A Former Barista’s Guide to Starbucks

It’s no secret–I love coffee. Coffee shops give me joy & there’s nothing better than a well-crafted latte. It’s also no secret that I’m obsessed with Starbucks, to the point that girls at work will ask me the difference between a cappuccino and a macchiato, what the hell a misto is & does espresso have more caffeine than coffee (it doesn’t btw, fun fact). As a former barista (shout out to Holy Grounds), I figured I’d write a definitive guide to Starbucks drinks so you’ll never have any coffee questions again. Get ready to be a ‘Bucks pro.


The Basics

The things you absolutely need to know. If you only read one part of this post, I suggest you read this one.

  • Coffee vs. Espresso: Coffee and espresso come from the same beans, but with a different brewing process. For coffee, hot water drips through coffee grounds and the grounds are filtered out. Espresso, on the other hand, very hot water under pressure is forced through finely-ground beans for 20-30 seconds, resulting in a thicker consistency. Espresso is more concentrated (and usually more bitter) than coffee. Both have caffeine: a 2 oz espresso shot has 80 mg of caffeine and a 12 oz of coffee has 120 mg of caffeine. Can’t go wrong with coffee or espresso… except if you take an espresso shot like a shot of alcohol (don’t do that it’s v. hot, just sip it).
  • Sizes: Don’t ask me how Starbucks sizes got their names, just order your drink correctly & baristas will like you more.
    • Short–8 oz.
    • Tall–12 oz.
    • Grande–16 oz.
    • Venti hot–20 oz. & Venti cold–24 oz.
    • Trenta (cold only)–30 oz.
  • Ordering: I think the best way to order is “I’d like a [hot/cold] [size] [drink name] with/without [any specifications like flavor, milk, extras, etc.].”

You’ve got the basics, so now let’s perfect your order.

Coffee, Coffee, Buzz, Buzz

“If it weren’t for the coffee, I’d have no identifiable personality whatsoever.” –David Letterman

  • Drip coffee: Just regular ol’ coffee like you make at home. It comes in different roasts (blonde, medium & bold) depending on how strong/bitter you like your coffee.
  • Iced coffee: Brew drip coffee hot and then chill. Served over ice.
  • Cold brew: Biggest difference between iced coffee and cold brew is that cold brew coffee grounds are brewed in cold water over 24 hours. This makes cold brew a little smoother, fuller & stronger than iced coffee.
  •  Misto: Half drip coffee and half steamed milk. Similar to a latte or a cappuccino (more on those below!) but with a coffee base vs. espresso. You can add flavor and choice of milk (skim, 2%, soy, coconut, almond, etc.), and you can request what blend of coffee you’d like as the base (blonde, medium or bold). This is also known as a cafe au lait in other places. 
  • Red-eye: Drip coffee with a shot of espresso
  • Black-eye: Drip coffee with 2 shots of espresso if you’re feeling crazy.

Espresso, lattes & more

Please note, there’s no “x” in espresso. 

  • Latte: Shots of espresso (the amount depends on the size you get) and flavor (if you want it) with steamed milk and a little foam on the top. Convinced that Starbucks caramel lattes have crack in them because they’re just so good.
  • Mocha: Latte with chocolate and whipped cream on top. Aka heaven.
  • Cappuccino: Just like a latte but it’s all foamed milk, no liquid.
  • Doppio: Fancy~ way to say a double shot of espresso.
  • Flat white: Very similar to a latte but has ristretto shots instead of regular espresso shots. Ristretto shot: a short shot of espresso with half the amount of water. It’s a little richer & smoother than regular espresso. And flat whites are made with whole milk so it’s silky smooooth.
  • Americano: Espresso with hot water. It’s what they serve you in Europe if you ask for “coffee.”
  • Caramel Macchiato: My guilty pleasure. It’s kind of like an upside-down latte. Vanilla syrup and steamed milk go on the bottom, the espresso shots are poured on top and it’s finished with drizzled caramel sauce. DO NOT STIR YOUR MACCHIATOS. Let the layers mix together naturally. I love macchiatos because they change flavors as you drink them.

Non-Caffeinated beverages

  • Refreshers: All right so these technically* have caffeine in them, but they’re made with green coffee extract aka the caffeine you get from coffee without the coffee flavor. There are a few fruity flavors, so if you need a pick-me-up but don’t want coffee, this is a good option.
  • Frappuccinos: Unless you’re an 8th grade girl in Ugg boots, I’m going to judge you for ordering a frappuccino. But if you’re reaaaally in the mood, there are actually a million different flavors of this blended, sugary drink to choose from. Some have coffee, some don’t, just depending on the flavor. Sometimes you just feel like reliving your middle-school-girl glory days.

Hopefully this sheds a little light on all the glorious things Starbucks has to offer. Special thanks to Krista (also a former barista, apparently it runs in the family) for her insight on flat whites. May your all days always be caffeinated &.


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