How to Order at Starbucks

January 27, 2010 at 2:26 am 34 comments

I like Starbucks.

I don’t love it the way some people do, but I can see why they make daily trips or spend their afternoons there. The big smiles and attention to detail make you feel special, like you’re the only one who orders a drink that way. It’s like being part of an exclusive club that has its own language and club houses all over the world.

Actually, I’m sitting in a Starbucks while I write this. This is the first time I have written from Starbucks, or any cafe for that matter. I thought it was important for accuracy and inspiration — wait, my London Fog is ready.

OK, I’m back.

Jamie, the barista, says “hi” (barista is Italian for “bartender”).

A London Fog is basically a latte, with an earl grey tea bag and a shot of vanilla syrup. Not every Starbucks makes this drink well, but they’re really good about taking drinks back if you don’t like them, so don’t be afraid to try something new or let them know they made a mistake.

If you’re looking for “London Fog” on the menu, it has been renamed to reduce confusion. You’ll find it labeled as “Earl Grey” under “Tea Lattes.”

A moment ago, I overheard a customer at the counter. I couldn’t help but listen to the conversation — It’s very quiet in here; since the guy with dreadlocks and the distinguished lady both left about ten minutes ago, I’m the only other person in the store. The customer said he’s here because his sick daughter told him: the only thing that will make her feel better is lemon loaf from Starbucks.

While the barista bagged the lemon loaf, the customer looked around casually and said, “So this is Starbucks.”

The barista smiled and said, “yes.”

“This is my first time in here” and as if he needed to defend himself he continued, “I’m not a coffee drinker.”

He paused and then said, “Do you have hot chocolate, or anything like that?”

In less than a minute the barista educated him on the variety of ways they could make his hot chocolate: with vanilla, steamed milk, espresso, whipped cream or all of the above.

He says, “I just want a hot chocolate, and I’m not into real hot stuff.” The barista told him that it can be made to any temperature, which resulted in a confused look on the customers face. The barista continued, “We make kids drinks at 140 degrees.”

The man thought about it for a few seconds. He said, “make it one thirty” and I was impressed. Two minutes ago, this man had never been in Starbucks, now he’s ordering drinks by temperature.

Starbucks is an intimidating place, until you’re comfortable with the language and the local customs.

Friends Dont Let Friends Drink at StarbucksThere is no manual for ordering at Starbucks. When you’re new,  you listen to other people order ahead of you. Sometimes, it sounds the way a secret handshake looks — you don’t know what it means and you can’t repeat it. Why did they say they want their drink wet, isn’t that the idea?

It’s not supposed to be a secret, it’s supposed to be a way to communicate exactly how you want your order. On the other hand, some people like show off their expertise with the language.

So, what does it all mean? Here is a breakdown of some terms a Starbucks beginner probably won’t know:

  • Non-fat/skim – skim milk (if your drink contains milk)
  • Low-fat/percentage – 1% or 2% milk
  • Breve – Made with half and half instead of milk. Makes it thicker, and contains many more calories than the above choices
  • Skinny – Non-fat milk, sugar free syrup
  • No Foam – Lattes and Macchiatos have foamed milk on top, you can ask for no foam or wet/dry
  • Wet – Less Foam (and more liquid)
  • Dry – More Foam (and less liquid)

You’ll also need to know the sizes. Unlike McDonald’s cups, they don’t have small, medium and large. Starbucks sizes, from smallest to largest, are the following:

  1. Short – 8 oz. Basically kids size
  2. Tall – 12 oz. You’ll get this size if you ask for small
  3. Grande – 16 oz. This is medium, but it’s confusing because it means “large” in Italian
  4. Venti – Translated from Italian, it means “Twenty,” which is how many ounces this size is

In the future, I’ll go over the contents of all the most popular drinks. In the meantime, try a Hot Chocolate with a shot of vanilla syrup — it’s a secret recipe for great hot chocolate.

Broken Secrets

Written By: Chad Upton

[available on Kindle]

Sources: Barista, Starbucks, Babelfish

Entry filed under: Demystified, Food and Drink. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , .

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34 Comments Add your own

  • 1. zaradzki  |  January 27, 2010 at 2:49 am

    Thanks a lot for clarifying what venti stands for I always wondered how they made up that word!

  • 2. Starbucks Drink ID Codes « Broken Secrets  |  February 5, 2010 at 1:43 am

    […] If you have any to add, let me know. If you don’t know what some of these terms mean, then you should checkout my other entry, How to Order at Starbucks. […]

  • 3. beckymo  |  April 14, 2010 at 11:06 am

    Hi, just discovered your site. Love it, subscribed, and became a Facebook fan. Re your Starbucks entries, I have another tip. The baristas state it in a specific order. I know they want hot or iced first, then size, then drink. I am not sure where you put the custom items in, but have found that if I order, all I have to do is listen to how they read it back to me to know how they want it. I live in the Seattle area, so have been a Starbucks fan for a long time. Now I am also a Broken Secrets fan! Thanks!

