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A Broke College Student’s Guide to Starbucks

College students have a very specific brand, which consists of three things: being broke, being sleep deprived, and being broke and sleep deprived. I didn’t truly value coffee until I started drinking it to get through long, sleepy nights of homework. My job working as a Starbucks barista certainly did not help my case. However, in my time as a barista, I have discovered all the tricks to getting coffee for cheap, making dupes for my favorite drinks at home, as well as the best drinks to keep me awake through the day. Here is my barista-approved guide to Starbucks: broke college student edition.

Learn the Lingo!

     - Sizing: Starbucks has five drink sizes. Hot drinks are available in short, tall, grande, and venti. Most iced drinks are available in tall, grande, venti, and trenta. There are exceptions, but these are the general sizing guides.

     - Hot or Iced: Most espresso drinks are available hot or iced. Make sure to specify which one you want!

     - Modifications: Drinks are pretty easily modified to your needs, just ask your barista! You can ask for drinks to have different syrups, sweeteners, milks, temperatures, etc. Just ask!

Need a lot of caffeine? Try these drinks:

    - Any of the cold brews: Cold brew is brewed overnight, and retains the most of its caffeine through the lack of heat in the brewing process. Popular drinks include the Vanilla Sweet Cream Cold Brew and the Nitro Cold Brew. Want to switch it up? Ask for your sweet cream in the form of cold foam instead!

    - Starbucks Double-shot on Ice: This is an espresso-based drink shaken with ice and sweetener and topped off with 2% milk. The venti size of this drink is the highest caffeinated drink on the Starbucks menu.

     - Espresso: This can be ordered however you like! You can order as many shots as you like, and many people like to order the espresso over ice. Espresso is often ordered with pumps of white mocha syrup over ice, and is said to be a good dupe for the popular (and strong!) Vietnamese coffee.

     - Iced Green Tea or Black Tea: This is a great option for those who don’t like coffee! These drinks can be paired with juice infusions, lemonade, and/or sweetener.

Broke? Try these tips:

     - Iced espresso: An iced 2x4 consists of 2 espresso shots and 4 pumps of white mocha, over ice. You can ask for any kind of milk in the drink, and can order the drink in any size cup. This drink comes out to be $3.05, and has the same ingredients as a grande white mocha.

     - Sizing up the cup: Let’s say you order a tall iced coffee with milk and sweetener. You can ask for your drink to be put in a grande cup! That way, you will get a full tall’s worth of iced coffee, and the milk fills the rest, giving you a grande sized drink.

     - Uncut drinks: Iced teas and cold brew are usually measured out in a ratio of tea to water, before ice and sweeteners are added. You can order your grande iced green tea with no water, in a venti cup with extra ice! That way, the drink will dilute itself as the ice melts, and you will get a venti sized drink. Adjusting the amount of sweetener in the drink doesn’t cost extra, so you can do that to accommodate for the larger size.

     - Splitting drinks: While employees are not allowed to split drinks, it's simple to get around this rule. Ordering a trenta sized drink with no ice, along with two separate grande cups of ice on the side, comes out to be significantly cheaper than buying two individual drinks.

Want to make your own? Try these tips:

     - Cold brew at home: Much to my surprise, cold brew is incredibly easy to make at home! You just need ground coffee, water, and a container to leave it in. My personal favorite way to make cold brew is in a french press. There are plenty of recipes online that tell you the various ratios of coffee to water for different methods of preparing cold brew coffee. It tastes just as good made at home!

     - Syrups: Contrary to popular belief, Starbucks syrups are not as unique as they seem. There are a bunch of inexpensive flavor options at your local grocery store. Torani brand syrups are under $5 and available in Walmart and Amazon.

     -French press: French presses are a multi-functional kitchen tool that run from $10-$20, and can be your best hidden weapon when it comes to duping Starbucks drinks. You can prepare hot coffee, iced coffee, cold brew, hot tea, and ice tea, all with just a french press.

It can be pretty overwhelming trying to understand all the different drinks at Starbucks, and the coffee is definitely not cheap. But with the right tools and tricks, you can definitely make it work for your budget and caffeine needs! Also, please remember to be kind and respectful to your baristas.


Try any of these tips or tricks? Let us know by tagging @HerCampusSJSU on Instagram or Twitter! Good luck!

Sophomore at SJSU, pursuing a bachelor's degree in Business Management. Lover of all things theatre and Disney. Collector of all things old and pretty. Find me on Instagram: @shay.singh
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