How to Understand the Starbucks Drinks Menu: Learn the Lingo
Before I started working at Starbucks, I didn’t know much about espresso. Sure, I liked coffee and tea, but I couldn’t have told you the difference between a cappuccino and a macchiato. A lot of Starbucks customers are unfamiliar with espresso drinks and could benefit from some information about our menus. There is also some unique lingo at Starbucks. Read on so you can sound like a pro when you order your next drink!
In This Article
What is a Shot of Espresso?
Regular and Seasonal Flavors
Syrup Choices and Quantities
What Is a “Skinny” Drink?
Bonus: Starbucks Secret Menu
What Is an Espresso Shot?
Many drinks on the Starbucks menu are made with espresso shots. A shot is about 75mg of caffeine. You may hear the term "pulling a shot" thrown around. "Pulling" is a barista's way of referring to how the espresso is brewed by the machines.
Starbucks stores use automatic espresso bars. This means that the machine grinds and prepares our shots for us. Traditional cafes may do this by hand. We still retain some control of the quality of the shot, however, as we must maintain and adjust our machines throughout the day.
The amount of caffeine in any coffee-based drink is known to fluctuate, but 75mg per shot is the best estimate. If you are worried about your caffeine consumption for health reasons, I would urge you to overestimate and assume there is anywhere from 80mg to 100mg of caffeine per shot of espresso. For comparison, an average eight-ounce drip cup of coffee contains around 104 to 192mg of caffeine, according to the American Beverage Association.
Espresso Shots at a Glance
1 shot (1 oz.)
2 shots (2 oz.)
3 shots (3 oz.)
4 shots (4 oz.)
1 shot decaf (1 oz.)
1 shot half-caf (1 oz.)
About 40 mg
What size will you get if you ask for a "regular" at Starbucks? If I am your barista, I will ask you to be more specific. You can always ask for small, medium, large, and even extra large (for iced teas, refreshers and iced coffees), but here are Starbucks’ special terms for sizes.
Drink Sizes at a Glance
The smallest size Starbucks offers, a short drink is 8 oz. Only hot drinks are available in this size cup. You'll have to ask for this size specially, as it's not even listed on the menu. Served in the same size cup that is used for shots of espresso, this is also the default size for kids' drinks.
Tall drinks are 12 oz. You'll get this size if you ask for a "small".
Grande hot and iced drinks both contain 16 oz. This is the only size available for smoothies. This is the size you get if you order a "medium".
Venti hot drinks are 20 oz. Venti iced drinks are 24 oz. The size you get if you order a "large".
The Trenta size is only available for iced teas, refreshers, and iced coffee and the cup holds about 30 oz.
Customers can control how hot their drinks are, but if no special temperature is requested your barista will steam the milk to about 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Any temperature up to 200 degrees Fahrenheit is possible. (It's worth noting is that soy milk is said to burn at 180 degrees Fahrenheit, so anything above that is inadvisable.)
- Kids' Drinks: Your barista will prepare the drink to 130 degrees Fahrenheit, which is still warm but definitely immediately drinkable.
- Extra Hot: This special request is 180 degrees Fahrenheit and it is nice if you have a long way to take a drink. It will still be warm once you get where you're going.
- Coffee and Hot Tea: These drinks are both made from water that is 200 degrees Fahrenheit. I hope that's plenty warm for you!
Starbucks offers many different milk options, including nonfat (also called skim), 1%, 2%, whole, and soy milk. Half and half, also referred to as breve (BREH-vay), heavy whipping cream, and vanilla soy milk are also available.
Most Starbucks drinks are made with 2% low-fat milk, unless you ask for something else. One big exception is the frappuccino—those delicious, iced, blended drinks—which are made with whole milk unless another choice is specified. Another exception is the new Flat White, which is also made with whole milk.
Eggnog is also offered seasonally. Generally speaking, it's available from October or November until January or February. Eggnog can be substituted as the milk for any drink. The Eggnog Latte is actually a mix of 2/3 eggnog and 1/3 milk (normally 2%, but other options can be substituted.)
All of the syrups used at Starbucks are measured with pumps for consistency's sake. One pump of a normal syrup comes out to one-quarter of an ounce. Chai, Mocha, and White Mocha pumps are about a half of an ounce. The amount of syrup in a drink can be changed to suit your taste. It's not at all uncommon for a barista to be asked to put half as much syrup in a drink. Baristas are perfectly capable of executing a half-pump. I've even served a few drinks with a quarter-pump of syrup.
Regular Syrup Flavors
Here are some of the syrups you might find at your local Starbucks:
- Vanilla: Also available sugar-free
- Caramel: Also available sugar-free
- Cinnamon Dolce: Also available sugar-free
- Hazelnut: Also available sugar-free
- Toffee Nut
- Peppermint: Also available sugar-free (seasonally)
- Classic: Simple syrup; a mixture of sugar and water
- Mocha: Also available sugar-free
- White Mocha
- Tazo Chai: Standard, classic chai
- Teavana Oprah Chai
Seasonal Syrup Flavors
- Pumpkin Spice: Usually available from October until January or February.
- Caramel Brulee: This syrup has become a Starbucks holiday season staple. It's usually available from November to January/February, as stock runs out.
- Gingerbread: A winter seasonal syrup, usually available from November through January/February.
- Sugar-Free Peppermint: Another winter seasonal syrup, this is used in the skinny version of the Peppermint Mocha, but you can request it on its own.
- Peach: A summer-time seasonal syrup that is most commonly used in the featured Peach Green Tea and Peach Green Tea Lemonade.
- Blackberry: A newcomer for summer 2014, this was featured in the Blackberry Mojito Tea and Blackberry Mojito Tea Lemonade.
Syrups at a Glance
Pumps of Syrup
Shots of Espresso
Short - hot only (8oz)
Tall (12 oz)
Venti - hot (20 oz)
Venti - iced (24 oz)
Trenta - iced only (32 oz)
What Is a "Skinny" Drink?
A skinny drink contains nonfat/skim milk and sugar-free syrup. Skinny drinks will not be topped with whipped cream unless requested. The term "skinny" usually refers to a latte, but if you ask a barista to make any drink skinny, they'll know what you're talking about.
Grande Flavored Latte
Grande Skinny Flavored Latte
Starbucks Secret Menu
Questions & Answers
How many shots go in Starbucks iced drinks?
For most iced drinks, a tall and a grande both get two shots of espresso, and a venti gets three.Helpful 27
I’d like to order a chai tea from Starbucks, but they are too sweet. How can I ask for a chai diluted with milk by half?
Keep in mind that the chai used in Starbucks is a liquid measured in pumps. If you were ordering a grande, ask for two pumps instead of the usual four. The space would be automatically filled up with milk. So, order a Grande Chai with 2 pumps.Helpful 19
If I want a chai tea diluted by half or 3/4, what do I ask for?
A chai tea latte is made with pumps of syrup. The usual amount of pumps are 3-4-5; so three in a tall, four in a grande, and five in the venti. To get a less strong chai, just ask for fewer pumps.Helpful 14