I’ve been working at Starbucks for a little under two years, and I have pretty mixed feelings about the company. On one hand, Starbucks is engaging in the most egregious union-busting campaign in the U.S. in decades, and Howard Schultz, the CEO, is a self-righteous hypocrite billionaire who loves money almost as much as he hates the workers who make it for him. On the other hand, though, Starbucks pays the ten bucks a month for my Spotify premium subscription. So, you know. Some good and some bad.

That being said, it’s been long enough that I’ve gotten a chance to try everything at this point, and I do think some of the stuff we sell tastes pretty good. What follows is a comprehensive tier list of everything on the entire Starbucks menu, starting low and working our way up to the top. For clarity’s sake, I’m rating everything as it appears on the menu, not with dozens of modifications. And, of course, the rankings are based on my opinion, with heavy consultation from my partner, Heidi.

 

F-Tier:

Espresso

Despite Starbucks ostensibly being a coffee shop, the espresso we sell is infamously awful. Starbucks over-roasts their beans and over-extracts the coffee, so the resulting espresso is uniformly bad, even by the standards of the other Starbucks coffees. There’s really no reason you should ever order this on its own.

Pineapple Passionfruit Refresher, Pineapple Passionfruit Lemonade Refresher, and Paradise Drink

These three drinks are all made with the same main ingredient: the pineapple passionfruit base. Not only does this ingredient not taste very good at all, rendering all the drinks made with it decidedly unappetizing, but its extreme yellow pigment quite literally stains any container we use to hold it, so much so that we can only use that container for that ingredient. Putting anything else in there makes it taste like pineapple. If the old Kiwi Starfruit drinks were still available, they’d be all the way at the bottom here as well, for the same reasons.

Blueberry Scone

This pastry doesn’t look very threatening, but it’s actually so dense and so dry that it’s physically difficult to chew and swallow. Warming it up helps this marginally but doesn’t really affect the taste, which is also bland.

 

D-Tier:

Americano

Just espresso and water. It doesn’t taste great, because the espresso is bad, but it’s definitely better watered down then the espresso by itself… probably not a great sign.

Pike’s Place Roast

Pike’s is the medium roast hot coffee that’s sold in every store around the country, and most partners (Starbucks employees) that I’ve talked to don’t like it very much. If you’re serious about coffee, you’re probably not going to Starbucks anyway, but even if you’re not, you’re probably still better off going with whatever blonde or dark roast is on rotation.

Peppermint Mocha

The first latte on the list so far! Most of the flavored lattes on the menu are not too bad, but the peppermint mocha loses a lot of points for being absurdly over-sweetened. A normal, medium flavored latte at Starbucks comes with four pumps of the corresponding syrup, and in my opinion this is already too much for most of the syrups. But mocha syrup is more powerful than the average syrup, and the peppermint syrup is doubly so. A medium peppermint mocha, made to standard, includes four of EACH syrup, meaning eight pumps in total, and probably the sweetest drink you can possibly order without modifications. A more reasonable amount for a peppermint mocha might be two pumps of mocha and one pump of peppermint. But as it comes by default, this drink is nigh-undrinkable.

Turkey Bacon, Cheddar, and Egg White Sandwich

This sandwich tastes worse than any of the others, certainly, but it also has this sort of soggy quality that really lessens the appeal. It just looks kinda sad.

Oatmeal

There’s nothing wrong with the oatmeal itself, really, but it’s just oatmeal with some toppings, and we don’t even mix them in for you. I don’t know. I guess it just seems silly to me to buy oatmeal from Starbucks.

Glazed Doughnut

Technically, yes, this is a doughnut. But it’s definitely the worst doughnut I’ve ever seen.

 

C-Tier:

Hot Coffee: Blonde or Dark

Starbucks always has Pike’s Place on brew, but the Blonde and Dark Roasts rotate from month to month. Still, the batch brewing method produces a reliably okay cup of coffee, and these two roasts are almost always going to be better than Pike’s.

Misto

Half hot coffee, half steamed milk. It was actually my go-to a while back, but it’s nothing special. I think I just liked the novelty of being halfway in between a hot coffee and a latte.

Honey Almond Milk Flat White

Almond milk isn’t for everyone, but I don’t mind it. The honey blend syrup, though, is… not good.

Mocha

As I mentioned earlier, I don’t love the mocha syrup, and the standard amount is too much of it.

Frappuccino Flavors: Coffee, Caramel, Mocha, and White Mocha

I like the frappuccino as a drink overall, but these flavors represent the most basic versions of the beverage. The coffee frapp has no added syrup, but it has a much better version that we’ll get to later. Caramel isn’t a very good flavor, in my opinion, and the mocha and white mocha syrups are both too sweet.

Frappuccino Flavors: Java Chip, Double Chocolatey Chip, and Chocolate Cookie Crumble

Every Frappuccino on the menu comes with coffee flavoring by default, but can be ordered without it, as a “Crème Frappuccino” instead. For some reason, though, the Mocha Cookie Crumble has these three slight variations that all inexplicably have their own name, all of which sound like the same drink. The Java Chip is the Mocha Cookie Crumble without the whipped cream and topping at the bottom of the cup. The Chocolate Cookie Crumble is the Mocha Cookie Crumble without the coffee, and the Double Chocolatey Chip is the Java Chip without the coffee. These three alternatives have all been placed into C tier for this confusion alone.