  • 4. shannon  |  May 11, 2010 at 9:47 am

    If you order an iced drink “upside down” – the iced caramel machiatto for example – the barista will shake it for you so the drink and milk/cream are already mixed together (otherwise, the milk/cream are on top and you stir it yourself).

    It seems to me that they should do this automatically anyway, but I guess not…

    • 5. LinziLoo  |  October 12, 2011 at 8:10 pm

      The only drinks that are able to be ordered “upside down” are machiattos (caramel or standard). Machiatto means “to mark the foam”, indicating that in these beverages the shots of espresso go in last, rather than first (which is standard in espresso based beverages). Ordering your drink upside down does not mean that it will be shaken, rather that the shots of espresso will go in the bottom of the cup (and perhaps stirred or swirled with the other ingredients of the beverage.)

    • 6. Jules  |  April 17, 2016 at 4:16 pm

      Personally I like mine unstirred so you can see the layers of the milk and syrup and so forth. It looks nice and then you get to mix it yourself . Feels fresher somehow

  • 7. Kimberly  |  July 5, 2010 at 7:02 pm

    While in a Starbucks with a friend, she pointed out a trademark symbols next to Venti. I assumed this meant Starbucks was making stuff up, i.e. XL = venti. Now I know it means “twenty,” but why the trademark on the ordering board? Can one trademark usage? I’m in the UK now and I don’t think their boards have this.

    It so doesn’t matter, but I love this blog for the answers and other questions it inspires.

    • 8. Katie  |  March 18, 2011 at 1:04 am

      Believe it or not, Starbucks does in fact have the word venti trademarked. This is why one runs across coffee shops that feature sizes such as tall, grande, and 20 oz, or the standard small, medium, and large. You will not see venti used in the States to describe any non-Starbucks beverage, and I agree that it’s a little crazy that they were able to trademark a size.

  • 9. Rex  |  July 25, 2010 at 3:15 am

    The Venti black iced tea is actually 24 oz. according to their website. Also, The couple times I’ve ordered tea there, they didn’t have any lemon. I thought it odd that they would serve tea without fresh lemon.

    • 10. LinziLoo  |  October 12, 2011 at 8:08 pm

      Iced Venti cups are actually 26oz so that they can accommodate ice without the customer losing out on the actual beverage. Starbucks does not carry lemon, but does have Lemonade if you’d like that splashed in your drink instead.

  • 11. Keith "paper airplanes of fire"  |  October 31, 2010 at 2:24 pm

    It is also good to tell the Barista “NO ROOM” That is the only way to actuall get them to fil the cup all ofthe way :) No joking.

    • 12. LinziLoo  |  October 12, 2011 at 8:12 pm

      The only drinks which come with “room” are brewed coffee and americanos, which have room to accommodate cream, sugar, etc. All hot drinks from Starbucks are supposed to be served with 1/4″ of room at the top to avoid spilling and scalding customers.

  • 13. Rob  |  November 6, 2010 at 6:39 am

    Read the article about an English professor’s titled “Cops Eject Starbucks Customer Who Wouldn’t Use Their Lingo”

    Here is also a clip from the movie “Role Models” about how Starbucks lingo is “Stupid in three languages”

  • 14. Cup of Joe? « Who Gives a Blog?  |  November 30, 2010 at 8:50 pm

    […] Broken Secrets 2. eHow 3. […]

  • 15. Cocktail Terminology « Broken Secrets  |  March 11, 2011 at 9:14 am

    […] a cocktail can be as confusing as ordering at starbucks. Here’s a quick guide to help you get it your […]

  • 16. Sourav Chakraborty  |  August 19, 2011 at 2:01 am

    Cool guide! Now I won’t be intimidated in a starbucks anymore!

  • 17. Anjya  |  November 16, 2011 at 3:58 pm

    The only comment I would make is be careful when ordering at other chains, we don’t all speak Starbucks. For instance, at the three different coffee house chains I have worked at for the last 10 years, “skinny” only means skim milk. It has nothing to do with the syrup. The rule of thumb I tell my customers is to spell out your drink, especially if you go to different chains. This way no one gets confused.

  • 18. Jordan  |  December 2, 2011 at 5:59 pm

    I am trying to surprise my friend with a drink at work and I kind of know her order, but I don’t want to sound ridiculous when I go to Starbucks. Could someone help me word this?

    She said she like a ‘dirty iced chai tea with two shots of espresso”

    How would I say this so it isn’t wrong?

    :) Thanks for the help

    • 19. Angela  |  December 4, 2011 at 7:10 pm

      Hi Jordan,
      You can pretty much just leave out the word “dirty” when ordering. You can just ask for the iced chai with two shots of espresso, which is what a dirty chai is.

