Your Coffee Questions, Answered

Going to a coffee shop for the first time can be a bit of an overwhelming experience. There are so many people and the baristas are moving so fast, everyone knows what all the coffee terms mean, and there are way too many options to choose from. Here's a simple guide to help you understand what all the common coffee drinks are and how to find the best coffee for you. 

Note: Though this article is specifically Starbucks-oriented, but can apply similarly to many other coffee shops

  1. 1. Choose Your Drink Type 

    There are many different types of coffee, and it's important to start with the one that works with both your taste buds and your desired caffeine intake. 

    Drip Coffee is just basic coffee that's constantly brewing at Starbucks. In the mornings, Starbucks will usually have a dark roast, a light roast, their signature medium roast, Pike Place™, and decaf coffee brewing every eight minutes. In the afternoons, they often will only have Pike Place™ on brew, remade every fifteen minutes. Your preferred roast is primarily based on personal preference. Dark roast is generally fuller and more bold or hearty, whereas light roast is usually more acidic, greater in caffeine levels, and less bitter. Drip coffee tends to have higher caffeine content than other drinks you can get. 

    Espresso is a specific type of coffee in which boiling water is forced under pressure through coffee beans. It makes a smaller amount of really concentrated coffee, known as a shot of espresso. Espresso can be drunk by itself (which allows the caffeine to affect you faster), or with additions such as foam, but it is most commonly used in drinks such as lattes or americanos. 

    Espresso shots can also be pulled as ristretto shots, meaning they are pulled with less water, so they give a sweeter taste, but with a more concentrated caffeine amount. 

    Starbucks also offers blonde espresso, which is more similar to light roast drip coffee. Again, personal preference dictates whether you like blonde espresso. It's supposed to taste sweeter and creamier. 

    In general, espresso-based drinks will have lower caffeine levels than your basic drip coffee. 

    You also must be cognizant that increased drink size does not always mean more caffeine. For example, a hot venti-sized drink at Starbucks contains two shots of espresso, which is the same amount that's in the grande size. Always ask your barista if you're unsure, or you want to make sure you're getting the caffeine level you want. You can also always add for more or fewer espresso shots in any drink. 

    Americanos are espresso shots mixed with water. There is an extra shot of espresso in Americano style drinks, meaning a grande size would have three shots instead of the typical two. 

    Lattes (my personal favorite) are espresso shots with milk and a little bit of foam. 

    Cappuccinos are similar to lattes, but they have way more foam. Cappuccinos will be mostly foam with only some milk. Hot cappuccinos (most common) are steamed, but iced cappuccinos are basically an iced latte with steamed foam on top. 

    Macchiatos at Starbucks are basically lattes, but the shots are poured on top. They also come with one less pump of syrup than normal. A common macchiato is the Caramel Macchiato, where a grande would have three pumps of vanilla syrup, milk, then two shots of espresso poured on top, and, of course, topped with caramel drizzle. 

    Please note: A "real" macchiato is a shot of espresso with foam on top. If you try to order a macchiato at a different coffee shop, make sure you're aware of what exactly you're ordering

    A flat white is an espresso drink that is pulled with ristretto shots. It comes with an extra shot of espresso, whole milk, and has a signature foam dot on top. 

    The Starbucks Doubleshot on Ice comes with one less than normal pumps of Classic syrup (just simple syrup) with ice and one extra espresso shot (so three for a grande). It is then topped with a splash of milk. 

    Iced Coffee is basically drip coffee in iced form. 

    Cold Brew is similar to iced coffee, but it is steeped for 24 hours, so it is much higher in caffeine content. In fact, it is the most caffeinated beverage on its own at Starbucks. It is very strong and bitter-tasting, but it is diluted with some water during preparation. It commonly comes with sweet cream or cold foam. 

    A Frappuccino™ is a blended coffee drink that is made with Frappuccino™ roast coffee, milk, and ice mixed with whatever toppings or add-ins you desire. Usually, you would order a pre-determined recipe Starbucks offers, but you can really add anything you want (even espresso shots!). You can also order Frappuccinos™ without coffee. 

  2. 2. Choose Your Flavors, Milk, and if you Want it Hot or Iced

    Flavors: Starbucks has many flavors including vanilla, mocha, white chocolate mocha, hazelnut, caramel, classic, and many seasonal flavors. You can order multiple flavors or change the number of pumps of syrup they put into your drink. 

    Milk: Starbucks typically has a default of 2% milke, but you can also get whole, nonfat, half and half, heavy cream, almond milk, and coconut milk. 

    Hot/Iced: Decide whether you want your drink hot or iced, or if you want it blended as a Frappuccino™.

  3. 3. Starbucks Tips/Tricks

    If you’re getting coffee and you want less than two and a half inches of milk added (most commonly with drip coffee or iced coffee), then you can say “with milk” and you won’t be charged --regardless of the type. 

    If you stay in-house at a Starbucks, you can get unlimited free refills of hot drip coffee, iced coffee, or teas with a Starbucks Rewards card, or for a small fee if you don’t have a card, no matter what original drink you bought. Also, you can get your drinks or food in reusable for-here mugs or plates. Many coffee shops have "for-here" options- so make sure to ask for these if you're planning on studying there and you want to be a bit more eco-friendly! 

    The Starbucks Reward card allows you to add money to your card and earn stars that will get you a free drink or food item after a certain about of stars earned. You also get a free drink on your birthday. ​

    If you and your friend are ordering two "tall-sized" drinks, order together as a venti and ask them to split it into two tall cups. This way you pay less, and most baristas will finish off each drink so it looks normal after they split it (mostly, this means individual whipped cream on top!). This works especially well with Frappuccinos™. 

    If you're going through a Starbucks Drive-Thru and you have a dog, ask for a "Puppuccino". This is a short cup with whipped cream -- a nice little treat for your pup! 

So, next time you go to Starbucks, you don't have to worry about what everything means! And remember, if you end up ordering something you don't like, always go back to the counter and tell them! They will almost always remake something for you until you find something you like. Here's to hoping this article gives you confidence at the coffee shop!


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