Starbucks cup with purple contents

6 Drinks This Dietitian Orders at Starbucks

| 48 Comments

I pick on Starbucks sometimes when I’m teaching my Nutrition 101 course. It’s easy to poke fun at their 430+ calorie muffins and scones. (That’s a reasonable amount of calories for breakfast…until you add a drink.) I use their Frappuccinos as an example of the shocking amount of “invisible” sugar in our beverages. (The Grande White Chocolate Creme flavor has 11 teaspoons added sugar, not to mention 400 calories.) We see the single teaspoon of sugar we add to our coffee or the drizzle of honey we stir into our tea, but it’s easy to forget about the rest of it when it’s added in by food manufacturers, restaurants, and coffee shops before we actually start sipping. And more sugar = more calories. 

But for all my nutrition-based teasing, I am a regular Starbucks customer. I love the convenience, availability (they’re literally everywhere), predictability, and most importantly: the ability to customize my order. They have a reasonable selection of non-dairy milks (almond, coconut, and soy) which appeals to my vegetarian/vegan tendencies, and they will cater to virtually any crazy beverage concoction I can plug into my Starbucks app. It’s almost like they want me to be a high maintenance orderer.

While the menu feels like it’s always evolving, I’ve come up with some favorite drinks that I order over and over. With all of their options for customization, there must be millions of possible unique drinks you can build, so this certainly isn’t an all-inclusive list of healthy choices; just a short list of this dietitian’s coffee and tea go-tos.

Coffee

Grande Soy Flat White
190 calories

The Flat White is a marvelous invention, at least for those among us who sometimes find Starbucks coffee to be on the bitter side. The Flat White is made with their ristretto shots that aren’t quite as bold as the standard espresso. Sometimes I get it decaf, depending on the time of day and how much caffeine I’ve already ingested from green or black tea. This drink has replaced my long-time favorite, the Vanilla Latte.

I actually discovered this drink by accident. During the Christmas season they offer a Holiday Spice Flat White. I tried ordering it once, got flustered and forgot the “holiday spice” part. I was grumpy to realize I’d ordered something so plain until I tasted it. This drink makes me so happy, and it has not 1 pump of syrup added. I find I don’t need the added sweetness since the coffee flavor is so smooth. (There is, however, a bit of evaporated cane juice in the soymilk itself.)

Iced Venti Soy Flat White
220 calories

Starbucks cup with order sticker flat white

Same as the Flat White listed above, only iced. And bigger. For some reason I’m drawn to the venti when ordering iced drinks. I get this one partially made with decaf, though, since 4 shots of espresso would send my brain reeling for hours. The cold version tastes sweeter somehow and it is so refreshing on a hot day.

Grande One Pump White Mocha Cold Brew w/Almond Milk
80 calories

Starbucks cup with order sticker on car dash

When you just want iced coffee, with a touch of sweetness and creaminess, this is a nice option. From what I can gather from their menu and conversations with baristas, decaf is not an option for their iced coffee or cold brew. They only make the real stuff, straight up.

 

Tea

Iced Venti One Pump Black Tea w/Light Soy
50 calories

Starbucks cup on dashboard

This is 24 fluid ounces of cool, refreshing summertime liquid for a mere 50 calories. You can’t say that about soda, lemonade, or sweet tea. Unless you specify the number of pumps, a venti iced tea gets 6 of liquid cane sugar. Yikes! And I find it plenty sweet with just one, but you could compromise and just do 2 or 3 and still be ahead of the game.

 

Iced Venti One Pump Passion Tango Tea w/Light Soy
50 calories

Starbucks cup with purple contents

Pretty much the same recipe as above, but for when you’d prefer a caffeine-free iced tea. Be warned…the milk can curdle a bit but you just have the swirl the cup to get it all mixed in. (This recipe is awfully close to the off-menu item at Starbucks called The Purple Drink.) It tastes fresh and fruity, and for some reason reminds me of a summertime treat from my childhood: Dairy Queen Mister Misty Freeze. This was basically a slurpee or a slushy blended with DQ soft serve. I always opted for grape or cherry and loved the combination of fruit and cream. This is a very close facsimile as far as my tongue is concerned.

 

Iced Venti 1 Scoop Blackberries 1 Pump Vanilla White Tea w/Light Coconut
40 calories

Starbucks cup with order sticker on car dashboard white tea

Ridiculous to order, delicious to drink. When I went through the drive-thru last week and got this, the barista said with a smile, “How did you ever come up with this drink?” Basically I picked iced white tea from the Starbucks app, and then just started clicking through each option for customization, with a goal of keeping the calories under control. I actually love the app because it saves me from having to speak my ridiculous order aloud into the speaker. Somehow sending it electronically and picking it up at the window is less embarrassing than telling it to a real human being, especially for an order this long.

