As a former Starbucks barista, I've heard my fair share of “I don't know your menu. What do you recommend?” Those are the brave ones anyway; the not-so-brave feel embarrassed not knowing what all those fancy drinks are and, rather than asking, pick something at random from the menu board, occasionally leading to an unfinished drink they didn't like being left on the table. And still others will try to make something up or order something they heard on TV which makes no sense in the real world; my personal favourite being a “no-foam cappuccino”. (If you don't understand already why that's funny, you will by the end of this article.)
If any of the above descriptions sound like you, then fret no more, for I'm about to demystify the Starbucks menu for you, followed by notes on customizing your drink even further, in order to help you find the best Starbucks drink for your tastes. But first a few disclaimers:
I currently live in Canada and worked at a Canadian Starbucks. However, as of writing, Starbucks stores exist in more than 60 countries. Each country, and sometimes even different cities within the same country, have their own menus which may or may not contain every drink I discuss in this article, or may have drinks not available in Canada. While U.S. stores are generally similar to Canadian stores, the information below may nonetheless differ slightly outside of Canada.
Some drinks are seasonal, so to save on confusion I'm only going to discuss drinks which are available year-round (where I live anyway). Watch the menu boards for seasonal specials and don't be afraid to ask your barista to explain them. There's no need to feel embarrassed not knowing about something that's infrequent or brand new.
This information is geared towards ordering at Starbucks. I make no promises as to how other coffeeshops make or name their drinks. Everyone is welcome to their own opinion as to how a certain drink “should” be made.
Regarding Starbucks drink sizes
It really is OK to say small, medium, or large, but if you want to use Starbucks terms, these refer to “tall”, “grande”, and “venti”. Also available is a “short”, which is smaller than the tall, and in the U.S. a “trenta”, which is larger than the venti. I'm not aware of any other countries that serve trenta sizes. Kids-sized drinks are made in short cups.
With that out of the way, let's start with the most basic of Starbucks drinks:
Plain, ordinary coffee
Light, Medium, and Dark Roasts (and Decaf)
Starbucks stores generally have three different roasts of coffee available, as well as decaf. Though it should be noted that not all roasts will be immediately available at all times; for example, the store I worked at stops brewing the light and dark roasts late in the day as they are not ordered as frequently in the evenings, and doesn't brew decaf at all since only two or three cups are sold per day. However, all roasts can still be ordered by the cup, you would just have to wait an extra minute or two for your coffee as it's being freshly brewed by drip-pour instead of being made by the pot.
So now the question is, which Starbucks roast is best for you? In general, the dark roast, which is roasted the longest, will have the most unique flavour, while the light roast, roasted the shortest, will simply taste like coffee. The medium roast, of course, sits in between. Decaf is typically only available as a medium roast.
But what about caffeine content? In truth, the difference is actually pretty insignificant, so you'd be better served ordering for flavour. But if you're truly curious, here's the quick answer to what's actually a somewhat complicated question: when coffee beans are measured by scoops (as Starbucks does), the lighter roast has slightly more caffeine per cup. However, if you go to a coffee shop that measures coffee beans by weight, the darker roast will have more caffeine per cup.
Furthermore know that the dark roast, also known as the feature roast – a more accurate name since not all of them are actually dark roasts – will not always be the same day after day, week after week. Maybe today the stores are featuring Cafe Verona, maybe tomorrow they're doing Italian roast, and maybe next week they have a limited-time specialty coming in. So if there's a dark roast you like best, consider purchasing a bag of it to brew at home to ensure you can have it whenever you like.
As Starbucks allows you to add your own milk or cream and sweeteners to taste, you will probably be asked if you want room in your coffee to do this. If you prefer your coffee black like I do, you can ask for no room and they will fill the cup right to the top.
I promise that the rest of the drink explanations won't take this long.
Half coffee, half steamed milk, with a bit of foam on top. By default, Starbucks uses the dark roast, or at least the darkest currently brewing. But you can absolutely order it with any of the other roasts or with decaf.
Be aware that “misto” is generally a Starbucks term, and that other coffeeshops may call this a “cafe au lait” or some other name.
These drinks are normally served hot, but can also be served iced.
A simple shot of espresso to wake you up. Order a solo (single) or doppio (double). Don't order this if going through drive-through, or if you're not going to drink it immediately, as espresso shots “die” after about ten seconds, losing their flavour and becoming quite bitter. If you must delay drinking your espresso, consider asking for a little hot water to be added to the cup to “hold” the shot so it keeps its flavour longer, especially if you want to order triple or quad shots (or more).
