Skip to content

8 Best Starbucks Menu Hacks, According to Baristas

Getting the drinks you love and paying less money is a true win-win at the coffee giant.
The product recommendations in this post are recommendations by the writer and/or expert(s) interviewed and do not contain affiliate links. Meaning: If you use these links to buy something, we will not earn a commission.

Mention the word "hacks" to a Starbucks barista, and you're bound to get a mixed reaction. That's because Starbucks hacks have become more common as trendy off-menu drink recipes float around on social media. Sometimes, customers get a little too creative with the self-ordering functions on the Starbucks app.

"There are hacks dos and don'ts," says Natasha, a Starbucks barista of four years. Hacks like trying to cheat the system by ordering a grande latte in a venti cup aren't the best approach, she says.

For example, a customer may ask for a tall Pike coffee in a grande cup, filled to the top with milk. "The customer believes they just got a grande-sized drink for the price of a tall," she says. "But what they're really doing is putting the barista in a conflicting situation that could get them written up or documented for not following standards." (Baristas are supposed to charge for additional milk if it's more than a one-inch serving.)

"Customers will often challenge the barista and make their job more difficult and put them in a difficult position," Natasha says. "This is not a 'hack'—it's a violation. Plus, it's not fair to the other customers who pay."

So, with this big "don't" in mind, here are some Starbucks hacks that are totally fair game, according to Starbucks baristas.

Order a tweaked Caramel Macchiato.

Iced Caramel Macchiato
Caramel Macchiato (Per 16-oz Serving):
Calories: 250
Fat: 7 g (Saturated Fat: 4.5 g)
Sodium: 150 mg
Carbs: 35 g (Fiber: 0 g, Sugar: 33 g)
Protein: 10 g

"This is the best menu hack that I don't even think that Starbucks knows about," Natasha says. "A caramel macchiato ordered with no caramel drizzle is an upside-down vanilla latte—and 60 cents cheaper."

Dylan, who has worked at the chain for one year, has a similar hack: "If you want your caramel macchiato with an extra pump of syrup, just order a vanilla latte with caramel drizzle." (Usually, the caramel macchiato comes with one less pump of vanilla syrup to compensate for the sweet caramel topping.)

 9 Starbucks Orders That Make Baristas Roll Their Eyes

Order a "dirty" chai—wisely.

starbucks chai latte
Caffe Latte (Per 16-oz Serving):
Calories: 190
Fat: 7 g (Saturated Fat: 4.5 g)
Sodium: 170 mg
Carbs: 19 g (Fiber: 0 g, Sugar: 18 g)
Protein: 13 g

A dirty chai is a popular go-to for those who can't choose between tea and espresso. Made with steamed milk, chai tea concentrate, and a shot of espresso, it's the best of both worlds. Laney, a Starbucks veteran of three years, has a tip when you place your order to save a couple of dollars.

"If you're looking for a dirty chai, your instinct might be to add your desired number of shots to a chai latte," she says. "That's gonna be upwards of $1.25 added to the price of the chai, the cost of an espresso shot."

"However, adding a syrup is just 80 cents. So, if you add the 80-cent chai to a regular latte, it's a one-time charge, as opposed to $1.25 per shot that is added to the price of a latte." So, instead of ringing in a chai latte with two espresso shots, Laney says to play around with the app to see if you'll have better luck ordering a regular latte with chai syrup added.

Another thing to note: "Technically, hot chai lattes are cut with hot water and steamed milk, whereas a hot latte would just be espresso and milk," she says. "So if you enjoy the 'bloomed' chai—chai and hot water—you can ask for hot water in your latte."

Dilute your secret menu Frappuccino.

starbucks frappuccino
Coffee Frappuccino (Per 16-oz Serving):
Calories: 230
Fat: 3 g (Saturated Fat: 2 g)
Sodium: 230 mg
Carbs: 46 g (Fiber: 0 g, Sugar: 45 g)
Protein: 3 g

"Customers should be aware when they are ordering a secret menu frap it's going to come with twice as much sugar as normal," Natasha says. "I have a friend who wanted the Cadbury Creme Egg frap. For a grande, that recipe calls for 11 pumps of syrup and 3 tablespoons of powdered sugar," she says. "Plus whip cream, caramel drizzle, and a caramel crunch topping. That's one-third of the cup being just sugar."