    • 20. Vee  |  September 23, 2014 at 12:06 pm

      Or you could just say a Double Dirty Iced Chai :) this specifies that you want two shots and not just single shot of espresso(solo), or triple or quad, etc. :)

  • 21. Danielle  |  March 16, 2012 at 8:37 am

    Hot chocolate should always have one pump vanilla, just another tidbit. Try a “tuxedo” hot chocolate, it’s white and regular cochoclate, the best!!

  • 22. Rachel  |  October 30, 2012 at 2:06 pm

    Another tip for ordering: All Mochas, Hot Chocolates, Cinnamon Dolce Lattes, Frappuccinos (except for Coffee, Espresso, and Light version Frappuccinos), and Signature/ Seasonal drinks automatically come with Whipped Cream. If you don’t want this on the drink, make sure to tell the Barista at the register you don’t want it–even if you say non-fat milk, it’s normal for them to assume you still want the whipped cream (I always ask because I work in an area of Non-fat/ Sugar-free lovers, but not everyone asks). This makes it possible for less hassle and waste once you’re at the hand-off, and ultimately you get exactly what you wanted.

    • 23. beau  |  August 18, 2015 at 8:02 pm

      The nonfat sugar free l Iovers Crack me up. Seeing that nonfat has more sugar then whole milk. Silly billies

      • 24. gus  |  September 15, 2015 at 3:15 pm

        Nonfat and whole milk have the same amount of carbohydrates. For low carb, ask for SF syrup and heavy cream (HC).

  • 25. Joan Tay  |  November 27, 2012 at 9:14 am

    I’m still a little confused. Can anyone tell me the general form instead ? Like does size or temp. go first , or custom , milk choice /syrup. Have always wanted to ordered Starbucks but never dared to :( Oh and just out of curiosity , do you just say out your whole order at once like reading an essay lol.. Because I was wondering whether the barista would catch everything we say.

    • 26. Rachel  |  November 27, 2012 at 9:17 pm

      Stores have a sticker printer for drinks that are to be made for drive-thru customers, so it’s not going to make a huge differnce, seeing as the sticker prints the label in a certain order, regardless of how it’s being entered at the register. But, generally, for the barista who has to hand mark your drink, you want to start with the size, then whether or not you want the drink you’re ordering to be iced (unless it’s a Frappuccino) [make sure to remember to say if you want it iced–it’s less hassle at the end]; then you can either say all of your modifiers, i.e. nonfat, decaf, skinny, etc, or name your drink, i.e. Mocha, Vanilla Latte, followed by the modifiers.

      Example: May I please have a Grande Nonfat, No Whip, Decaf Mocha with 2 pumps of Vanilla?

      Example 2: May I please have a Grande Mocha with Nonfat milk, No Whip, and 2 pumps of Vanilla?

      It really just depends on which way you prefer.

  • 27. So what  |  July 5, 2013 at 12:32 am

    Small medium or large works just fine

  • 28. Catherine Dream  |  August 18, 2014 at 6:00 pm

    ‘Two minutes ago, this man had never been in Starbucks, now he’s ordering drinks by temperature.’ – brilliant. : D

  • 29. b1ckf0rd  |  April 7, 2015 at 11:54 am

    I love Starbuck’s skinny London Fog (earl gray tea latte) but shouldn’t a barista have access to the recipe if they don’t know what it is? I was told the last time I went (in a Safeway) that he didn’t know what a tea latte was. He didn’t feel inclined to find out so I just left.

  • 30. b1ckf0rd  |  April 7, 2015 at 12:17 pm

    Goofy thought, but what IS the recipe for a venti sized London Fog? If I knew how to make it, I’d just do that.

  • 31. beau  |  August 18, 2015 at 7:59 pm

    Don’t order an upside down macchiato… it doesn’t exsist. This is called a latte. A macchiato is milk marked with espresso and when you mix it it is then called a latte. You wouldnt order an upside down latte with caramel drizzle so why would you order a macchiato like that? You just sound stupid.

  • 32. Diane  |  September 21, 2015 at 1:55 pm

    This gave me an excellent idea. I always order extra hot and they put my order codes on the sleeve. Next time, I will just hand them my sleeve with the codes already on it – saves time. Especially if all the regulars would do that.

  • 33. Susan Mattox  |  May 31, 2016 at 11:05 am

    Starbucks in Arizona has no ideal what a Breve is.

  • 34. Charlie  |  May 17, 2022 at 11:10 am

    In the Custom Box, what does CFL stand for?

    I had an iced coffee made for me but have never been able to recreate the same drink because I don’t understand the last code & no one in Starbucks seemed to either despite an employee writing it on a card for me a while back.


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