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A Guide to the Menu at Starbucks

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Starbucks brews and serves coffee products to the caffeine-crazed populace of urban America. Common in the United States, Starbucks has become the McDonalds of the coffee world; if you are in most major American airports or cities, rest assured, you are never more than 15 minutes from the nearest Starbucks. Starting as an obscure coffee shop in Seattle in the early 1970s, Starbucks has grown so much that they now own significant portions of New York, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, and almost all of Seattle.

Your First 'Starbucks Experience'

Generally, when walking into a Starbucks establishment, the first thing you notice is the smell. It smells very, very strongly of coffee, which is perfectly understandable. It's as if the very air is caffeinated around you. People who hang out long enough in a Starbucks will get a caffeine buzz, whether or not they actually drink a coffee-based beverage.


Walking to the counter, you will notice patrons playing chess, discussing philosophy, or arguing the finer points of the jazz album that is playing over the shop's sound system. Occasionally, there will even be live music, which will drown out the philosophy discussions. From yuppies, to teen 'rebels', to local students, the interior of a Starbucks usually shows a broad spectrum of coffee-drinking stereotypes. If you go to either of the Starbucks in Annapolis, Maryland, USA, you will also see a good number of navy midshipmen, if the Naval Academy is in session. You won't, however, see everyone. Lots of people choose not to go to Starbucks. Many object to what they see as the company's dubious ethical stance with regard to Fairtrade.

Basic Drinkology

Approaching the counter, you will notice two things; the rabid, smiling barista behind the counter and the unintelligible menu. These people behind the counter are really quite hyper; just as you would expect from someone who spends eight hours a day drinking coffee. Some of these baristas may also exhibit a superiority complex. Don't take any notice, though, as most of them are finishing up a masters degree in art history (or something) and very well may be as superior as they think.

Understanding the Starbucks menu may take a little work, but if you'll stick with it for a moment, this entry will give you a brief explanation of each of the drinks that you are likely to find in the average Starbucks. First, one thing that you need to know is that there is a bit of an existential crisis regarding the naming of coffee drinks in a Starbucks: menu items in a Starbucks are often named something completely different somewhere else.

Espresso Shots

Here's a brief breakdown of the number of espresso shots per size: 'Tall' = one shot, 'Grande' = two, 'Venti' = three.


The latte (pronounced lah-tay) is the beginner's espresso drink. If this is your first time in a Starbucks, this would be a good place to start. The latte consists of espresso, steamed milk and a dollop of foam on top.


Close cousin to the latte, the cappuccino is a drink that bridges the international gap; it's pretty much the same everywhere you go, even in Europe. The 'cap' is basically the same thing as a latte: it contains the same amount of espresso, but the cappuccino has more foam.


This drink is in fact made up entirely of steamed water and espresso shots; there is no brewed coffee in it. The steamed water is just water taken from the espresso bar.

Cafe Au Lait

This drink1 consists of half regular brewed coffee, and half steamed milk, and usually comes with the dollop of foam to top it off.

Advanced Drinkology

Cafe Mocha

This drink is a variation on the latte. Chocolate is added into the mix, and whipped cream is substituted for the dollop of foam.

Cafe Breve

This is another variation of latte (pronounced breh-vay). It's made with half&half (a popular American dairy product), or 'cream'.

Mocha Valencia

This is a basic Cafe Mocha with an orange flavour. The whipped cream on top is likely to be sprinkled with grated orange peel.

Caramel Macchiato

This is one of Starbucks most popular drinks. Some baristas refer to this as the 'cafe tooth decay', and with good reason. The caramel macchiato is basically a latte, with added caramel sauce. It's incredibly sweet and pretty evil, but worth it once in a while.


This is basically a coffee milkshake, but it's more than just coffee flavoured. It is made with a very, very dark Italian roast coffee. According to this Researcher, drinking a frap-puccino is a great way to get a buzz in the summer heat, and it comes in about half a dozen different ways.


Chai means 'tea' in some east Asian languages, so you can have a little chuckle all to yourself when you hear a smarty-pants Starbucks barista yell out 'tall chai tea latte!', as they are in effect saying 'tall tea tea latte!'. It is a tea of sorts, and has vanilla, honey and some spice action going on in it and is reminiscent of pumpkin pie.


Believe it or not, Starbucks does serve tea, and some of it is even worth drinking, but what is available is a far cry from plain English tea. They serve mostly herbals and flavoured teas, and all of them have somewhat eclectic names. If you are looking for just plain tea, go with 'awake' as it's the closest you'll probably find to the real thing.

Espresso Macchiato

This is just a basic espresso, which has been 'marked' by a tad of milk froth on the top.

Red Eye

Someone who can 'drink' (ie, choke down) a Red Eye deserves your respect. This drink is basically a cup of coffee (already well caffeinated) with either one, two, or three espresso shots added for good measure. People that drink these are either clinically dead and need resurrection, or are writing a doctoral thesis or something equally mind-numbing. You may want to think twice before ordering this drink.

And Finally

No matter how well you study this entry, or how much of a veteran Starbucks customer you are, you may be sure of one thing when ordering your drink; you will order it incorrectly. Some way, somehow, you will say something that is out of line, and the counter person will look down on you. Some ways to avoid this are as follows:

  • Always order the 'tall' size, this saves you from having to pronounce 'Grande' (pronounced grand-ay) and 'Venti' (no matter which way you pronounce this - ven-tay, or ven-tee, the barista will correct you with whatever form you didn't use! Tread very carefully when ordering this size).

  • Make your drink as simple as possible. If you don't reel off a list of requirements in your order, the barista cannot correct you on the order you said it in. For example, if you were to order a 'tall, skim, mocha with no whipped cream' invariably, the barrista would tell his colleague behind the bar to make a 'tall, no whip, skim, mocha'. However, if you order a 'tall latte' you can rob them of this satisfaction.

  • Give up on all espresso drinks and order the Coffee Of the Day. This is whatever coffee they are brewing the regular Christian way for that day. If you want to sound really cool, order a 'COD'.

1Café au lait is French for 'coffee with milk'.

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