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Starbucks Terminology: How to Order Drinks From the Starbucks Menu

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Add a little extra something to a simple cup of coffee with a "shot in the dark," which is simply a shot of espresso or two added to regular Starbucks coffee.

Add a little extra something to a simple cup of coffee with a "shot in the dark," which is simply a shot of espresso or two added to regular Starbucks coffee.

Iced Caramel Macchiato Ristretto. My favorite Starbucks drink - outside of Seattle I often have to ditch the Starbucks terminology and tell them just how to make it.

Iced Caramel Macchiato Ristretto. My favorite Starbucks drink - outside of Seattle I often have to ditch the Starbucks terminology and tell them just how to make it.

Starbucks Terminology

Like most others who love this Seattle-based company's drinks, I find myself on many occasions standing in line at my favorite Starbucks. Most of the time, the line isn't due to an abundance of clientele but because of just one customer. In those instances, I am forced to wait patiently behind that one stereotypical customer all of us coffee guzzlers dread.

If you frequent this coffee joint in your own neighborhood enough, you know exactly who I'm referring to. You know, that man or woman who is so specific with their order that the cup eventually handed back to them looks like it has graffiti along one side. The need to provide thorough, in depth explanations of past experiences and why they need it at exactly X temperature with Y amount of syrup leaves a bitter taste in your mouth as you finally move to the front of the line and face the Starbucks barista at the register.

If you're one of those type of customers who is overly picky and annoying, this isn't intended for you.

My very first job ever when I was 16 years old was at Barnes and Noble in their cafe. There, they served Starbucks coffee but the cafe was still owned by the bookstore. This meant that customers would come in with Starbucks giftcards almost hourly and I'd have to deal with their anger at being told that we are not a Starbucks.

I, surprisingly, did not learn much of the Starbucks terminology beyond the basics for coffee ordering but I did learn to acquire a taste for coffee that is sometimes just a little more picky than others I know. I found that if you really want something a certain way, the best thing to do is just ask that guy or gal behind the counter and they can tell you how to order your beverage so that it comes out just the way you like it every time, without turning yourself into that ridiculously annoying customer.

What they usually tell you is those special terms that only the baristas commonly know about. This useful Starbucks terminology is what I have tried to provide below, with the help of my friend who I will call Barista Jen who has worked at a Starbucks for a few years now. In addition to those that are a little more commonly known amongst the Starbucks regulars and drink-makers, I have provided some secret Starbucks terminology for the menus you won't ever see posted above the order counter.

Starbucks mugs can be another way to personalize your coffee at home by choosing the one that best suits your own personality.

Starbucks mugs can be another way to personalize your coffee at home by choosing the one that best suits your own personality.

Starbucks Terminology: Drink Sizes

Tall: 12 oz.

Grande: 16 oz.

Venti: 20 oz. (24 oz. for cold drinks)

Trente: 30 oz (only a few drinks are offered in this size)

Basic Starbucks Drinks

Not all Starbucks drinks are all that complicated. Here is a list of the more basic bits of Starbucks terminology for drinks at Starbucks:

Coffee: Yes, you can order plain, good old, coffee at your local Starbucks. No special terminology needed.

Iced Coffee: Contrary to popular belief, iced coffee is not just regular coffee over ice. It is specially brewed with an extra kick so it doesn't become too diluted from the ice.

Tea: The best part about ordering tea from Starbucks, other than their great selection of teas, is the fact that you get charged for the amount of tea bags, rather than the size of the cup.

Iced Tea: Regular or passion, with or without lemonade, or sweetened or unsweetened, there's no end to the options you have when ordering iced tea at Starbucks.

Caffe Misto/Cafe au lait: Half coffee, and half steamed milk with a little foam, this drink is generally referred to as cafe au lait but is called the "misto" at Starbucks.

Latte: A latte is just espresso, steamed milk, and foam, unless you want to add syrups or sugar to it.

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Chai Latte: Chai lattes are just chai syrup in steamed milk and hot water. The syrup is made of tea, spices, and sweetener.

Cappuccino: Just like a latte, except with more foam. "Wet" cappuccinos generally have more steamed milk while "dry" cappuccinos have less steamed milk, although there really isn't any set rule..

Americano: Americanos usually have more shots than a latte of the same size would and they are made with hot water instead of milk.

Espresso Macchiato: An espresso shot dropped in milk foam (only foam).

Which will you choose?


Not everyone goes to Starbucks for a caffeine kick. For those who want a little less caffeination, the necessary Starbucks terminology is simple:

Decaf: Order decaf at Starbucks, and your drink will be made with decaffeinated coffee or espresso. Contrary to what its name suggests or what most believe, there is some caffeine in decaffeinated drinks but still much less than regular caffeinated coffee/espresso.

Half-Caf: This bit of terminology is exactly the way it sounds, half decaf coffee espresso and half regular coffee/espresso.

Starbucks Drinks: Terms


The one bit of Starbucks terminology I did manage to pick up on when I was still a barista was affogato. This term refers to those of us who want just a little more coffee in our frappuccinos. When ordering from a Starbucks menu, just ask for a caramel frap affogado and you will get your delicious blended drink with a shot of espresso on top. This is an especially tasty Starbucks treat when they put caramel drizzle before adding the shot, for those of you who might want to try this. If you couldn't tell, caramel is my favorite flavoring for coffee.


