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How to Order at Starbucks

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Ever stood in front of the Starbucks menu completely clueless as to what everything means? Do you always order the same thing because you don’t know the difference between a latte and a cappuccino? For that matter, you may wonder, what’s the difference between a frappuccino and an iced drink? Well, fear no more: having worked as a barista myself, I am here to give answers to those confusing coffee questions.

First, let me start off by pointing out the different types of beverages that Starbucks has to offer.

  • The latte: the latte is made with steamed milk and espresso and has a small amount of foam on the top.
  • The cappuccino: made with steamed milk and espresso, the cappuccino has much more foam than the latte, so if you ask for one with little foam, you might as well just get the latte.
  • The caramel macchiato: this drink has steamed milk, espresso, vanilla, and caramel. This is a layered drink, meaning that the ingredients are added in a certain order, so if you stir it, you’re just getting a vanilla latte with some caramel in it.
  • The frappuccino: this drink is more of a desert than the other beverages. Made with a special base and a flavor addition, it is blended with ice. Some frappuccinos are made with a coffee base, while others are cream based. So whether or not it has caffeine depends on the base.
  • Brewed coffee: this is just your standard cup of coffee such as you would make at home, only Starbucks offers a variety of blends that you don’t find at the grocery store. Because many people don’t drink their coffee black, you will often hear “café au lait,” which just means coffee with milk.

Now that I have explained the various types of drinks, let’s move on to how one should order a drink. This of course depends on a number of questions.

1. Looking for something with caffeine? If so, choose any of the above drinks and make sure to get a coffee-based frappuccino. If you want a decaffeinated drink, just ask for decaf espresso or a decaf blend for coffee and a cream base for a frappuccino.

2. Sweeten the deal. All of the above items, except for frappuccinos and caramel macchiatos, contain no sugar. To sweeten them up, ask for a flavor addition or simply add the sugar yourself.

3. Do you want it cold or hot? Only the frappuccino is made cold. As for the others, you can always ask them to be made iced. Keep in mind, the frappuccino is the only drink that is actually blended.

4. Spice up your coffee selection. Starbucks offers a bunch of different blends, ranging from French roast to Arabian to Latin American. They differ in taste and texture, so if you’re not a coffee expert, it’s usually safe to stick with the House blend. However, if you’re feeling zesty, try a few different blends and see if you can taste a difference.

5. Make it your own. You can always add an extra shot of espresso, syrup, or cream. They usually cost more, however, especially the espresso.

6. Staying healthy? A lot of people request their drinks “skinny,” meaning that it is made with skim milk, sugar-free syrup, and they do not put the whipped cream on top. Usually, sugar-free syrup tastes roughly the same as the regular stuff. Although a word of caution: sugar-free mocha is not fit for everyone’s taste buds. You can also order a “light” frappuccino, which is made with a base that contains roughly half the calories and carbohydrates as the regular base does. Also, watch out for drinks with multiple flavors in them, such as the white-chocolate caramel latte. It may taste yummy, but it’s packed with calories.

Hopefully by now you’re armed with enough information to make an educated decision the next time you’re ordering at Starbucks. So go ahead, step out of the box and get yourself a grande skinny iced vanilla latte with an extra shot and call it a café-savvy day.

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About Christy Shuler

  • Good article, but Iced Coffee doesn’t fit into your mold. It used to be that Iced Coffee was just hot drip coffee over ice and was the same price as drip coffee. Now, Iced Coffee is double brewed (hence the increase in price) and has sugar syrup in it. If you want an iced black coffee, you need to either call “unsweeted” or “no classic”. Since most of the stores keep the iced coffee jug in the refrigerator, I usually call “light ice” so I don’t have a full cup of ice when I’m done with the coffee.

  • Francoise

    All well and good if the folks making the coffees actually knew how to do it. Order cappuccino, I get a latte. Order a dry cappuccino, I get just foam. Order a half-dry cappuccino I get a foamy mess that collapses within seconds. They need to teach their staff how to make foam without relying on a thermometer, the way I did in the olden days (1980s) when I worked in a little bistro-type cafe.

  • It is nice to have someone put up this kind of article for those people who are greatly confused when it comes to the terminologies. I like frappuccino and latte. When it comes to brewed coffee I don’t need to go out and buy I’ll just make one. When I am out of cash I just make one frapp for me as well 🙂

  • Condor

    Check it out, I was on a walk in D.C. with a friend and we stopped for a coffee at Starbucks, guess what… they were training a new barista… wow we must have gotten $40 worth of free coffees as the trainee had to perfect a variety of drinks.

    How do I normally order coffee at Starbucks?
    I approach the counter, look at the cashier and say “Vente, dark roast drip, no cream”

    I drink it black and I like the bolder roasts. However the peaberry is a favorite too.

  • zingzing

    you wouldn’t need to say “no cream,” as they put the cream at the side at starbucks. that’s just you being all manly and shit.

  • The Starbucks in Tel Aviv was a miserable failure because Israel is a coffee drinking culture, and we know coffee here. Americans by contrast, are getting ripped off. Starbucks has been over-roasting coffee for years. But enjoy the rip-offs while you can. When you run out of money, Starbucks will shut down and if you can get coffee, you’ll brew your own.


  • We brew our own already, Ruve. We order our beans online from a place in Seattle called Caffe Ladro. My wife discovered it on a business trip earlier this year. Their beans are so superior to anything you can get at Starbucks or at the grocery store that it’s like night and day.

    If we’re travelling we’ll patronize Starbucks just because it’s convenient, but truth be told just about any coffee chain or local coffee shop makes a better brew than Starbucks.

  • Mike

    If you say “No cream”, the server will fill the cup.

    If not, they will ask if you want “room for cream.” So saying “no cream” is about being courteous, not about “being manly and all that shit.”

  • Special K

    Thanks for the info… very helpful. If you all ever get to try Starbucks in Shanghai they do an excellent job. You don’t have to worry about the language barrier since English is a requirement to work in one in Shanghai (dont know about other cities)

  • amelia

    Thanks! Really helpful for starbucks beginners!!