As far as the numbers go, I’m making educated guesses on the calories for some of these since they aren’t all straight from the Starbucks regular menu. The syrups (like cane sugar or vanilla) are 20 calories per pump and the white chocolate sauce is 60 calories per pump. For light soy I guessed an addition of 2 fluid ounces or about 30 calories, which would be 20 calories for almond or coconut milk.

A quick note about other nutrients in the non-dairy milks. Almond and coconut will provide the fewest calories, but I usually opt for soy because it offers more protein. Almond and coconut have around 1 gram per cup while soy generally has 8 grams.

If you’re curious and want to see calories, etc. for your favorite beverage, you can:

  • Find it in the list here under Drink Nutrition on their website
  • Go to Menu, Drinks on their website, scroll down, choose your drink, and customize it
  • Order your drink in the app and scroll down, however this doesn’t seem to adjust with customizations so it doesn’t appear to be accurate

If none of my suggestions look like they’ll tickle your taste buds, check out the list Starbucks compiled of drinks under 200 calories for inspiration. You can really get creative. One of my favorites used to be a Grande Two Pump Toasted Coconut Cold Brew but I just tried to order it recently and was told they don’t have the toasted coconut syrup anymore. Really, though, any iced coffee or cold brew with some judicious additions would end up being pretty modest in calories. Hot tea is always lovely, is served unsweetened, and is essentially calorie-free. My favorite is the Emperor’s Cloud green tea. And as you can see from my recommendations above, iced tea of any type is also a smart choice, but their default is very, very sweet iced tea so I like to dial it down a bit.

What about something to munch on alongside your carefully crafted drink? Ordering food at Starbucks is a whole other blog post, but I can tell you what I get most often. I opt for the 8-Grain Roll or Petite Vanilla Bean Scone at breakfast, and the Cheese and Fruit or PB&J Protein Boxes at lunch. I’m continually on the lookout for the Lentils, Veggie, and Brown Rice Bowl which I found on their website but the stores I visit never seem to have it.

I’m pretty satisfied with my 6 favorite drinks, but with all of the recent additions to their menu like Cold Foam Cascara Cold Brew and Iced Cinnamon Almond Milk Macchiato, I think I’ve got some experimenting to do. I’m guessing I’ll find some new extravagant drinks to hold up as bad examples in class, but hopefully also discover some new thirst-quenching, modest-calorie sips that I can feel good about ordering this summer, high-maintenance or otherwise.

 

I’m sure there is some wonderful customized beverage I have yet to try. What are your suggestions?

48 Comments

  1. Iced grande mocha with 2% no whipped cream. Soy will destroy you.

  2. I really want to try the white tea but scared to try it. How good is it?

  3. Love soy!!! Milk isn’t good for you since it leads to increase risk of cancer (which is why cancer patients are told to omit).

    What do you think about cafe latte with soy in relation to someone trying to lose weight?

    • Hi Sarah. A plain soy latte is pretty low in calories. A grande soy latte at Starbucks has 190 calories. That would be higher, of course, if it was a flavored latte because of the added syrup. 190 should easily fit into most calories budgets for the day for someone trying to lose weight, but overall it’s a good idea to limit calories from beverages and choose mostly water.

  4. Is there a reason why none of your drink recommendations have coconut milk in them?

    • Hi Shawnie. Thanks for your question. I do order soy most often but the very last drink in this post uses coconut milk. It starts with “Iced venti 1 scoop blackberries…” Hope this helps.

      • Loved this post! Totally gonna pin it and use it! I try to eat less sugar and more healthful foods in general and it’s nice to have some pre-tested options ready! Oh and I agree – love the app for more complicated orders!! 😉

  5. Starbucks dairy alternatives are actually not good for you at all, the amount of sugars in these are horrible for you. Any of their sweeteners, besides the Liquid Cane are like big macs in liquid form, no joke. Example, Grande White Mocha, more calories and bad calories than a big mac MEAL. So, if you use real world ingredients I am sure these wouldn’t be too bad for you, however, use starbucks syrups and milks, you are hurting your body either way.

