It is 2:00 pm. You are at work, and time goes by incredibly slowly. You have a pile of tasks you need to finish before the end of the day, yet you are starting to get consumed. Well, you cannot. You still need to finish that pile of tasks, so you think you might need a little energy booster.
No, it is not a sugar-stuffed can of Redbull that you need, and you know it. Plus, it tastes so bad already. Maybe a hot cup of black coffee and a chocolate chip cookie muffin alongside?
So, you put your laptop to sleep and head to the nearby Starbucks. You push the door, breathe in that coffee-scented air, and you are half awake already. There is something about the store design, the decoration, and the lighting that makes you feel joyfully comfortable and relaxed.
You get that chocolate chip cookie muffin but then decide to try another type of coffee instead, something mildly sweet, creamy, and smooth.
So, you check the menu screen and see so many options you cannot choose from. Well, there are so many creamy, smooth options that make you overwhelmed. “When did they come up with all these options?” you wonder. Well, apparently, during the years, you were ordering the same tall, no-sugar, two-espresso-shot caffè Americano.
Plus, what do all these foreign names refer to? Yes, you know what a cappuccino is. You had it once a few years ago, but what about lattes? Macchiatos? And flat whites? What is brewed coffee? Is it any different from espresso? And what is Clover, for God’s sake?
You are running out of time and must return to your desk in a few minutes. Still, you have not picked anything yet. Why does ordering a cup of coffee have to be so complicated?
Well, we understand your struggle, and we totally relate to it. And who does not? Even Tom Hanks acknowledged that struggle in his 1998 You’ve Got Mail romantic comedy film.
According to Joe Fox, Hank’s character in the film, “The whole purpose of places like Starbucks is for people with no decision-making ability whatsoever to make six decisions just to buy one cup of coffee. Short, tall, light, dark, caf, decaf, low-fat, non-fat, etc.”
Now 24 years after the film was released, ordering a cup of coffee has become even more complicated thanks to the endless list of options Starbucks provides. Though we are pretty sure Starbucks originally wanted to pamper their customers with a quick indulging experience at any time of the day, they, the customers, still need to get some proper knowledge to earn that experience.
And that is what we are here for.
In this article, we are going to explore Starbucks’ entire coffee drinks menu as described on their website. We will explain the different terms and processes related to coffee-making and tell you what all those eminent Italian words mean. Hence, you get to order your next coffee with confidence.
Let’s hop into it.
A little about Starbucks
A few decades ago, people were more or less getting just coffee. Coffee beans and ground coffee were available in retail coffee shops and supermarkets. Instant coffee and grocery store canned coffee were there for people to buy and prepare at home.
Coffee did not cost much and had almost the same taste everywhere. The luxury of buying coffee on the go, let alone the large variety we have now, was not invented yet. This period is known as the first wave of coffee.
In the late 1960s, a new approach was taken in the coffee-making industry. Initiated by the American coffee roaster and retailer Peet’s Coffee, more care was given to coffee, from the process of getting good quality coffee beans, known as sourcing, to roasting and blending. This whole process was known as speciality coffee.
In addition, coffee retailers started highlighting the coffee-producing countries from which they got their coffee beans. Since these countries had different weather conditions and different soils and may have followed different planting and harvesting procedures, the coffee beans they produced, therefore, had different tastes.
Soon enough, severe competition ignited in the coffee market among Colombian coffee, Guatemalan coffee, Brazilian coffee, and Arabica coffee.
This period is known as the second wave of coffee and continued throughout the 1970s. At the time, Starbucks was just stepping into the industry and opened its first store in Seattle. They were selling coffee and coffee equipment. Inspired by Peet’s Coffee, Starbucks also started providing speciality coffee, selling fine, high-quality coffees.
The business continued for over a decade, and Starbucks was expanding quickly. Then in 1983, Howard Schultz, who was the head of marketing at Starbucks, went on a business trip to Italy. He was blown away by the incredible varieties of Italian coffee and the many coffee shops that served espresso-based drinks there.
Upon his comeback to the US, Schultz tried to convince Starbucks’ founders to do the same. Yet, they were not very excited about the idea and decided to stick to selling just coffee and coffee equipment.
