The first few times I walked into a Starbucks, this was my experience: Why are the words on the menu so small? *Walks closer to menu* I thought Starbucks had tons of drinks. Why are there like. . . only ten on the menu?! How do I know what I want? Flash forward to present day and I've been working at Starbucks for a year. There's a lot of things I wish I could have told my younger, Starbucks virgin self.

1. There are drinks that taste good that are not frappuccinos. Branch out. Save money.

Once you do this, you will discover that your favorite drink is an iced caramel macchiato with coconut milk and light ice. You will also find that you actually like real coffee! If you want room for cream, order a tall coffee in a grande cup (or a grande in a venti). That way you're getting all the coffee (and caffeine) you paid for.

Similarly, if you're going to be studying for a while and you want your cold drink to stay cold, you can order your drink as say, a grande in a venti cup with extra ice. (E.g. Hi! I'd like a grande iced pumpkin spice in a venti cup with extra ice. No, I do not want whipped cream and I'm going to specify this since I'm aware that the standard for pumpkin spice lattes, any kind of mocha and cinnamon dolce lattes is with whipped cream, regardless of if it is hot or iced.)

2. What can I recycle at Starbucks?

There are Starbucks items you can recycle: plastic cups, flat iced drink lids, dome (whipped cream) lids, hot drink lids and the cardboard sleeve. However, there are things you can't recycle, like straws. You may have heard of a particular straw ban. Check out this article!

Paper hot cups also do not recycle. They don't break down well because there's a lining that keeps the drink from leaking through the cup. There are only a handful of Starbucks locations that use hot cups without this type of lining. Find out if there's one near you!

3. What do the sizes for the drinks mean at Starbucks? 

A tall is a small (12 oz). A grande is a medium (16 oz). Hold up – this is a common source of confusion. Although grande is the word for large in Spanish, it is Starbucks' medium size. The grande used to be Starbucks' largest size until they introduced the venti (20 oz). Except an iced venti is 24 oz. 

4. What's the breakdown of the espresso in Starbucks beverages?

For hot drinks, a tall gets one shot, a grande gets two shots and a venti gets two shots. That was not a typo. Grande and venti hot espresso drinks contain the same amount of caffeine. This, although dumb, means getting a larger size does not always mean more caffeine. On the flip, if you want less coffee flavor, get a tall or venti, because they have a greater milk to espresso ratio. If you want more coffee flavor, get a grande and/or add shots. 

For iced drinks, a tall gets one shot, a grande gets two shots and a venti gets three shots. No explanation needed. 

5. How much caffeine am I getting?

One shot of Starbucks espresso has about 75 mg of caffeine. If you get a grande vanilla latte (which has two shots) that is about 150 mg of caffeine. In comparison, a tall cup of coffee has significantly more at about 235 mg. Most tea drinks range from 20 to 95 mg of caffeine, so unless you're considering a tall espresso drink versus a big ass tea, a coffee drink is going to get you more hyped up for that essay.

6. What if I don't like the taste of coffee, but I need caffeine? 

You have nearly infinite coffee-less options. If you ask nicely, most baristas would love to help you mix up a cool drink. I've seen people get a refresher with all three bases, a strawberry acai refresher with green tea instead of water, a peach citrus white tea infusion with lemonade and raspberry syrup. See what I mean by infinite?

Option #1 - Refreshers: strawberry acai, mango dragonfruit, very berry hibiscus. (A grande has 45 mg of caffeine.)

These are basically grown up kool-aid. Since the caffeine comes from green coffee, the caffeine doesn't taste like coffee. 

Option #2 - Iced tea: green, white, black. (A grande has 20-25 mg of caffeine.)

There are a few ways you can order. First is straight up, with tea, water, ice and liquid cane sugar. The default is with liquid cane sugar, so if you want your tea unsweetened, make sure and say it. The second way is with lemonade – tea, lemonade instead of water, ice, and liquid cane sugar. The last option is the infusions (Pineapple Black Tea, Peach Citrus White Tea, Strawberry Green Tea). Anything that has the word "infusion" in it is a mix of tea, a fruit-flavored tea base, water, ice and liquid cane sugar. If you want your tea to be less watery, ask for it without water, or substitute lemonade instead!

Pro tip: any of these with lemonade and raspberry syrup instead of (or in addition to) liquid cane sugar is amazing. 

Option #3 - Tea lattes: matcha green tea latte (grande has 80 mg caffeine), chai latte (grande has 95 mg caffeine), and the London fog (grande has 45 mg caffeine). A London fog is black tea with milk and vanilla. This can be made hot or iced, but iced takes five-ish minutes to make because the tea has to steep. For the love of all baristas, please do not order this iced during a rush.


For any of the above iced drinks or even just a cup of water, ask the person taking your order for a strawless lid! It's better for the environment, PLUS every sip you take will be refreshing because you're sipping right by the ice instead of from the bottom up. Save a turtle! Get a strawless lid.

7. What drinks have the most caffeine?

This answer surprises some people: it's a plain cup of coffee. You would have to get a drink with five espresso shots to get the same amount of caffeine as a 20 oz cup of coffee. If you're looking for something less hardcore, then here are two specific yummy drinks with lots of caffeine:

Dirty chai – chai latte with one or two shots. Pro tip: it's cheaper to order this as a latte with chai versus chai with a shot. (A grande has 245 mg of caffeine.)

Starbucks Doubleshot – 3 shots of espresso with ice, classic syrup, and a splash of 2% milk. (A grande has 225 mg of caffeine.)

8. What caffeine-free options does Starbucks have?

You could get the decaf version of anything. Just be aware that decaf options still have trace amounts of caffeine. A 100% caffeine-free option is the frappuccinos without coffee. Any flavor can be made without coffee, just ask! (I wouldn't recommend the coffee frappuccino without coffee for obvious reasons.) Another good option is the Passion Tango iced tea. If you weren't paying attention earlier, this is super good with lemonade and raspberry syrup.

I didn't know this until I was double-checking for this article, but the hot chocolate has caffeine. Chocolate, in general, has caffeine so it makes sense that the chocolate in the hot chocolate would too. It's not much caffeine (the grande size has 25 mg) so this small amount probably won't affect you, but hey, now you know.

If you have other questions, ask your barista! As long as there's not a mile-long line behind you, we baristas are happy to help. Don't be afraid to ask. We want you to like your drink. (Then you'll become addicted and have no choice but to become a barista yourself and come join the Starbucks cult.)

All caffeine content statistics come from the Starbucks app. If you're looking for specifics, it's a great resource.

Lead Image Credit: Pexels