    • Hi Christy. Thanks for your comment. I do disagree, however, with the the blanket statement that none of the dairy alternatives at Starbucks are good for you. I choose the soy milk for the protein content though it does have sweetener. But their almond milk is a lower sugar option. (https://www.self.com/story/nutritionists-review-starbucks-almondmilk) I also wouldn’t say the Liquid Cane sugar has any distinct advantage over their other sweeteners. A sweetener is a sweetener and we should strive to eat less of tall of them.

      I do agree that it would be best to only drink water if we wanted the best beverage possible with the lowest calories and no sugar, but I wrote the post to give some slightly better alternatives to the typical Starbucks menu items since many people shop there. As you note, the Grande White Mocha has a lot of calories, so my suggestions use far fewer pumps of sweetener and two of them have no added syrups at all.

  6. Venti iced cold brew…2 pumps sugar free vanilla, 2 pumps skinny mocha, splash of coconut milk! So good!

  7. Venti decaf single ristretto almond milk latte with cinnamon powder steamed in.

  8. My new favorite:
    Tall iced decaf americano in a Venti Cup, extra soy, 2 pumps mocha syrup.

    Mmmm! And only $3!

  9. Love this post, found it on Pinterest and have tried a few so far! Looking forward to another post like this with all their new items!

  10. Thanks for this it helps!

  11. If you ask for light soy in a Venti (mine’s always an iced Americano) how many cals would you budget? 30, as above? And any thoughts about their new Guava tea? on their menu for nutrition they only list it with the cane sugar. Great post!!

    • Hi Val! My best guess is 30. One of these days I’m going to ask the barista how much soy or other milk they actually put in when the order says “light.” From my experience it’s sort of a “splash,” but whether it’s a heavy or light splash seems to depend on the person making the drink.

      Wow. I just looked at the info for the guava tea. The color is gorgeous…thanks to a little boost from apple, radish, and cherry juices. The white tea is so mild that I bet the guava juice amps up the flavor profile quite nicely. It’s got 160 calories for the venti because it’s made with fruit juice and liquid cane sugar, but still…for a venti drink, less than 200 calories is reasonable. I’m definitely going to have to try it.

  12. The dragon fruit tea. 54 calories so add one stevia. It is yummy!

  13. I’m late to the game but I enjoy getting the black tea with 4 pumps sugar free vanilla. It’s sweet and sugar free 🙂

  14. Strawberry açaí refresher is only 90 calories and the pink drink which is a strawberry açaí refresher with coconut milk is only 140 and it’s my absolute favorite thing to get when I go to Starbucks

  15. Great post. Thanks. Personally I’ll do heavy whipping cream instead of soy milk. All look yummy.

  16. what about hot choices
    how about grande almond milk flat white
    what’s the nutritional info

  17. Hi Kristine,
    Great recommendations.

    I was wondering if you would consider opting out of new cups by bringing a reusable cup & straw to your visits each time to help promote more eco-friendly choices in any future articles?

    I know it’s a lot to say at the time of order because as it is now, you can’t order ahead and tell them you’ll be bringing your own cup… maybe in the future, Starbucks?! 😀 But in the meantime, just an idea for you to consider. 🙂

  18. Skinny mocha used to be my go-to beverage at Starbucks, but they have discontinued the sugar-free mocha sauce. It was tall non-fat milk, two pumps skinny mocha sauce, and if I was splurging, light whip cream.

  19. Love this post!! I’ve always been health conscious especially when it comes to coffees/ lattes. I always substitute for almond milk and have it unsweetened. I do not like to drink my calories! The sugar and fat is just too much. I love these ideas and will be trying them all! Perfect for what I’ve needed. Thank you! 🙂

  20. I am trying to order the Iced Venti One Pump Black Tea w/Light Soy online. Should I keep the water? How do I select light soy? Help!

    • Kate! I’m so sorry I didn’t help you in your time of need. Let’s see, I don’t make any changes to the water. And I just went through the steps of ordering on the app and there’s no option for how much milk. You just get to choose the type of milk. If my memory serves me, I was only able to specify “light” soy when I ordered in person. There is actually quite a bit of variation I’ve noticed. When I order it in the app and select soymilk with no designation of light, medium, etc. it really depends on the barista how heavy handed they are. It will definitely affect the calories but in most cases I still think it’s just a few ounces. I hope you ended up ordering something close and liking it!

  21. Hi Kristine – I love the venti Iced Chai Tea latte, but it’s loaded with sugar. I currently order it with nonfat milk and 3 pumps of chai to reduce the sugar. I’m not sure what I end up with as far as carbs go. Do you have a better suggestion? I’m so addicted to this drink. Thank you!

    • Hi Angela. I tried to calculate the carbs on your modified version today but the numbers aren’t making sense. Let me do a little more research and I promise I’ll comment again soon with an answer.