Espresso is available in decaf, and as such any espresso drink can be made this way.
Espresso shots poured over milk foam.
Espresso Con Panna
Espresso shots topped with whipped cream.
Espresso shots with steamed milk and a bit of foam on top. Frequently flavoured with one of the available syrups, such as a vanilla latte or a caramel latte. The number of shots depends on the size of the drink, with a short and tall getting one shot, while a grande and venti get two, and venti iced gets three. This remains true for all the drinks below except the Americano and Americano misto.
Cinnamon Dolce Latte
A latte flavoured with cinnamon dolce syrup, and, unique to other flavoured lattes, topped with whipped cream and cinnamon dolce sprinkles instead of milk foam.
Mocha / White Mocha
A latte flavoured with mocha or white mocha syrup, and topped with whipped cream instead of milk foam. Some people like to order their mochas with half mocha, half white mocha syrup. Unofficially this is known as a “marble” or “zebra” mocha, but since these are not actual Starbucks terms, you can avoid confusing trainee baristas by ordering it as I just described: a mocha with half mocha, half white mocha. We appreciate it when you use our terms instead of your made-up ones, even if we do know them.
Peppermint Mocha / White Mocha
Mocha or white mocha with peppermint syrup added. Technically this is a seasonal drink, however it's generally available year-round. When in-season, chocolate curls will be added on top of the whipped cream. These normally aren't available the rest of the year.
Caramel / Hazelnut Macchiato
Kind of an upside-down latte; in a macchiato the steamed milk is poured first, with the espresso shots poured on top of the foam. By default sweetened with vanilla syrup and topped with a caramel or hazelnut drizzle.
Espresso shots topped half with steamed milk, half with foam. Essentially a very foamy latte. Now you understand why I laugh when people order no-foam cappuccinos. The milk foam has a bit sweeter taste than milk itself, which is why some people prefer this to a latte. Can be ordered “wet” with less foam and more milk, or “dry” with more foam and less milk.
Canadians take note: an iced cappuccino at Starbucks is not the same as an iced cappuccino at Tim Hortons. If you order an iced cappuccino at Starbucks, you will receive a cup in which espresso shots were poured over ice, and hot milk foam was scooped to fill the cup. I honestly don't recommend it. If you want the blended drink Tim Hortons serves, please read about Frappuccinos later in this article.
Espresso shots and hot water. Short, tall, grande, and venti get one, two, three, and four shots respectively, five in the iced venti.
Similar to the cafe misto, this is an Americano half-filled with hot water, half with steamed milk.
Starbucks has quite a few kinds of tea available, some caffeinated, some not. There are black teas, which usually have the most caffeine, green teas with slightly less, and herbal teas with the least caffeine or none at all. I will list the teas available at my local stores below, but please remember that different locations may have different teas available, so consider asking your barista for a tea menu.
Black teas: Awake (English breakfast), Earl Grey, Chai
Green teas: China Green Tips (plain green tea), Zen (lemongrass flavoured)
Herbal teas: Calm (chamomile), Refresh (mint), Passion (not to be confused with passion fruit, made with flowers and other tropical fruits), Vanilla Roiboos
Tall and grande sizes get one tea bag, while venti gets two.
Tea with half the water replaced with steamed milk, and sweetened with vanilla syrup for earl grey lattes, or classic (unflavoured) syrup for the others. These were formerly known as tea mistos. Any tea can be used, but be aware of the following two special cases:
Green Tea Latte
Green tea lattes, by default, are made with a matcha powder which is pre-sweetened, and don't have hot water added. However, you can also order a “custom tea latte” with either China green tips or zen tea, which will be made with the respective tea bags and sweetened with classic syrup instead.
Chai Tea Latte
Chai lattes, by default, are made with a chai concentrate syrup which is itself pre-sweetened, and are half hot water, half steamed milk like regular tea lattes. Much like the green tea latte, you can order a custom tea latte with chai tea, which will be made using a chai tea bag instead and is then sweetened with classic syrup.
Chai lattes can also be ordered iced. Iced chai lattes do not have water added like the hot ones do.
Oprah Chai Tea Latte
This is a recent addition to the Starbucks menu. It uses a different syrup than the chai latte mentioned above, which in my opinion tastes less sweet and more like actual tea. Also available iced.
