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Are You Overpaying for Your Starbucks Drink?

Krysteena is a former housewife turned single mother, long-time gamer (NES era), and avid crocheter—your standard opinionated female.

My morning drink

My morning drink

Good Morning Coffee Drinkers!

I am currently (as of typing this) a barista at a Starbucks store in the United States. I love working there; the company is absolutely fabulous. They treat their employees very well at every level I have personally seen. As a company, they love their customers, and that feeling is quite often returned wholeheartedly.

"Wow," you say. "With that type of opening statement what could you possibly have to be talking about here?"

Well I'll tell you, one thing that I am often amazed about when I'm ringing up someone's order is how often people are confused about the details of what they are drinking, and how often this ends up with them overpaying (or occasionally underpaying, but I'm not going to discuss that here. I own stock!) for their favorite drink. I'm going to quickly go through some of the most common misunderstandings, and how to get the drink you really want and pay what you really should be paying for that exact same drink. I want you guys to get the full value for the drink you are purchasing!

Note: I'm going to be quoting prices for comparisons, so you guys can see what I'm talking about. However, the prices I'll be quoting will necessarily be the prices in my own area. Since prices are regional, you will need to recheck my figures at your own local Starbucks and adjust as necessary.

Iced or hot choices of caramel deliciousness

Iced or hot choices of caramel deliciousness

Caramel Macchiato

The one drink above all others that people misunderstand, and therefore get overcharged for when they try to make changes, is the Caramel Macchiato. It is a delicious drink, slightly on the sweet side with a hint of a coffee bite. It is often ordered 'upside down' because having the coffee floating on top is slightly challenging to new coffee drinkers, and because by getting it upside down the caramel is slightly melted into the drink and adds a buttery sweet flavor to the drink overall. So how can you go wrong when you are ordering a Caramel Macchiato and paying for it?

A Vanilla Latte With Caramel, Please

So the first issue is when you order a vanilla latte, add caramel, please. Shouldn't be a problem, right? Well, a vanilla latte in my area is $4.05, and the caramel sauce charge is $.60. A caramel Macchiato by itself is $4.45, a difference of $.20. Not really a big overcharge I know, but why pay an extra twenty cents when you don't have to?

"But I want my caramel macchiato sweeter, like a vanilla latte!"

Yes, a vanilla latte gets a pump more vanilla than a caramel macchiato does, but here is a common misconception. Starbucks does not charge for extra syrup in a drink that already has that syrup in it. (And if yours does there may be a problem, or something else is going on, like a lack of ability to get supplies or something.) So save yourself the extra change and order your caramel macchiato with an extra pump of vanilla—you'll be quite happy!

"I want my drink mixed but I don't want the caramel mixed in!"

Not a problem, simply say "upside-down caramel only on top please!" Your drink is always fully customizable, as long as you understand what your end result should be. Don't hesitate to ask, and expect your barista to try to figure it out for you if there is confusion. You aren't expected to be the expert in Starbucks drinks; that job belongs to the barista.

Full official recipe for the iced caramel macchiato

Full official recipe for the iced caramel macchiato

A Caramel Macchiato With No Caramel Sauce, Please

Alright, so this one is a lot less common. In fact, it very well may be regional or mainly due to a language barrier, as this one would definitely be explained most of the time. However, for those who don't understand, or if you know someone who orders this drink, I really hope this clarifies things a bit.

Every once in a while we'll customers who order a caramel macchiato without caramel sauce. Generally, they won't say anything about the caramel sauce until they go to pick up their drink, leaving it to the barista on bar to clarify things. In my area, a flavored latte is $4.05 (a vanilla latte is a flavored latte, the flavor being vanilla.) A caramel macchiato, as posted above, is $4.45. A difference of $.40. Why pay an extra forty cents to have something removed?

Most of the time this is a misconception where people believe a caramel macchiato is a caramel latte with caramel drizzle, but it is not. Removing the caramel sauce gives you a vanilla latte, not a caramel latte. However, this is very simply fixed by just ordering a caramel latte!