Schultz quit his job at Starbucks and started his own café. When Starbucks owners wanted to sell the chain, he quickly bought it and combined it with his café under the brand name Starbucks.
Finally getting the chance to go after his dream, Schultz changed the chain’s business model, which shifted to serving Italian coffee. That is when Starbucks boomed and, in just four years, opened over 80 branches all across the United States.
Currently, Starbucks has over 30,000 branches worldwide operating in 80 countries and offering an incredibly huge variety of not just hot coffee drinks but cold coffees, hot and cold teas, and their heavenly invention, Frappuccino, which, alone, has a total of 36,000 combinations served worldwide.
Starbucks coffee drinks
To get an idea of how the coffee drinks section at Starbucks works, you can pretty much think of it as the taxonomy hierarchy that is used to classify the five billion species scientists believe have lived on Earth, yet on a much smaller scale, of course.
According to their website, the coffee drinks category is divided into two subcategories, hot coffee and cold coffee. Each of these subcategories contains several sub-subcategories. We know it is complicated, but do not let it discourage you. Hang in there.
The hot coffees sub-subcategory includes nine different types: Americanos, brewed coffees, cappuccinos, espresso shots, flat whites, lattes, macchiatos, mochas, and Clover brewed coffees.
On the other hand, the cold coffees include 10 different types; cold brews, Nitro cold brews, iced Americano, Iced coffees, iced shaken espresso, iced flat whites, iced lattes, iced macchiatos, iced mochas, and iced Clover brewed coffee.
Then comes another narrower rank. Each of these types has a group of other types. For instance, there are two types of espresso shots, two types of flat whites, five varieties of brewed coffees, and nine different lattes.
Well, you are right. This is mind-blowing and exhaustingly overwhelming.
However, things can be utterly simplified just by defining each subcategory’s main concept. Then understanding the varieties will be easier since they are only made by changing the main ingredients.
So, let’s break these mysteries down.
How is Italian coffee made?
To understand Starbucks coffees, we first need to understand espresso.
Basically, coffee is made by brewing ground coffee in hot water. There are four methods to do that, boiling, dripping, steeping, and pressurising. The coffee made by any of the first three methods is referred to as brewed coffee. The one using pressurising is called, yes, espresso.
Espresso is different from brewed coffee. It is thicker, creamier, and has a more intense taste than brewed coffee. It uses roasted, finely ground, and more firmly packed coffee to provide that highly concentrated flavour.
Unlike brewed coffee, which is usually served in relatively large cups, espresso is served in small shots with a ratio of 1:2. That is one gram of coffee for every two grams of water, making espresso taste super strong. This is known as the brew ratio.
The brew ratio changes the taste of the final espresso shot, the bitterness, and the intensity. The more water is added, the lighter the taste, and vice versa.
Coffee and water are then pressurised through an espresso machine to get the final espresso shot. A single espresso shot typically mixes 8 grams of coffee with 16 grams of water and pressurises them for 25 seconds to get a 16-gram/30-ml espresso shot. Two shots of espresso are called doppio.
If the brew ratio is 1:1 or 1:1.5, it is not espresso anymore but is instead called ristretto. If the ratio becomes 1:3, it is a lungo, then.
Espresso is Italy’s plain coffee, usually served unsweetened, and customers can adjust that according to their own preferences.
Traditional espresso is used as the base to make various other drinks: Americano, cappuccino, latte, flat white, mocha, and macchiato, which are all served at Starbucks and the reason behind this article.
All those drinks can be obtained by combining different amounts of milk and other ingredients into one or two shots of traditional espresso.
Starbucks is fond of adding whipped cream on top of most of its coffee drinks, including espresso. Espresso with whipped cream is called espresso con panna.
Now that we understand what an espresso is, let’s look into the other coffee drinks of which it is the base.
A caffè Americano may look like regular brewed coffee but is still espresso-based. It is made by mixing hot water with a single or double espresso shot.
Because it has water, Americano indeed is less intense than espresso, yet it still tastes the same. Starbucks serves only one type of Americano with no additions.
Interestingly, cappuccino is not originally Italian but rather Austrian and was then introduced to Italy, where it became extremely popular. Cappuccino uses three equal ratios of espresso, steamed milk, and foamed milk, again all measured by weight.