Not a Starbucks drink, but I'm putting it here for your awareness because people constantly ask for it at my local store. A London fog is what certain other coffee chains (such as Second Cup in Canada) call an earl grey latte. When at Starbucks, please ask for the latter, again to avoid confusing trainee baristas, and because it's generally polite to use local terminology.
Other hot drinks
Hot Chocolate / White Hot Chocolate
Mocha syrup plus a shot of vanilla syrup, or white mocha without the vanilla, with steamed milk and topped with whipped cream, and mocha drizzle on the regular hot chocolate. A mocha without the caffeine.
Steamed milk flavoured with any of the available syrups, such as a vanilla creme or hazelnut creme, and topped with whipped creme. Canadian coffee chain Second Cup calls these “steamers”.
Caramel Apple Spice
Steamed apple juice sweetened with cinnamon dolce syrup, topped with whipped cream and caramel drizzle. Please don't call this an apple cider, because it's not.
Steamed Apple Juice / Steamed Lemonade
These are exactly what they sound like, no more, no less.
As I've already mentioned, most of the hot drinks are available iced, so I'm only going to cover iced drinks which are unavailable hot, or are in some other way different from their hot counterparts.
Also known as “frapps” these are Starbucks' trademarked blended ice drinks. Made with ice, whole milk, and a coffee or creme “frappuccino base” which holds the drink together, and topped with whipped cream and sometimes other things as well. “Light” frappuccinos are available which use a light frapp base in the coffee-based frappuccinos, nonfat milk, and no whipped cream or other toppings for those that normally get as such. Note that light frappuccinos do not use sugar-free syrups by default, but you can ask for sugar-free syrup to be used instead where available (some syrups, such as white mocha and chai, aren't available sugar-free).
Made with “frappuccino roast”, which is basically cold coffee. Frapp roast is not available decaf, but you can substitute it with decaf espresso, though your frappuccino will be slightly warmer due to the hot espresso.
Coffee Frappuccino / Espresso Frappuccino
These are the most basic frappuccinos. They aren't flavoured with anything special; it's just the frapp roast, milk, ice, and base, and a shot of espresso in the espresso frappuccino. Be aware that these two do not come with whipped cream by default, so please ask for it if you want it. Canadians looking for something similar to Tim Hortons' Iced Cappuccino will probably want one of these.
The frappuccinos below are based on the coffee frappuccino, with whipped cream and other additions.
Made with caramel syrup and caramel drizzle on top.
Made with toffee nut syrup and hazelnut drizzle.
Mocha / White Mocha Frappuccino
Made with mocha or white mocha syrup.
Java Chip Frappuccino
Made with mocha syrup and chocolate chunks, and topped with mocha drizzle
Cafe Vanilla Frappuccino
Made with vanilla bean powder. I'd like to point out that while some coffeeshops use vanilla bean syrup, Starbucks uses a powder. Starbucks' vanilla syrup is not the same as other shops' vanilla bean syrup, nor is it the same as French vanilla, which some stores serve.
Made without the frappuccino roast. All the above frappuccinos are also available as creme frappuccinos, though some of them use different names.
Double Chocolate Chip Frappuccino
Java chip frappuccino without the coffee.
Vanilla Bean Creme Frappuccino
Cafe vanilla frappuccino without the coffee.
Strawberries and Creme Frappuccino
Made with strawberry juice.
Green Tea Creme Frappuccino
Made with matcha powder.
Chai Creme Frappuccino
Made with chai concentrate syrup and topped with cinnamon powder.
Syrup Creme Frappuccino
This is a catch-all name for any other flavour of creme frappuccino you'd like, such as caramel creme frappuccino, or hazelnut creme frappuccino.
Frozen Hot Chocolate
Not a Starbucks drink, but much like the London Fog, I'm including it because our friends at Second Cup have it on their menu and people keep asking for it at Starbucks. The closest Starbucks approximation would be a mocha creme frappuccino with a pump of vanilla syrup, and I advise you to order it that way.
Blended drinks which are much thicker than frappuccinos and made with less ice. Chocolate, strawberry, and orange-mango flavours are available. Milk and mocha syrup, strawberry juice, or orange-mango juice is blended with ice, protein powder, and a frozen banana. Whipped cream is not added unless you ask for it.
Other iced drinks
Medium roast coffee which is pre-brewed somewhat stronger than normal, sweetened with classic syrup, and poured in a cup with ice. Made with or without milk or cream. As it is pre-brewed, decaf is generally not available. You could get a decaf coffee poured over ice, though most decaf drinkers I've spoken to prefer a decaf iced Americano with classic syrup instead.
