The Vegan Barista’s Guide to Healthy Starbucks Drinks

Keep your resolution this new year with these hacks for better-for-you Starbucks options.


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A new year means new resolutions and committing ourselves to healthier choices. One way to ensure we keep these resolutions is by making gradual progress rather than overnight changes. For me, this means better choices when it comes to what I sip and snack on at Starbucks.
 
Having been a green-aproned barista for close to eight years (and now a VegNews editor), I can help any compassionate customer turn his or her everyday order into something tastier (and healthier!), all while keeping things vegan. Here are my recommendations.

Smoothies
Starbucks rolled out its line of Evolution Fresh smoothies in 2015, which combines cold-pressed juice and ice for a nutritious blended drink. Make it vegan by swapping out the Greek yogurt for a non-dairy milk, and add a nutritional boost with fresh kale, blueberries, or a whole banana. Sweet Greens—loaded with cucumber, lemon, apple, and kale—is the most veggie-forward, but Strawberry and Mango Carrot are wholesome choices, too.
 
Tea
Iced tea is always a great healthful way to stay refreshed, especially when you ditch the added sugary syrup for more creative mix-ins. Starbucks’ Teavana brand green tea is a melange of lemongrass, mint, and citrus that I enjoy on its own or shaken with lemonade. The Black tea is a traditional bergamot-infused offering that’s great on its own or combined with a little creamy vanilla soy milk. Or, for a taste of the tropics, Passion Tango tea boasts mango, rose hips, and hibiscus, is livened up with a touch of cinnamon, and tastes great shaken with tart, sweet, organic apple juice.
 
Refreshers
Wanting a fruity pick-me-up? Starbucks Refreshers combine unroasted green coffee bean, fruit juice, and real fruit for a fix of caffeine that’s better for you than soda or energy drinks. The low-calorie Cool Lime—with its hints of citrus, cucumber, and mint—shaken with a whole lime wheel is my favorite, but the Strawberry Açai with sliced strawberries and Very Berry Hibiscus with whole blackberries are also great thirst-quenchers.
 
Agave
Not many people know that Starbucks offers organic blue agave syrup. Ask your barista for a pouch from behind the counter that packs a low-glycemic punch of sweetness that’s a better option than processed white sugar, low-calorie synthetic sweeteners, or non-vegan honey.
 
Sugar-free syrups
If plain iced coffee won’t satisfy your cravings, sugar-free flavored syrups are available to help jazz up your java. Caramel, cinnamon dolce, hazelnut, and vanilla syrups are at your disposal, and as we transition to the new year, you may still be able to find seasonal sugar-free peppermint syrup in stores too.
 
Oatmeal breakfasts
Starbucks offers a number of warm, toasty, straight-out-the-oven breakfast sandwiches—none of which are vegan. So while we await the results of Starbucks’ vegan food testing (and cross our fingers for a stick-to-your-ribs tofu offering), we’re warming up in the am with a bowl of oatmeal. The Classic variety comes with brown sugar, mixed fruit, and a medley of pecans, almonds and walnuts, while the Hearty Blueberry gets its sweetness from blue agave syrup, a mix of pepitas, dried figs, cranberries, and almonds and is topped with fresh blueberries.
 
Coconut vs. Soy
Veganizing almost any drink is easy when you’re able to swap milk for soy and concoct beverages with coconut, but is one a better option than the other? The vanilla soy milk is organic and packed with seven grams of protein per serving, but also contains 13 grams of sugar. The single-origin Sumatran coconut milk is lower in both sugar and calories, with only eight and 80 grams respectively, but offers little else in the way of nutrition. The better choice depends on your tastes and needs, but one thing’s for sure—both are far superior to cholesterol- and pus-laden cow’s milk.