Cheap Alternative to Caramel Macchiato

"Wonderful," you say, "but I can't really afford to have a caramel macchiato drink regularly even if I'm only paying for what I get."

Ah well, I have you covered there! Here is a little invention of my own for caramel macchiato lovers who can't afford to have their favorite drink regularly! It is a cheap version of your espresso bar favorite, made with iced coffee instead of espresso. Before you ask, this drink may be very close to tasting like a caramel macchiato, but you would never be fooled into thinking it really is one. But if you are on a strict budget but would still like to have a special drink sometimes, this might just be for you!

What I like about this drink is that it is at its most basic level an iced coffee. This means that refills for this particular drink will be at the refill price (as long as you qualify for refills in your location*) plus the added cost of the caramel sauce. In my location that would be $2.95 for a grande, and $1.10 for a refill.

Iced Coffee Macchiato

  1. Ask for iced coffee with special instructions.
  2. An inch of milk in the bottom, ice on top of the milk.
  3. Vanilla on top of the ice.
  4. Iced coffee on top of the ice and vanilla.
  5. Caramel sauce drizzled on top.

*The basic requirements for the refill price at Starbucks is to ask for the refill within one hour of your original purchase, and you must remain on the premises. However, each location has some flexibility in how strictly they adhere to these rules. Ask your location what their specific requirements are.

Blended goodness

Blended goodness

Vanilla Frappuccino

A very common drink people order lately is a vanilla bean frappuccino with shots of espresso. It's frustrating because it is difficult to explain why you are overpaying, by quite a bit, when you order this drink.

In my area, a cafe vanilla frappuccino and a vanilla bean frappuccino cost the same—$3.75. Add shots of espresso are $.75 each, making the usual change of getting a vanilla bean frappuccino with two add shots a whopping $5.25! A huge change in such a reasonable drink! What is truly irritating about this is that people are ordering this because they think the cafe vanilla and vanilla bean are two separate drinks, when in reality they are the same drink with a caffeine difference. Please do your wallet a favor and just order a cafe vanilla frappuccino instead!

"But I don't like the flavor of the cafe vanilla, while I do like the vanilla bean with shots of espresso! How can that be if you are telling me they are the same drink!"

While it is true that the cafe vanilla and the vanilla bean are basically the same drink with a caffeine difference, the taste difference you are experiencing is because the caffeine added to the cafe vanilla is frappuccino roast, not espresso. Now before you say, "but that is why I order it that way," let me explain why you don't need to do so.

It is a little-known fact that you can easily change the frappuccino roast for espresso shots with no added cost. Just say "substitute espresso for frappuccino roast please" when you order your drink, and there you go! Same drink, far different price!

Just keep in mind that this only works with the frappuccinos that get frappuccino roast. If it is a cream-based drink (no caffeine) you will be charged for shots of espresso. And if you get more shots of espresso than the drink recipe calls for you'll have to pay for the extra shots. (It is unwise to go above two shots in a grande and three in a venti anyway, coffee foams quite a bit when blended and you'll end up with mostly air.) But if you are ordering a cream-based frappuccino with add shots it is probably well worth the time to ask if there is a coffee-based version of your drink and substitute your shots of espresso for the frappuccino roast instead of paying the extra money for adding the shots.

We Can Take It From Here!

Most of the reasons why people don't get the drink they thought they ordered, or pay more (or occasionally less) than they should is confusion over how much leverage they have over their drink. They think that if they order it this way or that way they'll either get charged something they don't want, or they are being too difficult, or whatever they may think is happening.

In my experience, as long as you have a helpful barista (which honestly is most of us. In general, we want you to get what you want and like what you get and have a good bit of leeway to make sure that happens) the best thing to do when in doubt is to ask. I don't personally know any barista who would hesitate to tell you exactly what extras you would be charged for, as well as what you wouldn't, and happy to figure out what drink is closest to what you want to be drinking and how to change it to what you are looking for if we have the stuff to do it. Or how to alter drinks you've tried before but were unhappy with for one reason or another. Just ask!

We don't expect you to be a professional in what we can do—that's our job. You just need to be an expert in you. We can take it from there!