Understanding the Starbucks Espresso Menu

If you are one of those New Englanders who runs on Dunkin, then approaching the black board menus of Starbucks is most likely foreign territory. For those of you who just can't seem to understand the difference between a latte or a cappuccino, or maybe you just want to know how many shots of espresso you're actually drinking when you order that grande soy flat white, have no fear your guide to Starbucks espresso is here!

*Before you read the following it is important to be aware of how to order the size beverage you would like. Here is a translation: Small = Tall, Medium = Grande, and Large = Venti. Okay now time to learn!


If you just need a quick pick me up, a double shot of espresso is the way to go. If you don’t think your heart rate can handle a double just go for the single (and say exactly that!). But if you are one of those people who can’t drink espresso in its most basic form then go ahead and try the espresso macchiato, which is a shot of espresso with a dab of foamed milk to top it off. It’s a tiny few sips for a quick satisfaction!


This is how the Europeans drink their coffee, but we here in America have a preference for getting more sips for our spending. The Americano is perfect for those who crave the bold taste of espresso but want something to drink like a long lasting cup of coffee. Starbucks satisfies this with its Caffé Americano comprising espresso shots (1 in tall, 2 in a grande, and 3 in a venti) and adding hot water to expand the espresso through the cup.


Here is where the espresso drink confusion really begins. With LESS milk than a latte, a cappuccino has a stronger espresso flavor and a light fluffy texture. A barista’s hardest job when making this is guaranteeing the milk froths to cloud-like foam while steaming it. Frothing sheds the excess fatty calories from the milk, making a cappuccino an airy calorie saving option as well as delicious. Top it off with a sprinkle of cinnamon for a sweet and spicy surprise.


This espresso drink classic contains a shot (1 in tall, 2 in a grande, and 3 in a venti) of espresso with sweet steamed milk pored gently over. A simple Caffé Latte combines a sweet creamy taste with espresso underlay, perfect for those craving the simple coffee flavor. Starbucks also offers a variety of flavored syrups and fancy creations for those seeking a delicious treat. The most popular are available with the changing seasons, such as the Pumpkin Spice Latte or Gingerbread Latte. Starbucks prides itself on its ability to cater to the customer, which is why you may hear an order that is a mouthful coming out on the bar. With a variety of flavor combinations, milk options, and espresso shot additions, you can create almost any sort of latte you want. Or you can just stick to the ones you can simply read off the board!


If you have used this word used at Starbucks it most likely is following the word caramel, because Starbucks’ classic Caramel Macchiato is a popular creation. The drink combines creamy-vanilla flavored syrup, espresso (shot number depending on the size order) steamed milk with a layer of foamed milk on top followed by an artistic caramel drizzle pattern that makes your morning pick–up me up Instagram worthy.

Flat white 

The newest addition to the Starbucks espresso line up happens to be one of my favorites. This coffee lovers delight combines ristretto shots made with the Starbucks signature Espresso roast and freshly steamed whole (non-fat or soy) milk with a microfoam popping out the center of the cup. In a tall size there are two espresso shots, making the drink equal parts milk equal parts espresso. This differs from a cappuccino (more espresso and frothed airy milk) or a latte, (more steamed milk and less espresso), as we just learned! The flat white shows off the barista’s ability to get the microfoam just right in the cup so the customer has a drink with steamed milk throughout and a dollop on top!

If you still do not understand and find yourself unable to speak words to the barista for fear you may say the wrong thing check out Starbucks.com for detailed descriptions of each beverage as well as nutritional facts for each (which you may or may not want to look at!)