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September 14, 2011

It’s beginning to look a lot like…

Filed under: American Food,Coffee — raincoaster @ 7:55 pm

Autumn. How do I know? The change of the seasons as heralded by the Starbucks menu board.

Batman has a love hate relationship with pumpkin spice lattes

Batman has a love hate relationship with pumpkin spice lattes

But it’s not just Gotham City that’s been visited by early Autumnal bevvies:



Chicago, you bear the burden of being ahead of your time. As for us here in Upper Muskox, even the tomato plants are wearing sweaters now, and a week of frost has done for my basil harvest, withered in its prime like a deflated Kardashian Sister (if one of them ever springs a leak, it’ll be like the Dead Sea in a radius of about 15 feet but where was I).

The pumpkin spice latte is all very well, but you could always, you know, just not order it until later in the season. It’s not like they’ve discontinued ice. And this is as handy a place as any to re-post my Starbucks Without Tears guide for getting the Starbucks Experience absolutely wired. Seven years of working there has to pay off somehow, if only in blog filler. This isn’t exhaustive, obviously, but it has sound tips for negotiating your way through the forest of mochawhippichhinolattes and so on, to the goal of real espresso flavour.

1- order a cappuccino instead of your regular latte and you’ll cut calories by half and get a stronger espresso flavour at the same time.

2- if you want to drink less fatty dairy in your espresso drinks, but hate skim, order 2%. Sure, it’s not on the menu, but any competent barista will simply mix equal parts whole and skim in the cup for a good approximation of 2%. [UPDATE: now 2% is standard, but you can work this trick, splitting 2% with half skim and get 1% too. You can even do this to lower the fat in eggnog lattes]

3- to use less sugar in your espresso drink, sprinkle half your normal amount of loose sugar on the foam crust and don’t stir it in. Drinking through the sugar crust makes the drink taste sweeter for whatever reason. White sugar works better than plantation sugar because the grains are finer

4- DON’T ORDER THE VENTI!!!! Sorry to bust out the all caps, people, but this is crucial. A venti-sized drink is 20 ounces of liquid. I used to feed horses for a living, and horses will drink 20 ounces of liquid at a time. People watching their weight shouldn’t. I once read a calorie chart in a diet book that included the calorie count of a venti mocha; people who need diet books shouldn’t be drinking venti anythings. [this was written before they had the latest size, the Gut Buster I think they call it?]

5- on that note, Starbucks does still offer the small size, a Short, even though it’s not on the menu. It’s cheaper than a tall, too, and because it has the same number of espresso shots in smaller volume, the coffee taste is stronger than in the same drink in a tall size. A short is eight ounces, or about twice what a coffee cup used to hold in the Sixties and Seventies, so it’s not like you’ll waste away; it is still a substantial size.

6- frappuccinos without whipped cream are technically low-fat, and don’t have as many calories as you’d think, because they’re primarily ice. The lowest-calorie frappuccino is also my favorite and also not on the menu: an espresso frappuccino. That is just a regular coffee frappuccino with a shot of espresso added. Because the espresso takes up an ounce that would otherwise be creamy frap mix, the drink has fewer calories than a plain one, and a great espresso flavour.

7- which reminds me, a quick and tasty way to reduce calories is to order the same size drink you normally do, but add an extra shot of espresso. A shot of espresso has three to six calories, while an ounce of milk has several times that.

8- drinks always taste better in “for here” cups, partly because they’re generally kept heated on top of the espresso bar. You can also use your own travel mug (don’t worry if it has the logo of another cafe on the side; nobody minds) and save ten cents at most cafes while helping the environment.

9- the best way to get in and out in a hurry is just as Lifehacker suggests: order a tall coffee and (my contribution) have exact change in your free hand; you may not even need to go near the till, if the baristas are efficient enough about working the lineup.

10- tea, of course, has no calories. Coffee itself only has about five in a strong cup, but people often find tea doesn’t seem to need sweetening the way coffee does, particularly herbal, fruit-based teas like licorice root or dried berry. Teas are, if you think about it, essentially weak vegetable extract, and contain many health-boosting phytochemicals. I’m not talking about those diuretic “dieter’s teas” that keep you in the bathroom all day; those are no good, particularly as nobody can admire your slimness if you’re stuck in the bathroom stall all damn day.

11- green and black teas (oolong to a lesser extent) contain tannic acid, which is a mild, easily tolerated muscle relaxant. If you’re stiff, you get jitters from coffee, or you’ve got cramps of any kind, give these teas a try. Red wine works too, but it’s more expensive and you can’t get that in most Starbucks.

12- caffeine enhances the effectiveness of the painkillers ibuprofen, codeine, ASA, and acetominophen, so if you are taking any of those, consider taking them with coffee or tea. This appears to be variable: most people get the effect, while for some it does nothing whatsoever. Test it and see how it works for you.

13- cafe mochas have measurable amounts of fiber in them, but you’d need to drink almost a hundred a day to meet your dietary requirement; there are cheaper ways to achieve regularity. I just put that in here because what the hell: it’s amusing.

14- that stuff called “nondairy creamer”? It’s an incredibly fattening petroleum byproduct, not a food. Cream is a lower-calorie choice; this stuff is offered for those who have lactose intolerance or other reasons to avoid dairy (and it was invented before we had soy milk). I had a customer at Starbucks who used to order grande mochas made from the stuff, until I asked him why one day and he told me that his doctor had him on a strict diet to reduce his cholesterol, calories and fat. I talked him into drinking black coffee instead of the 1100 calorie monstrosityhe’d been drinking, thinking it was healthy. Seriously, if you keep Coffee Mate around, consider buying powdered skim instead.