Shaken Iced Tea / Shaken Iced Tea Lemonade
These are real brewed teas shaken with classic syrup, ice, and either cold water or lemonade. Available with black (awake), green (zen), and passion tea. Actually, any of Starbucks' teas can be made iced, however you will have to wait about five minutes for the others as they're not brewed in advance like the three above. I recommend a calm tea lemonade myself.
Cool Lime Refresher
Lime juice, water, ice, and a lime wedge shaken. The lime juice is pre-sweetened, so the only way to have this drink less sweet is to have it with less lime juice, and if you're doing that you might as well just have iced water.
Berry Hibiscus Refresher
Berry juice, water, ice, and blackberries shaken. Pre-sweetened, just like the lime refresher.
Valencia Orange Refresher
Orange juice, water, ice, and an orange wedge shaken. Once more, pre-sweetened.
Starbucks Doubleshot on Ice
Classic syrup is added to a shaker full of ice, and espresso shots are poured on top – two, three, or five shots for tall, grande, and venti respectively. This is then lightly shaken and poured in a cup, and topped off with cold milk. It really is just a more complicated iced latte, yet it's quite delicious. As far as I'm concerned, coffee was meant to be served hot, but this is one case where I make an exception.
This item has not been on the menu for some time, however it is still available. Since it's not advertised, trainee baristas are not always made aware of it, so make sure the till display reads “Starbucks Dblshot on Ice” or something similar, and not “Doppio Espresso Iced”.
Notes on customization
I mentioned that frappuccinos can be made “light”, but many of the other drinks are also available “skinny”, such as skinny lattes, skinny mochas, and so on. With “skinny” drinks, nonfat milk is used in place of 2%, and sugar-free syrup is used when available. Whipped cream is not added to skinny drinks.
Other options for milk are also available. You can, for example, have your drink made with whole milk, soy, or even steamed whipping cream if you really like. Yes, I have had people order lattes with steamed whipping cream instead of milk, and yes, it's thousands of calories to do that. We pulled out the calculator to check.
Steamed drinks can be made hotter or colder. Normally drinks will be steamed to 170ºF, with “extra hot” at 180º, and “kids temp” at 130º. Other temperatures can be requested if you're really specific about your heating requirements.
Syrups can be added, changed, or removed if you wish. Popular substitutions at my local store include caramel macchiatos with caramel syrup instead of vanilla, and black or passion tea lemonades with raspberry syrup instead of classic.
Espresso drinks can be made with different amounts of espresso, and espresso shots can be poured “long” or “ristretto” (short, or restricted). A long shot will generally produce a more bitter espresso, while a ristretto shot will result in a stronger coffee flavour.
Drinks with foam can be made with more foam or no foam at all (except, of course, the cappuccino, as that would defeat the purpose of the drink). Please don't be too picky about no-foam drinks, as it can sometimes be quite difficult to scoop all the foam off the drink, particularly when ordered extra hot, as the milk foams up slightly while sitting in the cup. Whipped cream can also be added to those drinks that don't receive it, as can caramel, hazelnut, or mocha drizzle.
Please ask for your customizations at the till, as some of them may carry an extra charge, while others could require your drink to be remade if you ask too late. That just creates waste, and waste, over time, pushes up prices.
Regarding the Starbucks “secret menu”
It's not a Starbucks menu, so please, please don't assume your barista will know what you're talking about if you try to order from this. If you're not familiar with it (thank you), so-called “secret” menu drinks are customized drinks which have been given unofficial names by Starbucks customers. For example, the most popular “secret-menu” drink at my store is the “cotton candy frappuccino”, which is a vanilla bean frappuccino with raspberry syrup. It doesn't even taste like cotton candy, and only gets that name from being pink.
If you want something from the “secret menu”, you will need to know the recipe, because unless it's an extremely popular drink, your local Starbucks probably won't. Again, these are not official Starbucks drinks, and thus Starbucks baristas are not required to learn them. Furthermore, some drinks may require ingredients which are not available at all Starbucks locations, so your drink may not be possible even if you do have the recipe.
The final word
I hope the above information has made you more knowledgeable about Starbucks' menu and helped you figure out what you want to order. I'd like to reiterate that this isn't the entire menu, as some items are seasonal, while others are only available in certain regions, and as such I myself am not familiar with them. Nonetheless, you should now be able to walk into virtually any Starbucks location confident in your ability to order the best drink for your tastes.