look down on you for it, and if they snottily correct you — as I have seen many people insist happened to them, but I have never personally witnessed — then they are giving you bad customer service. They may repeat your drink with the official Starbucks size name, but they are not supposed to correct you.

Now, if you want to know what to order other than regular coffee, that’s a subject for another post. Until then, you can always look at the menu or the website for ideas, or just ask the barista at the register. Be prepared to give a vague idea of what you’re in the mood for (hot/cold, sweet/not sweet, coffee/no coffee).

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Reader Q&A (courtesy of search engines)

Nov 01

Since I haven’t worked for Starbucks in, oh, a decade or so, I don’t get as many questions about their drinks as I used to. Or questions about coffee in general, for that matter. But the unrelenting flow of people to this little corner of the internet shows that people are still curious, confused, and otherwise question-filled when it comes to the big green leviathan. And I’m here to answer whatever questions y’all have.

Now, people don’t actually ask me things through this blog. Possibly because I have the spam protection turned up to 11, and possibly because I’ve hidden the associated email address and never, ever check it. But thanks to the magic of search engines, I can look into the things people have in their mind when they come here. Some of these things are already answered on the main drinks-explaining page, but some of them aren’t.

So here, in a hopefully-recurring feature, is … Reader Q&A! Where I sift through the search terms that brought people to my site and answer them directly.

Q: is iced caramel macchiato sweet
Yes, it is. You’ll have to stir the everloving hell out of it before drinking it, though, if you want the caramel to mix with the rest of the drink. Caramel sauce doesn’t dissolve very well in cold milk.

Q: can you get an iced cafe misto
Technically, yes. However, this is basically an iced coffee with milk in it, so you’d be better off getting an iced coffee with extra room for cream and just putting the milk in yourself.

Q: caffe misto with soymilk starbucks?
Huh, people actually use punctuation on Google sometimes. Yes, you can get a misto with soy milk.

Q: how to remember how to make starbucks drinks
This is the biggest question I used to get from people applying to Starbucks. It can seem overwhelming at first, looking at that menu full of drinks, but there is logic behind it. Most espresso drinks are basically based around the latte (espresso with milk). For example, a mocha is a latte with chocolate. A caramel macchiato is a vanilla latte with a little less vanilla, the shots dropped in last, and caramel syrup. An americano is a latte with hot water instead of milk, and an extra shot. Frappuccinos are based around the coffee frappuccino — and if my recent visits to Starbucks are any indication, there’s usually stickers on the wall to help you remember the recipe. Shaken drinks are (I think) based around the shaken iced tea. The amount of syrup in any given drink size usually follows a pattern too. Don’t worry, you’ll pick it up pretty quick.

Q: what is a quad macchiato
Four shots poured into a cup full of milk foam.

Q: what’s a normal coffee at starbucks
It’s called a “coffee”. I know, right? You’d never guess that you can walk up to the counter and order a “large coffee”. It’s also sometimes called a “drip”. Cups are rarely marked when someone orders a coffee, since the barista usually just turns around and pours it, but when I was working there, on the rare occasion we marked a coffee it was “COD”, for Coffee Of the Day.

Q: what is an upside down coffee?
Uh … a reason to grab a mop? Caramel macchiatos can be made upside down (with the shots first), but coffee is just coffee. There’s no way to make it upside down.

Q: chocolate macchiato upside down breve
Espresso shots and chocolate with steamed half-and-half and extra foam. Basically a breve mocha with no whipped cream. Okay, so that’s not a question … but it sounds like a tasty drink.

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Can I get a nonfat Eggnog Latte?

Nov 05

No, you can't.

It's made with actual eggnog. It's usually watered down with a small amount of milk, but even if that milk is nonfat the resulting beverage is not nonfat in any way.

If you're counting calories and want a holiday-themed drink, I recommend a skinny Peppermint Mocha.

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Why are some drinks not available all the time?

Nov 05

There are a number of drinks that are seasonal — they are available only at certain times of the year. The Pumpkin Spice Latte is available in the fall, for example. The Gingerbread Latte, Eggnog Latte, and Caramel Brulee latte are available only during the winter holiday season.

It's partly to keep things interesting, partly due to ingredient availability (getting eggnog in summer is much harder), and partly so the ingredients don't waste space behind the counter during times of the year when they don't sell well.

Some seasonal beverages go on to be available year-round. In some areas, Peppermint Mochas can be ordered any day of the year. Cinnamon Dolce Lattes used to be a late winter drink, but are now available any time.

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What’s the difference between a latte, cappuccino, etc?

Nov 05

This is usually printed real small somewhere, or explained in a flyer on the condiment bar. Here's the gist:

Espresso drinks start with, of course, a shot or two of espresso. This is fine-ground coffee brewed under pressure. A shot is a little under an ounce and has around the same amount of caffeine as a cup of regular coffee.

A latte is espresso, steamed milk, and a little milk foam (a byproduct of the steaming process).

A cappuccino is like a latte, but with much more foam. Usually about half the cup is foam.

A mocha is a latte with chocolate. In other words, a hot chocolate with espresso. Usually served with whipped cream.

A caramel macchiato is a latte with vanilla syrup and caramel syrup, with the shots dropped in toward the end instead of the beginning of the drink-making process (that's the “macchiato” part).

An espresso macchiato is just milk foam, with espresso shots dropped in.

An espresso con panna is espresso and whipped cream.

An Americano is espresso diluted with hot water to make something about the strength of regular coffee.

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