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How To Customize Your Latte at Starbucks

The basic recipe for a latte.

The basic recipe for a latte.

Understanding the Recipe

Have you heard someone say "A double tall nonfat pumpkin spice latte with 2 pumps of cinnamon dolce, light whip and no nutmeg." Sounds complicated? It will no longer be difficult as you read on.

Let's start with the Starbucks basics. A latte contains espresso shots, steamed milk, and flavoring. For example, a vanilla latte comes with espresso, vanilla syrup, steamed milk, and foam on top. A hazelnut latte contains the same ingredients but flavored with hazelnut syrup.

Remember, the formulas for the shots and pumps of flavoring is only for Starbucks as some coffee shops have different recipes.

How many espresso shots go into a latte?

It all depends on the size of the beverage and your preference. Some like their coffee strong and others like it subtle. Here is the formula for each size:

Short = 1 shot
Tall = 1 shot
Grande = 2 shots
Venti = 2 shots

You can always ask the cashier if you would like to add more shots. You can even say "half a shot" for the same cost of a single shot of espresso.

How many pumps of syrup go into a latte?

Short = 2 pumps
Tall = 3 pumps
Grande = 4 pumps
Venti = 5 pumps
Venti (iced) = 6 pumps

When you overhear someone at Starbucks ordering a very complicated drink, they only alter the recipe a little bit. You can do this too and get that perfect recipe for you to enjoy. You don't have to drink the Starbucks standard beverages.

When we talk about flavors, we're talking about the syrups. Here are the common syrups at Starbucks. Add the word "latte" after these words and that is your drink! Although I don't know how good a "peppermint or latte" would be.

  • Vanilla
  • Caramel
  • Hazelnut
  • Toffee Nut
  • Mocha
  • White Mocha
  • Peppermint
  • Cinnamon Dolce
  • Classic (sweetener, sugar)

There are also seasonal syrups such as pumpkin spice, vanilla spice, caramel brulee, and etc.

Customizing your drink will be a breeze once you know what kind of flavor you would like in your latte. A peppermint mocha is just a latte with mocha and peppermint syrup! Easy right?

What is a Caramel Macchiato?

The Starbucks version of the caramel macchiato is a vanilla latte with less pumps of vanilla, shots over foam, and caramel drizzle on top. This is actually not a caramel macchiato.

Macchiato pertains to marking the espresso shot with milk. Therefore it is a full bodied shot of espresso on a small cup with a little steamed milk or sometimes just foam. A caramel macchiato unlike Starbucks's version is actually a shot or more of espresso, marked with milk, and caramel drizzle on top.

What is a Cappuccino?

A cappuccino is almost similar to a regular latte. It usually comes unsweetened/unflavored with more foam! You can order it with "classic" if you'd like it sweetened.

"Secret" Latte Menu

There are drinks that are not on the menu and not advertised. These drinks were named by the Starbucks fanatics. You can explore these suggestions when you go to your nearest Starbucks. Remember that some of these drinks maybe unknown to the barista. Just try your best to remember the recipe and not the name.

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  • Butterscotch Latte – caramel and toffee nut syrup with caramel brulee bits. The bits might only be available during the winter season.
  • Nutella Latte – flavored with mocha and hazelnut syrup.
  • Zebra Mocha or Tuxedo Mocha – a mix of white mocha and regular mocha.
  • Three C's – cinnamon dolce latte with a pump of caramel and a pump of regular chocolate mocha.
  • Chocolate Pumpkin – pumpkin spice latte with white chocolate syrup or regular mocha.

There are more secret menu drinks and most of them are frappucinos and iced beverages.

Other Customization Options

The Milk

The 2% is Starbucks's standard milk. It is not too heavy nor too light. However you can ask for nonfat, whole milk, breve (half & half), 1% (half whole and 2%), or even heavy whipping milk (for whipped cream).

Decaf or Regular

Starbucks also pulls decaf espresso shots. You can also order a half caffeinated drink, which we call "half-caf." For example if you order a grande caramel macchiato, they will pull a single shot regular caffeinated espresso and a single shot decaf. However for triple shot drinks, you can customize it anyway you want. For instance, they can put 2 shots decaf and one shot caffeinated and vice versa.


A ristretto shot is just a very short shot of espresso. The water does not pass through the coffee grinds long enough to burn with the coffee. This results in a bolder taste and less bitterness with "less" water.

Do not expect too much from Starbucks as the espresso machines are automated unlike other cafes that use manual espresso machines. The baristas only have to push a button to pull shots. They do not grind it, temp it, or pull them according to time. Therefore, do not expect too much from a Starbucks ristretto shot.

Extra Foam? Extra Hot? Extra Everything?

You can have your drink with extra foam which is a "dry" drink. If you order a "very dry" cappuccino, you will get a half "latte" and the rest will be foam.

You can also order your drink extra hot. The barista can steam the milk longer than they usually steam it for. Some customers prefer their drinks to be at a certain temperature. You can order a cinnamon dolce latte at 130°F.

You can also ask for more caramel or mocha drizzle. Go for more toppings if you'd like!

No Sleeves, Please! ... and that's for here!

I personally do not like sleeves as they come lose and fall off the cup sometimes when setting them down. You can remedy this by telling the barista to "double cup" your drink.

Did you also know that you can get a "for here" mug at Starbucks? They will make your drink in a ceramic mug instead of the paper to-go cups! You can enjoy your drink at the cafe that way! Just ask to the cashier that your order is "for here."

Now that you know how to customize your drink at Starbucks, spice it up and visit your local store. Try new drinks and keep it fresh!

If you would like to add more to this article, please feel free to leave a comment below!


Liza from USA on February 07, 2020:

Years ago, I used to be a regular customer of Starbucks. I must admit. I was a student, my friend introduces me to it, and I hooked. Back then, I never knew what's behind the recipe. I think I used to love Starbucks Frappuccino so much more than other kinds of coffee they have. LOL. Thanks for sharing the article.

Rachel on December 20, 2017:

As an avid (hello, my name is Rachel! Coffee ADDICT) I love the insider info on the Starbucks menu! I'm a card carrying member at all the chain cafes such as Panera, Java Hut, Peets, Boston Stoker, etc. and each has their own recipe and definitions for espresso drinks. So as any self respecting addict would do, in order to ensure my supply of strong robust cappuccino with 20oz 4shot 3pump caramel light foam I have taken to ordering by recipe rather than name! Quality control and consistent product across corporate lines!!

Jordan Hake from Southwest Missouri, USA on May 18, 2013:

Wow, I had no idea Starbucks coffee could be so complicated! I make my own here at home and those recipes sound worth a try!

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