      • Thank you!! I tried on the Starbucks app, but it wasn’t changing the numbers for carbs with the changes I made.

        Thanks again!!

        • Ok. I think I figured out the problem. The only nutrition facts I could find was for Tazo Chai Concentrate, and when added to the milk nutrition facts the numbers didn’t match what SB was showing for the drink. I couldn’t get the numbers to be high enough within the constraints of a 24 oz. cold cup. And there are only 3 ingredients in the drink: milk, ice, and chai concentrate. From what I can find online SB uses a super strong concentrate (higher in carbs, calories and sugar) but I couldn’t find the nutrition facts for that product.

          The SB site shows these values for a 24 oz. iced chai latte made with the default 2% milk: 350 calories, 65 g carb, 61 g sugar.

          So my best educated guess after running the numbers is that you are likely saving about 20 grams of carbs/sugar by asking that the chai pumps be reduced by half. The switch to nonfat milk saves calories by cutting fat but doesn’t affect the carbs/sugar values. My guess is that the way you order it with nonfat milk and 3 pumps, you save somewhere around 100-150 calories compared to the standard with 6 pumps and 2% milk. So it’s definitely a reasonable choice!

  22. Hi there. I LOVE the soy milk from Starbucks and then I read they use Silk Very Vanilla which has 12 or 13 grams of sugar per serving. I love getting a grande iced soy latte with 2 pumps of mocha. Should I reconsider? I want to get my Starbucks fix without ingesting a ton of sugar.

    • Hi Natalia. That’s a great question. You could choose to get your latte made with almond milk or coconut milk which both have less sugar than the soymilk. (You can read more about that here from some dietitians: https://www.self.com/story/nutritionists-review-starbucks-almondmilk) I prefer the soymilk for two reasons. First, it’s got more protein than either the almond or coconut milk. So if I’m getting a latte or flat white for breakfast, it makes for a bit more of a nutritionally-balanced liquid “meal.” Also, because of the fat and protein in the soymilk it’s thicker, richer and more creamy. That makes my drinks taste better to me as I feel like it stands up better to the sharp flavors of espresso or chai. But it’s all a trade-off, because when I choose soy I’m getting more sugar. I’d love to know if you end up ordering your favorite drink with almond or coconut milk if you’re happy with the result.

  23. I cannot wait to try all of these drinks. We’ve only recently opened a Starbucks in our town and I’m following a weight loss program presently. Thanks so much!!

  24. Hey, Kristine! You seem to have a lot if great advice and answers for all the questions here about what might be a good choice at starbucks!
    I just wanted to ask what your opinion was on sugar free syrups at starbucks. They are obviously lower in calories, but I was wondering if they are healthier, less healthy, or about the same in comparison to the regular syrups.

    • Hi Kate. That’s a great question. The short answer is that no sweetener is significantly more healthy than another.

      Here’s the long answer if you want to know more:

      I’m not a big fan of artificial sweeteners, which is what they use in sugar-free syrups. My main reasoning is that we’re supposed to be eating more whole foods to be healthy and sugar substitutes are sort of on the other end of the spectrum away from real food. It’s certainly not something we should be striving to eat more of. That’s actually a good rule of thumb for all sweeteners, including sugar, agave, etc. The less the better. Whichever one we choose should be limited in our diet.

      There is actually an ADI (Acceptable Daily Intake) set for most sugar substitutes. This is sort of like an upper limit that we should keep our intake below for safety. From what I can find online the sugar-free syrups used at Starbucks are made with sucralose (Splenda). The ADI is based on body weight and for a 150 lb. person the ADI for sucralose would be to stay under 28 packets a day. I don’t have a conversion for how many pumps that would be equal to. But, I feel I can safely say that even though sucralose is not a health food, most people won’t consume enough of it in a typical day to be worrisome. I might be surprised though! I guess I would be a little cautious if someone told me they went to Starbucks once or twice a day and got a drink with 4-6 pumps of sugar-free syrup each time. That might be pushing it.

      For myself, when I go to Starbucks I order drinks without syrup whenever possible or just a pump or two of the regular syrup. But, if someone is trying to lose weight by limiting their calories or trying to keep their blood sugar under control if they have diabetes, I would say the sugar-free syrups would be a nice alternative. It would allow someone to have a treat without worrying so much about the calorie and/or carbohydrate content of their drink.

      I know this is a really long answer! You asked a straightforward question but with nutrition the answer is a bit nuanced depending on the person and their situation. I hope something here was helpful!

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