Even if you consider yourself an indie coffee aficionado, you’ll almost definitely find yourself in line at Starbucks sometime in the future. This Seattle-based caffeine juggernaut with a huge international footprint can be found everywhere.
Since the odds of someday ordering a drink at Starbucks are pretty high, it helps to know what the experts like to drink – and what they absolutely don’t like to drink – at Starbucks. Here are coffee industry pros’ thoughts on 10 popular Starbucks beverages.
The Pumpkin Spice Latte contains tons of sugar and experts say it shows.
- Flickr/Brian Chow
Yeah, we’re starting with the bad news first. The PSL, the unofficial Coffee Drink Of The Fall, tastes delicious, but experts don’t think it has much in terms of flavor balance and coffee structure.
Former long-time Starbucks barista and present-day coffee collector J.R. Duren points to the high sugar content in the PSL as the drink’s biggest problem. If you want to taste the nuances and flavor dimension of coffee, “this drink is, in my opinion, far too sweet and full of sugar that you just don’t need,” Duren told INSIDER.
Of course, if you enjoy a pumpkin spice latte from time to time (as countless other Starbucks customers do), there’s nothing wrong with that. Skylar Bowker, e-commerce manager for BuyCoffeeCanada, puts it like this:
“Don’t listen to pompous snobs who try to tell you what you should or shouldn’t like. Everybody has different tastes, and one of the great things about coffee is the diversity of flavors. Find what you like best, and try something new once in a while. There’s even a time and place for the pumpkin spice lattes that supposed ‘connoisseurs’ look down on.”
Experts say the White Chocolate Mochas are too sweet to highlight the flavor of the coffee.
Coffee experts tend to frown on any beverage with a particularly high volume of sugar, as the sweet stuff can mar the flavor of the coffee beans themselves (and, when habitual, these drinks can also compromise the health of the drinkers).
Duren calls out the White Chocolate Mocha as a particularly egregious offender on the sugar front, with overwhelming sweetness caused by the white chocolate syrup.
“I would consider [the White Chocolate Mocha] more of a ‘beverage with coffee’ than a coffee drink,” he told INSIDER.
The Iced Caramel Macchiato bears no resemblance to a traditional Italian Macchiato.
- @starbucks / Instagram
The Caramel Macchiato consistently ranks among Starbucks’ most popular beverages, in both its hot and iced forms. While neither version has much to do with Macchiatos as they’re known in Italy, the Iced Caramel Macchiato strays particularly far from the original, according to experts.
“[The Iced Caramel Macchiato] has led countless unlucky souls to believe that a Macchiato is some iced concoction,” Jhonn Thomassen, former Starbucks barista and current owner of Marine Park Coffee in Brooklyn, New York, told INSIDER.
In reality, the Macchiato is a pour of espresso in a demitasse cup that’s topped with a small dollop of foamed milk (‘macchiato’ means ‘marked’ in Italian). It definitely doesn’t contain caramel, and it’s never served cold.
Thomassen doesn’t suggest removing the Iced Caramel Macchiato from the Starbucks menu entirely, but he has a suggestion for the ‘Bucks team about the drink’s name: “Let’s call this what it really is: an Iced Vanilla Latte with caramel sauce on top.”
Like Iced Macchiato, Iced Cappuccinos aren’t really a thing, according to experts (even with Cold Foam).
- Starbucks UK
A definite standby on the Starbucks menu, Iced Cappuccinos start with espresso shots and milk over ice, then get a hearty helping of “Cold Foam,” a new Starbucks creation made by whipping cold nonfat milk until it’s frothy.
But, because classic cappuccinos rely on hot steam to make a velvety foam, whipping cold milk without the benefit of heat results in a topper that bears little resemblance to the smooth and airy stuff you’ll see on top of a properly-made hot cappuccino, experts say.
Thomassen explained that “most baristas working in third-wave shops will tell you that there is no such thing as an Iced Cappuccino.”
Even experts agree, a Caffè Mocha makes a satisfying indulgence on a cold day.
Another long-time Starbucks menu item, the Caffé Mocha provides a perfect halfway point between a latte and a hot chocolate. It’s a comforting pick with just enough espresso bitterness to cut through the sweet chocolate, and the foamed milk gives it an appealingly silky texture, experts say.
Thomassen considers the Caffé Mocha a great pick for chilly day: “Nothing staves off inclement weather like a hot Mocha, and as long as the milk is steamed properly, it’s always a winner.”
Plus, this popular drink can even be made dairy-free friendly with a few substitutions because Starbucks’ chocolate syrup is dairy-free.
If you want a cold coffee drink with milk, opt for an Iced Caffè Latte, experts say.
- Jaysin Trevino/Flickr
Fans of iced coffee beverages that contain milk, don’t worry – an iced cappuccino might not be found outside of a Starbucks, but an iced latte sure will be.
Thomassen agrees, urging iced cappuccino fans to “stick to Iced Lattes for a more authentic drink.”
Experts say that you’ll make your barista happy by ordering a Flat White.
- @starbucks / Instagram
A popular coffee drink in Australia and New Zealand that more recently gained an American foothold in third-wave coffee shops, the Flat White includes a pour of espresso topped with gently-steamed milk with a smoother texture than cappuccino foam.
The Starbucks version first hit menus in 2015, and since its launch, it’s become a favorite among Starbucks baristas who like to get creative with their drink-making, according to experts.
If you want to try the “Cold Foam” in a better context than the Iced Cappuccino, try the Cascara Nitro Cold Brew.
Starbucks likes to stay on top of coffee trends popular at smaller indie shops, so they recently released a Nitro Cold Brew, a cold coffee poured by draft.
The coffee gets aerated as it comes out, resulting in a natural float of coffee foam on top. If you order the Cascara Cold Brew, you’ll get your Nitro Brew topped with a float of Cold Foam sweetened with Cascara syrup made from the skins of coffee cherries.
Duren counts this beverage among his favorite Starbucks drinks, because “it’s a nitro cold brew, which I much prefer to regular cold brew, and you’ve got a sweet foam head that negates the need to add sweetener or cream to the drink.”
Coffee made from Starbucks Reserve beans is excellent, according to experts, especially when brewed in a Clover machine.
- Marina Nazario/Business Insider
Although it’s a massive international corporation, Starbucks does pursue projects that focus on artisanal coffees made on a much smaller scale. Their Reserve Roasteries provide a space for coffee experimentation, like the Starbucks Reserve beans, which are harvested from prime coffee-bean terroirs and roasted in small batches before being sent to a limited number of Starbucks locations around the world.
Duren has a positive view of Reserve coffees, especially when they’re made in Starbucks’ Clover machines, which are basically reverse French presses.
“The third-wave movement has convinced a lot of people that Starbucks is the opposite of quality. However, their Reserve coffees are, in my opinion, a step up from their usual lineup because they’re more complex and have a certain level of delicateness you don’t get with more popular blends,” he told INSIDER.
The Caffè Americano is the Little Black Dress of Starbucks beverages, experts told INSIDER.
- Flickr/David Salafia
When asked to name a favorite Starbucks beverage, Bowker had a simple answer: “Americano. Tall. Black.”
Thomassen agreed, claiming that a Caffè Americano (an espresso shot topped with hot water to create a light layer of crema) “is the first Starbucks drink I really learned to love, after being told that an Americano is the ‘coffee drinker’s drink’. Whether or not that is actually true, it is almost impossible to botch this brew, and it is very consistent from location to location.”
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