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How to Order at Starbucks

starbucks baristas behind the counter

We can remember the first time we ordered a coffee from Starbucks. What seemed like a simple task was surprisingly nuanced, full of unexpected questions and unusual terminology. Ordering at Starbucks is a daunting task for new coffee drinkers, but even experienced coffee lovers get tripped up by Starbucks’ nonstandard conventions and ambiguous names.

Ordering at Starbucks is a different animal and requires some time and patience to learn the ropes. In this article, we give you a crash course on how to order at Starbucks. If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed or intimidated by the Starbucks menu or lingo, we’ve got you covered. We’ll start with the basics like drink sizes before covering some more advanced topics like ordering a drink “skinny” or ordering something off the secret menu.

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The Basics: Starbucks Cup Sizes

Starbucks doesn’t use the regular small, medium, large sizes and instead opts for a confusing and oft-complained-about system of tall, grande, and venti. If you think of tall, grande, and venti as direct analogies of small, medium, and large and you’ll usually be happy with the size of your drink. However, if you want to order a specific size, you should know a few more names and the corresponding volumes.

Starbucks Drink Sizes
  • Short — 8 fl. oz.
  • Tall — 12 fl. oz.
  • Grande — 16 fl. oz.
  • Venti — 20 fl. oz.
  • Trenta — 31 fl. oz.

If that feels like a lot to remember, print it out and tape it in your car so next time you go through the drive-thru, you’ll be prepared.

Unfortunately, that’s not the end of the story. If the sizing conventions weren’t confusing enough, a hot venti is 20 ounces and a cold venti is 24 ounces. No, we don’t know why they made it that way, but it’s something to remember if you order a hot venti and expect a 24-ounce drink.

A final note on sizes is that not all drinks are available in every size, so be prepared to accept the next closest size if the drink you order isn’t offered in your desired size.

starbucks cups
Image Credit: minimalist_, Pixabay

Be Prepared to Answer Questions

The first time we ordered at Starbucks, we were taken aback by the onslaught of questions our barista asked. Even if you order something with a name from the menu, there will be auxiliary questions about what kind of milk you want, whether you want sweetened or unsweetened syrup, or, in some cases, even which roast you want.

If you’re ordering something slightly different than a menu item, you should expect more questions. In general, your barista will be happy to work with you to get you what you want, but during busier times, it’s best to stick to the menu and not try to order anything too complicated. Choose a quieter time to explore the menu when you aren’t holding up a long line, and your barista will be happy to help you.

If you’re unsure what a question is asking, don’t be afraid to clarify. Your barista wants to serve you to the best of their ability, and asking questions ensures you get what you want.

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Advanced Tip One: Ordering Skinny

Something many Starbucks customers are unaware of is the option to order many drinks “skinny.” A skinny version of a drink is made with nonfat milk, sugar-free syrup, and no whipped cream.

The difference in the number of calories between a drink and its skinny version can be dramatic. Some of the more calorie-laden beverages can have almost twice as many calories as the skinny option. If you’re on a diet and don’t want to cut out Starbucks completely, considering asking for a skinny version next time you order.

man holding a starbucks drink
Image Credit: Omar Lopez, Unsplash

Advanced Tip Two: The Secret Menu

You might have heard that Starbucks has a secret menu and you might be wondering if it’s real. We’re here to tell that it is real, sort of. The secret menu at Starbucks isn’t so much a secret menu as it is a list of customer-designed drinks made from ingredients most Starbucks have. The secret menu isn’t an official Starbucks offering, so it takes a little preemptive legwork if you want to order something from the secret menu.

Search the internet for Starbucks’ secret menu, and you’ll find many pages listing drinks with a complete and precise bill of ingredients. The names of these drinks are unimportant, and your barista at Starbucks won’t recognize the names. To order a drink off the secret menu, write down the ingredients carefully, including the amount of each.

When you order a secret menu drink, you’ll have to be very specific and tell your barista how much of each ingredient you want and specify any instructions, like blending, whipping, and frothing. We don’t recommend ordering a drink from the secret menu during busy hours since it is time-consuming. If you order a secret menu drink, consider tipping your barista a bit more than you normally would since it is typically significantly more work than making a standard drink.

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Ordering at Starbucks: Conclusion

Ordering at Starbucks doesn’t have to be a stressful experience. Once you familiarize yourself with the sizes and learn your way around the menu, you’ll be able to order whatever you want with ease. It takes some time to learn the ropes, but hopefully, this guide has set you on the right track. Before you know it, you’ll be ordering customized lattes and items off the secret menu like an old pro.

SEE ALSO: Can You Microwave Starbucks Cups?


Featured Image Credit: Asael Peña, Unsplash

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Sean Brennan

Sean’s obsession with coffee started when he received his first French press as a gift almost ten years ago. Since then, his love of coffee – and the number of coffee gadgets he owns – has grown considerably. A scientist by training, there is no stone he has left unturned in the never-ending quest for the perfect cup of coffee. He has spent many hours tuning his pour-over technique, thinking about how to best compare grind quality, and worrying about whether the Nicaraguan or Kenyan beans will make the best cold brew. These days he favors the Hario V60, and starts each day by hand grinding his coffee before enjoying a cup prepared with care and attention to detail.

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