15- ask to read the label of the soymilk your cafe uses, if you’re a soymilk drinker. Not all of them are fortified with calcium and vitamin D, although people assume they are, and it can be quite high in fat as well. Soymilk is not nutritionally identical to milk, so read the label and make an educated decision. And apparently Almond Milk has half the calories of skim and more protein at the same time!

16- ask your barista for recommendations. They are generally very knowledgeable and love the chance to use their learning. Tell them what issues you’re dealing with, eg “I am lactose-intolerant and diabetic, but I really miss my vanilla cappuccinos. Is there something else I can order?”

17- here’s a recipe for homemade frappuccinos, if you’re into that sort of thing. You can mix up your own flavours: I like coffee and peanut butter (no, you may not laugh at me).

18- if you want something indulgent but not a total calorie-bomb, try espresso con panna, espresso with whipped cream. It’s definitely got that decadent feeling, but only a dollop of cream, and you feel so pleasurably Eurotrashy, sipping from your tiny little cup.



  1. Starbucks doesn’t really sell coffee, they sell coffee shakes, per se. I love just ordering straight coffee there because it practically shuts the bar down as the staff figure out how to fill the order (once I happened to be the second customer in a row who ordered “coffee coffee”, in a medium cup, and we waited a few minutes together while the order was filled and the coffee “brewed”). I am not surprised to see Weight Watchers pushing their stuff, though. That’s how WW makes their big bucks (well, that and the almost total rate of “recidivism” in their client base).

    All good info, except I have to say that “non-dairy creamer” is also unsuitable for those who are lactose intolerant because it does contain some (mysterious) dairy “solids” along with its petrochemicals. Cream’s a better alternative even for the lactose intolerant, as the fat in cream makes it easier to digest. Almond milk is not a suitable substitute because here in North America almond milk is unspeakably bad, compared to almond milk made and sold in Italy (but it is also considered “kiddie food” there, as are cappuccinos and latte in general).

    I had a pumpkin spice frappuccino in a small cup the other day, because I felt like a rich treat but it was still scorching hot outside. I may do that again today, because it’s not a bad pumpkin shake! If I do, I’ll think of you, Miss Raincoaster.

    Comment by ChaChaHeels — September 15, 2011 @ 7:24 am

  2. Cha Cha Heels, I love you, but no. Your local store may be hiring clueless noobs who don’t know how to keep the coffee brewed (which is a major fail on the part of that manager, because it’s ABOUT THE COFFEE) but the staff who have been there longer than two weeks look down on the whippichinosoynut frappe crowd. Naturally: they are inferior. Starbucks is supposed to be ABOUT THE COFFEE. There are people who don’t like their coffee, and that’s fine. But without the coffee, there is no foundation to build on. I’d say your local needs a swift kick in the Customer Response Cards, because barring emergencies they shouldn’t run out of coffee in a regular day. If all else fails, they should do what I was trained to do (she says, hooking her thumbs beneath her suspenders, which is uncomfortable because I don’t wear the suspenders that keep my pants up, but there, I’ve said too much) and offer you a French Press of whatever you’d like at no extra charge. Boy, does THAT make an impression.

    I didn’t know they had hooked up with WW in the States; haven’t seen that in Canuckistan, but once again, the best thing to order if you’re watching your weight is straight coffee or tea. Although the iced lemonade green tea thing has a special place in my heart, although only half sweet. I get eggnog lattes half skim and chai half water, too.

    I’m losing my contempt of milk substitutes as they cease sucking so badly. I’ve had some quite decent small batch almond milk (from free range almonds? I didn’t ask). As long as it’s a condiment and not the main event, it’s acceptable.

    Although it must be said: Casein is of the devil, and why the hell do they put it in everything? I heard about a small boy who had to go to the hospital because it was in his canned tuna. Milk solids in canned tuna. And NOT on the label.

    My favorite frappuccino is actually not on the menu, and from the sounds of it you might like it too: the espresso frappuccino. It’s a plan frap with one ounce less of mix and one ounce of espresso. If the barista is savvy and experienced, they use a little more ice so it doesn’t get sloppy.

    Comment by raincoaster — September 15, 2011 @ 1:55 pm

  3. In order to chime in on this topic, I must say that at one of my local Starbucks (we have about 50) I often drive through very early in the morning, and on many occasions when I order coffee, they do not have any ready. I am talking about regular old coffee. They give me a free Americano when that happens, but it seems to me if you are Starbucks and turn on the lights, you should have a pot of coffee ready. Other than that, I almost never drink anything other than black coffee. And, I think to hark back to one of Raincoaster’s earlier posts, by far my fave coffee is Kenya. Although one day I hope to try the monkeybutt coffee.

    Comment by Erik Nabler — September 15, 2011 @ 7:21 pm

  4. Hi!
    Many Starbucks in countries outside the US have their own specialized frapuccino flavors. Here in the Philippines my favorite is Coffee Jelly. It is an espresso frap with little cubes of coffee jelly on the bottom that you eat with an extra large straw that has a “spoon” at the end. Which I suppose makes it even lower in calories than an espresso frap since the jelly (made of unsweetened coffee and gelatin) displaces the frap mix. By the way, coffee jelly is a dessert that is often found here in Chinese restaurants.

    Comment by lali — September 18, 2011 @ 11:31 pm

  5. That sounds interesting. I was only once in a Starbucks in Manila, but the two iced Mochas they made me saved my life in the heat. I wish they’d make Kalimansi Iced Tea available everywhere, I love kalimansi.

    Oh, and when the manager found out I worked for Starbucks in Canada, she gave me a special travel mug with a local scene on it. It was terrific!

    Comment by raincoaster — September 25, 2011 @ 10:23 pm

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