Unless you take your coffee black or shoot espresso like a champ, you’re likely consuming a few extra calories and taxing your coffee budget every time you cater to your caffeine craving. Whether you’re a Starbucks regular or simply an opportunistic customer, those visits can add up—both in terms of your health and your spending. Follow these seven Starbucks hacks to keep your gold star status without ruining your healthy eating or financial goals.
What are Starbucks drinks made of?
Specialty Starbucks drinks—those hand-crafted by your barista that include any type of flavoring element beyond coffee or espresso and your choice of milk—contain an assortment of syrups, sauces, pre-mixed bases, and/or powders. Sorry for stealing a bit of the magic from your favorite whimsical-sounding latte or shaken espresso.
We’ve compiled a comprehensive list of which of these flavoring elements are vegan, but for a refresher: syrups are vegan, sauces are not, and the chocolate malt powder is surprisingly free from animal ingredients.
How many calories are in a Starbucks drink?
The amount of syrup or sauce depends on the size of your beverage. A standard tall (12 ounces) contains three pumps of syrup, a grande (16 ounces) contains four pumps, and a venti (20 ounces for a hot drink, 24 ounces for iced) contains five and six pumps, respectively. Most flavors (vanilla, toffee nut, raspberry, hazelnut, cinnamon dulce, peppermint, and caramel) contain 20 calories per pump. The outliers are the Irish cream syrup (40 calories per pump) and Frappuccino Caramel and Brown Sugar syrups (10 calories per pump).
The total number of calories in any given Starbucks beverage depends on the milk as well, but for reference, a tall flavored oat-based drink falls around 230 to 290 calories, whereas the almond-based signature beverages hover between 80 (for iced shaken espressos) to 140 (for a hot Sugar Cookie Almondmilk Latte, a staple on the chain’s holiday menu usually unveiled around November).
How to order a healthier Starbucks drink
Stick to these ordering tips for a healthier cup of coffee.
1 Skip the oat (and possibly soy) milk
Starbucks uses Oatly Barista Edition for its oat milk option. While customers rejoiced at this launch back in 2020 (to the point of some major out of stock issues), this non-dairy milk is the most calorically dense option, weighing in at 140 calories per cup, plus seven grams of fat and seven grams of sugar. Starbucks’ soy milk isn’t far behind at 130 calories, four grams of fat, and 13 grams of sugar per cup, though soy does offer a considerable amount of protein—eight grams versus oat’s three grams.
If you’ve ever wondered why your Starbucks latte tastes sweeter than the latte you buy from that third-wave coffee shop, those 13 grams of sugar explain why. While the company loads its soy beverage with additional sugar, it goes easy on the almond and coconut milk. The shop’s signature almond milk only contains 60 calories and three grams of sugar, and the coconut option contains 80 calories and eight grams of sugar. Next time you order that chai or mocha, consider almond or coconut milk to slash those calories by half.
2 Order straight espresso
If you always cringe when you see that “+$0.80” pop up on the cash register, try this money-saving hack: Order a double espresso in a tall cup and ask for a side of steamed non-dairy milk of your choice. You’ll pay the price of an espresso ($2.25) and sidestep the steep, dairy-free upcharge. Pour the plant milk into your espresso and voila—you’ve paid fifty percent less for your daily latte. If you prefer a flavored beverage, ask for the espresso with a pump of your favorite syrup. You’ll pay $0.50 extra but it’s still far cheaper than your typical $5.45 vanilla latte.
3 Customize your flavorings
A flavored tall Starbucks beverage contains three pumps of syrup. Most pumps contain 20 calories and five grams of sugar—resulting in 60 additional calories and 15 grams of added sugar in your 12-ounce pick-me-up. We’ve found that two pumps for a tall is more than sweet enough, and if you’re okay with being “that person,” one-and-a-half pumps is perfect. Next time you order, politely ask your friendly barista for a tall (soy, almond, oat, or coconut milk) hazelnut latte with only one-and-a-half pumps of syrup.
4 Avoid chocolate or mocha beverages
As much as we love a non-dairy peppermint or hazelnut mocha, these chocolatey espresso beverages contain twice the amount of syrup compared to a tame vanilla latte. For example, a tall peppermint mocha contains three pumps each of peppermint and mocha syrups for a seriously sweet six pumps of sugar. While you can request just two pumps of each, you’re still sipping 80 additional calories and 20 grams of excess sugar. Save these mocha-inspired drinks for special occasions or get a decaf and enjoy as a dessert.
5 Ask for heavy foam
Cappuccino-lovers know that foam is the best part of any espresso beverage. When done well, it’s absolutely heavenly and far better than heavy whipped cream. Foam is aerated (non-dairy) milk—making it lighter and less calorie-dense than the liquid portion of your beverage. You’ll save a few calories and enjoy even more of that luscious, light-as-air frothy soy milk.
6 Leave out the ice
You might feel odd ordering an iced coffee with no ice, but you’ll win in the long run. Ice can take up half the room in your cup—meaning you get less beverage and a seriously watered down espresso experience 20 minutes later. The iced coffee is refrigerated, so it’s already cold. If you’re ordering an iced latte, skip the ice, pop the cup in the freezer (without the lid) for fifteen minutes, and you’ve got yourself a perfectly chilled latte that will retain its potency to the last sip.
7 Go short
Most Starbucks customers are aware of three sizes—tall, grande, and venti. However, there’s a fourth option—the eight ounce short. This condensed cup allows you to enjoy that sweetened espresso beverage without overdoing it portion-wise. Make your next soy milk toffee nut latte a short and save on sugar and change.