A couple of months ago, barista Jen came to visit from out of state. Of course, our first stop when we got to downtown Seattle was at a Starbucks. As we waited in line to order, I complained to her about how my caramel macchiatos were tasting pretty bitter. Being the Starbucks barista she is, she immediately came up with a solution: "try ordering it ristretto," she said, explaining that ristretto means that the barista would put the shots of espresso immediately into the drink instead of letting them sit. This way, they're fresher and therefore less bitter. I tried ordering it with this bit of Starbucks terminology and have ordered my beloved Starbucks drinks that way ever since.


For those curious about just what the Starbucks term macchiato means exactly, it's simple. According to barista Jen, macchiato simply means "marked." Unlike lattes, macchiatos get their shots last instead of first. This makes the macchiato a layered drink, which is where the "marked" aspect of it comes from. This is easiest to see when it is iced, like the picture at the beginning of this article. An iced caramel macchiato will have the white layer on the bottom with the coffee layer and then caramel drizzle on top.

Upside Down: Caramel macchiatos can be ordered "upside down," meaning that the shot is added first instead of last.


Espresso con panna is simply shots with whipped cream on top.


Also called an undertoe, the teardrop is a layered espresso shot with flavoring and milk.


Another important piece of Starbucks terminology is to know how to order the espresso shots. One shot is referred to as "single" or "solo," two are called "double" or "doppio," three is "triple," and four is "quad."


A newer term in Starbucks lingo is the term "skinny" which means that the drink is made with nonfat milk and sugar free syrup (if available) and no whipped cream or any other extra stuff like drizzle.

The secret menu of Starbucks even includes some special drinks using tea.

The secret menu of Starbucks even includes some special drinks using tea.

Secret Starbucks Terminology

Starbucks Terminology: Secret Drinks Menu

While there are plenty of drinks to order from in the regular menu, there is still another side of the Starbucks menu that is not immediately apparent. This is called the "secret menu" of Starbucks, which includes even more Starbucks terminology that even the most loyal customers may not even know.

It is important to note that if you go to a barista and order a "dirty chai" or any of the other drinks found on a "secret" Starbucks menu, they may not actually know what it is. Make sure you know what you are ordering and that you are prepared to describe what exactly you're ordering if the barista isn't familiar with the drink name. (By the way, a "dirty chai" is a chai latte with a shot of espresso.)

1. Cinnamon Roll Frappuccino

Take your regular Vanilla Bean Crème Frappuccino and add a shot of cinnamon dulce syrup and you've got yourself a drink that tastes pretty similar to the popular pastry.

2. Cookies and Creme Frappuccino

A White Chocolate Mocha Frappuchino with java chips and some peppermint syrup.

3. Marble Mocha Macchiato

Similar to the Caramel Macchiato, this drink has white mocha on the bottom, a shot of espresso and some mocha drizzle on top.

4. Dirty Hippy

One of those bits of Starbucks terminology that's just fun to say, this drink is just a chai latte with plain milk instead of soy.

5. Apple Juice Orange Blossom

Tazo Orange Blossom tea steeped in steamed apple juice make this drink a tasty treat for those who don't like coffee.

Now that you have a good overview of Starbucks terminology, both in the menu you see before you when you go to a Starbucks cafe, and the "secret menu" not everyone knows about, you should feel confident enough to go out and order a drink perfect for your own taste. Remember, you aren't limited to that menu, as this final list shows. Have fun and feel free to share your experiments here in the comments below!

6. Butterbeer Frapuccino

That's right Harry Potter fans, there's a drink especially for you in the secret Starbucks menu. All the terminology you need to order this drink is to ask for a white chocolate frapuccino with hazelnut and toffee nut syrup. Top it off with some caramel drizzel for even more sweetness.

© 2012 Lisa


Sherrie Weynand from San Francisco, CA on March 31, 2017:

I was going to say...Don't...but I couldn't do it with a straight face. As a longtime coffee snob, I really enjoyed this Hub. My standard, a caramel macchiato upside down. Nothing fancy for me, but I'll definitely remember a few of these.

Lindsay on October 10, 2015:

Ristretto is just a shorter, slightly sweeter espresso shot. It does not mean we put it in the drink right away. We put it in at the same time as every other shot.

Lisa (author) from WA on March 22, 2015:

My definition came from a friend of mine who is a Starbucks barista. I don't doubt you're correct but what I have here is based on information she provided. Thank you for your feedback!

Jamie on February 20, 2015:

A ristretto shot is the same amount of espresso with half the amount of water to create a sweeter bolder espresso taste. It has nothing to do with how soon baristas pour the espresso in. Baristas are trained to wait no longer than 30 seconds before pouring shots.

Suzette Walker from Taos, NM on August 05, 2013:

This is hilarious but very helpful. I've never heard of so many different ways to order coffee. I must be very boring because all I order at Starbucks is a tall latte. Done. End of order. But, now that I have read this, I can branch out. Great hub!

Quint on April 26, 2013:

Wait wait what? A ristretto is an espresso pulled slightly shorter so the taste is more intense. Know yer coffees!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on April 20, 2012:

I've learned a lot of new coffee terms from reading this hub! They should come in very useful in the future. I haven't been a Starbucks customer for very long, but I'm starting to like their coffee very much. I love the first picture in this hub!

ladeda on March 06, 2012:

As someone who worked at Starbucks for years, I very much enjoyed this Hub. Did you know that Starbucks used to (perhaps they still do) tell it's employees to correct customers when they didn't specify the drink they wanted in the "right" order? It's not a vanilla non-fat latte with 2 shots, it's a "double vanilla non-fat latte for goodness sake!" So silly. You can just imagine how much that held up the line!

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