Anatomy of a Starbucks drink: A Primer (US Edition)

I love Starbucks. Music complaints aside (see earlier article on Music in cafes and such), it is my default place to go read a book, do some work, or hang out with a friend or two. I guess it helps that my habit formed at one of the most awesome Starbucks places ever and that I worked there. BARISTAS UNITE. I digress.

Do you love being at Starbucks and wanted to learn a bit more about what goes into some of our drinks and how you can customize them? Been confused about the difference between breve and skim? Ristretto versus lungo espresso? Dry versus wet cappuccino? Well, look no further, because here is the guide that I was never able to find on the internet!


Real basic: Short is 8 oz, tall is 12 oz, grande is 16 oz, and venti is 20 oz. Makes sense if you speak Italian because “venti” is “twenty”. In some places, there is also a trenta size, which is 30 oz. This size is only available for iced coffee and iced tea.

Easy, right? Generally, we will understand what you mean by small, medium, or large…or if you point. But in case you ever wondered what the size differences were, here they are.

Skinny or Light

For any drinks with milk that aren’t frozen, ordering it “skinny” means you want it with sugar-free syrup, non-fat milk, and no whipped cream. If you want to change any of those things, tell us!

For frappuccinos, if you order it “light”, we use non-fat milk, sugar-free syrup, no whip, and sugar-free frappuccino bases.


The default for hot drinks is 2% milk (in the US). The default for frozen drinks is whole milk. You may request that your drink be made with something else if you would like. Whole milk and skim/non-fat cost nothing extra, while soy milk and breve (which is half cream and half milk) cost extra unless you are a Starbucks Gold member. Generally, we will ask you if you still want whipped cream if you order something non-fat or soy. Ordering something skinny automatically means no whipped cream.

Drinks that get whipped cream: all fraps except coffee frap and smoothies, hot chocolate, mocha, caramel apple spice.

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