One espresso shot is 57 g, so a Cappuccino is typically 170 grams and 180 ml.
But what is steamed milk?
Well, steamed milk is usually obtained by applying steam to milk using the espresso machine. This allows the fats to break down, creating tiny bubbles, microfoam, and a creamy, airy, smooth texture.
On the other hand, foamed milk is also obtained by applying steam to milk to get larger air bubbles and a bigger volume.
Starbucks offers both traditional and flavoured cappuccinos with a long list of syrups and sauces.
A caffè latte also combines espresso and milk but with different ratios. One latte has 1/3 espresso and 2/3 steamed milk with a bit of foamed milk added on the top.
Starbucks serves nine different types of lattes obtained using different flavours, espresso made from different roasts, or different types of milk.
Speaking of flavours, there is the pumpkin sauce, caramel brulée, chestnut praline (caramelised chestnut syrup), sugar cookie syrup, cinnamon dolce syrup, and vanilla. Customers can also choose between whole milk, coconut milk, soy milk, or oat milk.
Macchiato also contains milk, yet, with a much smaller ratio than in cappuccino and latte. To make one macchiato, a 2:1 ratio is used. That is two espresso shots with half their weight of steamed milk. Macchiato is also topped with a little bit of foam.
Starbucks offers macchiato with different flavours, including apple brown sugar syrup and caramel. It can be made with different milk types as well.
Macchiato is also referred to as espresso macchiato.
Mocha is short for a mochaccino and is basically a latte with a chocolate flavour. It is often called a mocha latte or caffè mocha.
So, the ratio is the same as that of a latte: one-third espresso and two-thirds steamed milk, blended with chocolate syrup and topped with a bit of foamed milk.
Starbucks makes caffè mocha in a variety of ways. One type uses white chocolate, which can be plain, toasted, or flavoured with peppermint. Another is made with dark chocolate.
This is when things get frustratingly specific.
A flat white is basically a latte made in Australia and New Zealand though it is now available worldwide thanks to Starbucks’ overseas stores. The only difference between flat whites and lattes is that a latte is topped with a little dome of foamed milk, while a flat white is topped with just a thin ‘flat’ layer of foamed milk!
Starbucks offers basic flat white, and a honey-flavoured type made with almond milk.
As mentioned above, four different ways are used to brew coffee. Pressurising is exclusive to espresso, while the other types, boiling, dipping, and steeping, are used to make brewed coffee.
Apart from the brewing method, Starbucks does offer several brewed coffee varieties. One of which is the brewed coffee version of the latte. This is the same as a regular latte but replaces espresso with brewed coffee.
Veranda blend brewed coffee is made from Starbucks’s veranda blend ground coffee, which is made from Latin American coffee beans and has a smooth, pleasant taste.
The other varieties of brewed coffee depend on how much the coffee beans are roasted. Decaf coffee is made from ground coffee, most of which caffeine is taken out.
That said, Clover brewed coffee is coffee brewed using a Clover machine that is developed by Clover Technology Group.
Basically, most, if not all, of the coffee drinks we mentioned so far can be made cold in the same way as they are made hot.
After the coffee is made, all there is to do is pour it into a tall, ice-filled glass. For drinks that use steamed milk, it can be used cold or frothed.
To get the best cold and iced coffees, it is better to brew ground coffee with cool water for an extended period of time. Sometimes brewing lasts up to 20 hours to get a profound, cold brew taste.
Starbucks offers most cold coffees based on brewed coffee, not espresso, and flavoured differently. So, there are iced mochas, iced macchiatos, iced lattes, iced flat whites, and iced Americano, all available in different flavours.
The shaken espresso is simply an espresso shot or two added to ice cubes and shaken like a cocktail. It can be made into multiple varieties by adding milk and playing with the flavours. For instance, Starbucks has iced toasted vanilla oat milk shaken espresso and iced chocolate almond milk shaken espresso.
Nitro cold brew is coffee brewed for a long time and then infused with nitrogen gas to create a smooth texture and beer-like bubbly foam. This can also be flavoured.
Now, you understand the different coffee types offered at Starbucks. Remember that they are all based on brewed coffee or espresso. And just by manipulating the ratios of the other main ingredients, such as milk and flavours, a whole new coffee is obtained.