If you’ve ever experimented with the Starbucks secret menu—or just tried to customize your own drink—and wound up cringing in horror, you’re not alone. Here’s how to never have a subpar brew again, because you deserve the best morning bev possible.
1. You added syrup *and* sweetener.
Ordering an iced coffee with a couple pumps of mocha—and a decent glug of milk—is a cheaper way to get the flavor of a mocha latte without the higher cost, but beware: If the barista asks whether you want it sweetened, decline, decline, decline. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a syrupy drink that’s closer to chugging fudge sauce. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
The same goes for any flavor syrup—if you take a sip and it’s too bitter for your liking, you can always ask the barista to add a pump of sweetener later.
2. You’re adding too much cream.
We get it, you got mesmerized by how half-and-half swirls into your iced coffee. It’s basically your moment of zen, but as you pour in creamer, it’s easy to go overboard and wind up with coffee that’s somewhere between beige and eggshell. And tastes like milky disappointment laced with the bitter taste of wasted money.
If you ever feel insecure about how much milk to add, you could always try the Calvin Klein approach: He matched his ideal coffee to a Pantone color swatch, then kept it in his kitchen so his chef could get it to the right consistency every time, according to the New York Times. (Don’t be surprised if your friends give you a hard time for that level of precision, though.)
3. You went into syrup overload.
Starbucks typically puts three pumps of syrup in a tall latte, four in a grande, and five in a venti (six if it’s an iced venti, because the drink is four ounces larger). It’s a good rule of thumb to use if you’re going rogue and making your own order so you don’t overdo it.
4. You didn’t go up a cup size when you ordered iced coffee.
It’s a pro move: Ask for a tall in a grande cup or a grande in a venti. If you’re in a car, the extra room will save you from a potential speed-bump spill—or you can use it for a little extra ice or milk. Often, it results in more coffee for you to savor, and the more the merrier.
5. You don’t use the app—or a rewards card—when buying food and drinks.
You get a free drink or food item on your birthday and another freebie every time you buy 12 items. And you can order anything off the menu—even the venti caramel macchiato with an extra shot of espresso you only buy when you’re feeling splurge-y (or you need enough energy to deadlift a SmartCar). Sometimes, app users also get exclusive deals like when the brand promotes its Starland points game and giveaways.
6. You order a regular white mocha Frappuccino in the smallest size available—whether that’s mini or tall—but the sweetness is still too much for you to finish.
You can order any drink “half sweet,” so the flavor isn’t as intense.
7. You didn’t specify unsweetened iced tea.
By default, the iced tea comes sweetened unless you say otherwise, baristas said, so if you want something with tea but no extra sugar be sure to say that explicitly.
8. You ask for a “hot Frappuccino” in the winter.
Nope, it’s not a thing, though baristas said it’s a common misconception they have to clear up—over and over again—every December through February. Try a hot Chai tea, caramel macchiato or mocha latte instead. (Or just plain hot chocolate.)
9. You make your order unnecessarily complicated.
Baristas typically grab the type of cup (hot or iced) in the size you want—tall, grande, venti and sometimes trenta—then mark the boxes on the side of the cup from top to bottom. To minimize errors when taking your order, it’s easiest if you order like this:
- Hot or iced
- Number of shots (if any extra)
- Number of pumps of syrup (if you’re that specific)
- Type of milk
- Any extras (mo’ whip, mo’ deliciousness)
- Drink type (latte, Frappuccino, etc.)
Admittedly, this may sound a little strange—”one iced grande…iced coffee, please”—and if your order’s fairly straightforward, you can get away with not following this to a T. However, if you’re the “Iced grande decaf, two-shot, six pumps caramel, soy, extra whipped cream caramel macchiato” type, following the order may be the best way to ensure you get exactly what you want. It won’t save you from the barista’s silent mockery, though.
10. You’re not skipping the line
Some people might think that mobile ordering is for those who plan ahead, place their order at home, and walk in to immediately see their coffee waiting for them on the counter. But we’re here to tell you: NOPE. You can use the online ordering system while you’re standing in the store. If you see a long line when you get there, put your order in through the Starbucks app and then wait for it to pop up ahead of everyone else.
11. You’re burning your mouth on way too hot coffee.
A little-known pro-tip is that you can ask for your drink to be served at “kids’ temperature,” which means it won’t scorch your tongue when you’re impatient and take a sip right away.
12. You’re not asking for the next size up.
If you want a grande size coffee, order it but ask for it in a venti-size cup. That way your grande is a full 16 ounces and you have room for milk or cream. Otherwise, they’d leave you space for all that in your grande cup and you’ll get shorted a few ounces.
13. You’re ordering from the secret menu by name.
By this point, everyone knows about the Starbucks “secret menu.” The thing is, rather than ordering the specialty Frappuccinos that taste like buttered popcorn or funnel cake by their secret menu name, you’ll want to order them by the customizations they require. Although your barista may know the drink by heart, all Starbucks locations are different so it’s best you order it by ingredients to make sure you get the right thing.
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