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Friday, March 1, 2024

Secrets from a Starbucks barista

Drinks and customizations that are sure to improve your next coffee run


By MAYA KORNYEYEVA — mkornyeyeva@ucdavis.edu


To some, Starbucks can seem slightly overwhelming, with their special beverage size names and dozens of modifications for their constantly expanding drink options. Many just stick to one or two drinks every time they visit their nearest cafe for fear of spending money on something they will not like.

Having worked as a Starbucks barista for nearly two years, I have not only become addicted to coffee but also developed a roster of the very best options that Starbucks has to offer. Trying every coffee available and taste testing all the syrups, milk alternatives and refreshers, and then trying random combinations of them all, has provided me with some insight into the best Starbucks has to offer.                                                                                                                                                                           

Here are a few of my top choices for beverages and customizations to make on your next trip to Starbucks a little bit more of an adventure. 


Blonde Espresso

This is probably the oldest one in the books. Ask any Starbucks barista that enjoys a spot of espresso and every single one will confirm that blonde is the way to go. Blonde espresso is a light roast, which makes it brighter and creamier than the regular, dark roast espresso. Because of this, it pairs amazingly with syrups. That is why Starbucks’ shaken espressos have mainly transitioned to featuring blonde espresso, as customers and baristas alike are championing this coffee blend. Some of my favorite ways to drink blonde espresso are with a few pumps of white mocha and cream, or in a dirty chai: a medium iced blonde ristretto latte with a few pumps of chai syrup.


Soy Milk

Starbucks uses vanilla-flavored soy milk, which makes this the perfect alternative milk if you want a drink that is subtly sweet without adding a lot of additional sweetener. Soy is my personal favorite, with oat milk taking a close second place, and it is a great addition to any cold brew or iced coffee. While Starbucks does charge $0.80 to swap in alternative milk for the entire drink, a “splash” or half an inch addition to any beverage is free. 


Cold Brew

Starbucks cold brew and nitro cold brew are strong, silky smooth black coffees poured straight from the tap. Even though I was not a fan of coffee when I first started working at Starbucks, cold brew won me over slowly but surely. The key is to sweeten the brew with cream and syrup. Having tried all the cold brew varieties, salted caramel cream cold brew has come out on top with its deliciously complex flavor palette. For something a little more simple, vanilla sweet cream nitro cold brew also hits just right. An important thing to know is that if you order any cold brew, iced coffee, black coffee or tea, you are able to get a free refill the same day with the Starbucks app, or pay a mere $0.50 in-store. This trick has gotten me through many long days of studying these past few quarters.


Milk tea

While Starbucks does have its tea lattes — such as the Royal English Breakfast tea latte or the London Fog — these are the bane of a barista’s existence. Preparing these drinks iced can be a hassle as you have to wait 5 minutes for the tea to steep before shaking it with the rest of the ingredients. As a bubble tea addict, here is an easy and absolutely delicious milk tea recipe that I have created while at Starbucks. Order a black iced tea, no water with half vanilla syrup and half brown sugar syrup and a splash of your favorite milk or cream. Add a dash of sweet cream as an optional final touch.


Tropical Refresher

If you’re tired of the current refreshers and want something a little more jazzy, order a mango dragon fruit lemonade without the berry inclusions, and with a splash of passion tango tea on top. If you ask the barista to add the passion tea as the final touch (without shaking!), the beverage will have two beautiful layers and probably get a few passersby to ask what drink it is. It tastes sharp and sweet, and is especially nice on a hot summer day.


Coffee blends

Out of the 10 Starbucks whole-bean coffee blends that I have brewed to sample, two stood out to me as exceptional. While perhaps no match for Philz or other specialty pour-over blends, Starbucks’ dark roast Cafe Verona and light roast Veranda Blend both have unique flavor notes that make them quality options for making coffee at home. Cafe Verona is naturally sweet with notes of dark chocolate, making it enjoyable to drink even without milk or sugar, and Veranda has a soft, floral complexion that brightens the palette and tastes delicious when sweetened.


I hope I have given you a few solid recommendations that make ordering at Starbucks a little more fun and daring. Who knows? Perhaps you will also discover a simple non-menu item that gives your morning coffee more bang for your buck.


Written by: Maya Kornyeyeva — mkornyeyeva@ucdavis.edu

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie.