Life Skill: How to Navigate the Menu at Starbucks

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Okay, so I must admit that I suffer from a disorder which I have named S.O.A.. No, you will not find this in the DSM-V…I made it up.  What is it you ask?  S.O.A. is an acronym for Starbucks Ordering Anxiety.

For the past few years, I have found the Starbucks ordering process to be overwhelming…especially in New York where people will not tolerate anyone sputtering at the register and holding up the line. My order? A Tall, Non-Fat, Decaffeinated Caramel Macchiato. When I first started drinking this, I used to literally practice my order over and over in my head while standing in line. Embarrassing to admit? Yes.

Until recently, I thought that I was alone…an epic-failure of an adult who couldn’t even handle ordering a damn cup of coffee without panicking.  I happened to have mentioned this to a client one day and she concurred completely.  In fact, recent conversations with multiple clients have taught me that S.O.A. is a condition which afflicts many.  Having come to the realization that this is a widespread (and largely undiscussed) issue amongst many adults, I decided to take action. If you too suffer from S.O.A., know that you are not alone.

Have you ever wondered exactly what some of the beverage options are but felt too idiotic to ask (as if you were supposed to have been born knowing what a triple-shot, espresso latte over skinny vanilla foam is)?  Have you ever hesitated to branch out and try something new for fear of accidentally ordering a $7.00 cup of coffee that you hate?  Relax.  I have done a little research and I am about to break down the basics of Starbucks’ Beverage Menu Navigation for you:

The Basics:

  1. Small = Tall
  2. Medium = Grande
  3. Large = Venti


The Coffee:

  1. Brewed Coffee – This is simple enough.  Brewed coffee is just that…you order at the counter and the cashier pours it for you on the spot…no Barista (your fancy coffee-drink maker’s formal name) involved.
  2. Cafe Misto – This is equivalent to Cafe Au Lait…it is 1/2 regular coffee and 1/2 steamed milk.

The Espresso:

  1. Espresso – Generally stronger and thicker than regular coffee, espresso is achieved by grinding coffee beans down to a very fine consistency and then pushing boiling water through the grind at a rapid rate.  (***Espresso Con Panna means that whipped cream is added.  Espresso Machiatto simply means that the top of your espresso is marked with a dollop of foam).
  2. Caffe Americano – Espresso plus hot water.
  3. Cappuccino – Steamed milk mixed with espresso; however, a cappuccino uses less steamed milk than a latte (see below).
  4. Caffe Latte – Espresso at the bottom, with steamed milk on top…a flavored syrup can be added, as can an extra shot of espresso.
  5. Caffe Mocha – Mocha-sauce (coffee/chocolate) at bottom, with steamed milk and espresso poured over the top, topped off with whipped cream.
  6. Machiatto – According to Starbuck’s, the word machiatto is Italian for “marked”.  Therefore, all of Starbucks’ machiattos are marked or signed, usually with a drizzle, by the barista.  So, what exactly is a machiatto?  First comes the steamed milk, which the espresso is then poured into, there is often also a pump of flavored syrup added in, finally the drink is marked by a drizzle of flavored syrup.


  1. Frappucino – This is a Starbucks invention.  A coffee “blended beverage”, it is something akin to a coffee milkshake.  It comes in a variety of flavors or else it can be customized.  The Frappucino’s actual ingredients are not clear making it a beverage that would probably be advisable to only consume as an occasional indulgence (personally, I find these drinks to be way too sweet for my taste…I might order one per year).

The Tea:

  1. Brewed Tea – As the name implies, this is simply hot water poured over tea leaves.  Similarly to brewed coffee, this can be prepared for you right at the register, by the cashier.
  2. Tea Latte- Tea plus steamed milk, flavored syrups can be added.
  3. Chai Tea- Indian in origin, this is a spiced tea.
  4. Chai Tea Latte- A tea latte (see above) made with Chai Tea (see above).  ***Chocolate Chai Tea Latte simply has cocoa added.


  1. Refreshers – These are another Starbucks invention.  Basically, Refreshers are fruity drinks caffeinated with Green Coffee Extract.

The Others:

  1. Hot Chocolate
  2. Steamed Milk
  3. Hot Apple Cider
  4. Smoothies – Starbucks’ smoothies are made with a flavored syrup or a fruit puree, ice, milk, bananas, whey protein and fiber powder.

So now that we have learned what is what as far as Starbucks’ beverage choices are concerned, you should know that you can customize almost anything on the menu with a variety of additional options.  For example, you can ask for your beverages to be hot or iced.  You can request regular or decaffeinated.  You can choose from whole milk, skim milk or soy milk.  Still another option is to have your beverage made “Skinny”.  Starbucks makes your beverage “Skinny” by making it with non-fat milk and sugar-free syrup.

Still feeling overwhelmed?  Take a deep breath, re-read this article and maybe next time you’re at Starbucks, you’ll branch out and try something new!

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