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The Starbucks Menu Demystified

What's the difference between a latte and an Americano?  Don't worry, we've broken it down for you.

For many of us, coffee is something of a necessity in order to function like proper adults.  Any old cup o’ joe will do the job, but sometimes we want a little more.  Fortunately, this is the 21st century and specialty coffee shops, like Starbucks, are everywhere.  These hallowed spaces can be intimidating for coffee novices though.  Fear no longer, for GenTwenty and this spooky girl are here to help!

When you enter a Starbucks and make it past all their merchandised mugs, French presses, and loose-leaf teas, you’ll be face-to-face with the menu.  This is usually broken down into two main sections: Frappuccinos and Espresso.

Frappuccinos (which happen to be a name trademarked by Starbucks, even though you can find the same drink at nearly any coffee shop) are blended ice beverages.  These are generally sweeter, and you can get them with or without coffee.  You can also get light–or lower calorie versions–that use skim milk and sugar free syrups.  You can also substitute the milk with soy or coconut; this is an option for any drink that has milk in it.

The Espresso menu is where things get a little more complicated.  Let’s break it down:

Caffe Americano

An Americano is just espresso shots and water.  It’s stronger than a cup of coffee, but perfect for those who can’t drink straight shots of espresso

Flat White

A flat white is a lot like a latte, which we’ll get to in just a bit.  The flat white is made using steamed whole milk and ristretto shots.  Ristretto shots are shots of espresso that use less water, making the flavor richer.  The whole milk also makes the drink much creamier and thicker.  You can always substitute the milk, of course.  And keep in mind: this drink tastes best in smaller sizes.


A cappuccino consists of espresso and steamed milk, only here’s the deal: the milk is super foamy.  This foam comes from when you steam and “aerate” the milk.

When people order this drink and ask for it “dry” or “wet,” they’re referring to how much foam they want in the drink; dry cappuccinos are heavy on the foam, while wet ones have a tiny amount.  In fact, a wet cappuccino is basically a…

Caffe Latte

Cappuccinos and lattes have the exact same ingredients.  What differentiates the two is that cappuccinos have a large amount of foam, while lattes have about 1/4 of an inch.

Vanilla Latte

Once you understand what a latte is, this drink is pretty self-explanatory.  A vanilla latte is a standard latte–steamed milk and espresso shots–but with vanilla syrup added.

Caffe Mocha

My friends, this is a latte with a fancy name.  A mocha is a latte with chocolate syrup added.  It really is that easy!

Elsewhere on the menu you can find a “white chocolate mocha” listed.  This is exactly what you can probably figure out on your own by this point: steamed milk, espresso, and white chocolate sauce.

The cool thing about Starbucks is that you can use any of their syrups in your latte, be it caramel, cinnamon dolce, or the ever-loved pumpkin spice.


Super easy: it’s just shots of espresso.  Nothing more.

Espresso Macchiato

This drink uses shots of espresso and steamed milk.  “But that’s the same as a latte,” you say.  Yes, BUT…it’s all in how you put the two ingredients in the cup.  A latte is made by “pulling” the shots directly into the cup–that is, letting the espresso shots be caught in the customer’s cup.  After the shots are done being pulled, the steamed milk is poured over.

An espresso macchiato is basically an upside down latte.  The espresso is caught in little shot glasses.  The steamed milk is poured directly into the customer’s cup, and then the espresso is poured over the milk.  This makes a neat little pattern on the foam.

Caramel Macchiato

Here’s how this one goes: first vanilla syrup is added directly into the customer’s cup (to add a little sweetness to the drink).  Next, steamed milk is poured in.  The espresso is then poured over top the foam, having been “pulled” into the shot glasses.  And then caramel sauce is drizzled over top.

Again, an upside down latte, but with caramel.

If coffee isn’t really your thing, Starbucks has you covered with hot and iced tea, hot chocolate, lemonade drinks, and something called “refreshers”–fruity juice with water and actual fruit.  They also always have some kind of seasonal drink, which is always fun to try.

A pro-tip reminder: Starbucks has funny names for their drink sizes.  Tall=small, grande=medium, and venti=large.  If you get an iced tea and are super thirsty, you can get a trenta, which equals 30 ounces.  Remember, this size is available for only a few cold drinks, so don’t get bummed if it isn’t an option.

Another pro-tip: there’s this thing call the Starbucks secret menu.  This is a collection of drinks you can’t find on a regular Starbucks menu.  If you really want to try something you find on a secret menu, the baristas at your local Starbucks should be able to make it as long as they have all the ingredients.  But remember, these recipes aren’t ones that the baristas are required to know, so bring in the recipe for them!

You should also always be able to ask the baristas questions about the menu and drinks too.  If they aren’t answering, don’t tip.  Or just go to a different coffee place.

And you can always check in with GenTwenty for additional info.  Feel free to add your own wisdom in the comments too.  Happy sipping!

About the Author

Lindsey J. Gooden

Lindsey is a spooky girl and semi-goth living in Minneapolis with her handsome Taurus and baby cat, appropriately named after a demon. She is a chronic day-dreamer, imagining life as a best-selling novelist or a mortician. When she isn't reading or scribbling in her diary, she's chilling with her girlfriends, embarking on adventures, and doing her best to be the girl with the most cake. She's very shy and a lot like you, only obsessed with Trent Reznor.