Instead, Natasha suggests you ask for the Frappuccino to be "decaf" to help reduce the sugar content. "The barista will add a shot of decaf espresso rather than use the frap roast, which is a coffee syrup," she says. "By replacing the frap roast with a decaf shot, the pumps of sugar for that Cadbury Creme Egg frap drops to eight pumps." It's still a load of sugar, to be sure, but cutting out the coffee-flavored syrup is a good start.

 The #1 Unhealthiest Starbucks Coffee Drink, According to a Dietitian

Download the Starbucks app.

Starbucks apps
sitthiphong / Shutterstock

A lot of customers don't have the Starbucks app on their phones, and they are missing out on a lot of freebies and discounts, Natasha says. If you're visiting the chain regularly, it's in your interest to download the app and check out the deals and star rewards program. Customers are eligible for free coffee or tea refills when they sit in the store, a free drink on their birthday, discount promotions, and $20 off merchandise with rewards.

Experiment with espresso shots.

two starbucks ristretto shots.
Doppio Espresso (Per 1.5-oz. Serving):
Calories: 10
Fat: 0 g (Saturated Fat: 0 g)
Sodium: 0 mg
Carbs: 2 g (Fiber: 0 g, Sugar: 0 g)
Protein: 1 g

"A lot of people tend to never benefit from our different shot styles, such as the ristretto or long shot," says Ethan, who has worked at Starbucks for five years. Ristretto shots are pulled for a shorter period of time and produce less liquid than a regular espresso shot.

"Ristretto is less water but the same espresso, which makes for stronger coffee," he says. "It's a good way for more flavor without paying over a dollar more for an extra shot." On the other hand, if you don't want an Americano, but you want a weaker shot espresso, Ethan recommends the long shot. "It has more water, but the same amount of coffee. It's like a mini cup of coffee for less money."

"Ristretto works great with our shaken espressos, especially. If you want more espresso shots, it can add up. But if you do the math right, you can get more espresso and less water content."

 8 Most Delicious Coffee Drinks at Starbucks, According to Baristas

Bring in a reusable cup.

starbucks blind cold cups

Starbucks' eco-friendly cup initiative can help build Star Rewards quickly. When customers bring in their personal reusable cups, they save 10 cents off the order, which is great. However, the true bonus is the extra 25 stars flowing into your account that can later be redeemed on the app. "You can get 25 bonus stars if you use a personal cup in the cafe and scan your app," one Starbucks barista wrote on Reddit.

Customers agree it's a great perk. "The 10 cents is trivial. The stars are a different matter," wrote one Redditor. "If you drink simple tea or coffee, you're getting every fourth drink free. Taking my own cup probably saves me $20 each month." And once you build up 100 stars, you can redeem those stars for a handcrafted beverage of any size. This is a great perk if you visit Starbucks often anyway.

 Starbucks vs. Dunkin': 7 Major Differences

Try this keto-friendly option.

starbucks iced passion tango tea
Starbucks / Facebook
Iced Passion Tango Tea (Per 16-oz. Serving):
Calories: 0
Fat: 0 g (Saturated Fat: 0 g)
Sodium: 10 mg
Carbs: 0 g (Fiber: 0 g, Sugar: 0 g)
Protein: 0 g

For those looking to cut back on sugar, Natasha suggests this keto-friendly drink: Order the iced passion tea and customize it without any liquid cane, substitute sugar-free vanilla syrup instead, and swap the water with coconut milk. "It's almost like a Coconut Mango Dragon Drink but without the loaded sugars and no caffeine," she says.

Adjust your Iced Shaken Espresso.

iced shaken espresso brown sugar oatmilk
Iced Shaken Espresso (Per 16-oz. Serving):
Calories: 100
Fat: 2 g (Saturated Fat: 1 g)
Sodium: 50 mg
Carbs: 17 g (Fiber: 0 g, Sugar: 14 g)
Protein: 4 g

Baristas love the iced shaken espresso beverage, namely because it comes with an extra shot of espresso compared to other iced espresso drinks. Plus, the customizations are endless, from milk to syrup. One Starbucks fan on Reddit had this suggestion for a customer who likes ordering a shaken espresso latte with oat milk and sugar cookie syrup but wanted to save a couple of bucks.

"In the app, you can just choose the base iced shaken espresso, sub oat milk, remove the classic syrup, and add the cookie syrup instead," they wrote. "A grande toasted vanilla oat milk is $5.75, but the grande iced shaken espresso with modifiers is $4.95."

Emily Latimer
Emily Latimer is a freelance journalist with a passion for food and restaurants. Read more about Emily