Hot Chocolate, White Hot Chocolate

If you’re craving hot chocolate, this isn’t all that bad. But, as always, these syrups are too sweet for my taste.

Cinnamon Caramel Crème Cold Brew

Most of the cold brew variations are a tier up from here, but this one is in C tier because two pumps of the cinnamon caramel syrup are basically indistinguishable from one pump of cinnamon dolce combined with one pump of caramel.

Nitro Cold Brew, Vanilla Sweet Cream Nitro Cold Brew

I think Starbucks cold brew is pretty good, but I think the unaltered version is the better version of it. Plus the nitro doesn’t come with ice, which is kinda weird.

Iced Coffee

Pretty comparable to the cold brew, but I tried this by itself recently and I didn’t like it much.

Honey Citrus Mint Tea

Also known as the “Medicine Ball,” for some reason. My main problem with this is that it requires a disproportionate amount of labor to make. You have to carefully extract two different flavored teabags from their sleeves, add the honey blend syrup, add hot water, and steam lemonade to top it off. The disproportionate part is because I don’t think it tastes all that good.

Passion Tango Tea

I think this is the weakest of our three iced teas but not by a ton.

Refreshers: Strawberry Acai and Mango Dragonfruit

The refresher bases are great, but they have absolutely no business being combined with water.

Plain Bagel and Everything Bagel

Completely unremarkable bagels. Totally adequate if you are looking to eat a bagel.

Lime Frosted Coconut Bar

When Starbucks released this pastry, I tried an early sample of it and I thought it was actually pretty tasty. I tried it fresh out of the freezer, though, and we sell it now at room temperature, which is way worse. Also, it’s insultingly expensive for how minuscule it is.

Marshmallow Dream Bar

It’s a rice krispie treat.

Butter Croissant, Chocolate Croissant, Cheese Danish, Blueberry Muffin

As you might expect, these pastries aren’t exactly bakery-fresh, but they’re not necessarily offensive, either.

Vanilla Bean Scone

This is a few steps up from the blueberry scone but still nothing special. And, as with the lime bar, the dollar-to-bite ratio is absurd.

 

B-Tier:

Latte, Cappuccino, Flat White

All things considered, and assuming the milk is well-steamed, just a plain latte is not half bad.

White Mocha, Cinnamon Dolce Latte, Pumpkin Spice Latte

These are the flavored lattes that aren’t quite good enough for A-tier but are still decent. White mocha is still too sweet, cinnamon dolce is just okay, and pumpkin spice only sounds good a couple times per year.

Any of the brewed hot teas

Starbucks sells several flavors of Teavana hot tea, but I don’t have much of an opinion on these, and people rarely order them. They seem fine to me!

Mocha Cookie Crumble

Sure, it’s dessert in a cup. But is that really so bad?

Espresso Frappuccino

This is a better version of the basic coffee frappuccino, just by virtue of using espresso for the coffee flavor instead of the strange coffee concentrate liquid. Both are fine, but comparing them side-by-side makes it obvious which one has real coffee in it.

Pistachio Frappuccino

In some weird way, I think the pistachio frapp is everything the caramel frapp wishes it was. I know those flavors aren’t that similar, but it makes sense to me.

Matcha Frappuccino

Every matcha item on the menu goes pretty much like this: if you like matcha, you’ll like it. If you don’t, you’ll probably hate it.

Toasted Vanilla Oatmilk Shaken Espresso

Shaken espresso is a great beverage format, but the toasted vanilla syrup just does not hit. It’s definitely popular, though, so it’s worth trying if you think you might like it.

Iced Black Tea, Iced Green Tea, Iced Passion Tango Tea Lemonade

Unlike the refreshers, the teas are good with water—but they’re still better with lemonade, so the lemonade version of the worse tea is here together with the water version of the better tea.

Mango Dragonfruit Lemonade Refresher, Dragon Drink

The dragonfruit refresher drinks are the perfect alternative to their strawberry acai counterparts. -1 point for the dragonfruit bits getting soggy, but +1 for having ‘dragon’ in the name.

Matcha Lemonade
I’m pretty sure nobody knows we sell this, but it’s surprisingly good. It’s kind of the exception to the matcha rule, though, because the lemonade sort of cuts across the matcha flavor and makes something pretty unique.

Bacon, Sausage, and Egg Wrap

This is a sort of imitation of a burrito that looks much better than it really is. My coworkers and I have agreed that it’s missing some essential flavor element, because it’s truly just the ingredients in the title. Bacon, sausage, and egg, wrapped up together.

Sandwiches: Bacon, Gouda, and Egg; Impossible Breakfast; Sausage, Egg, and Cheddar; Double-Smoked Bacon, Egg, and Cheddar

These sandwiches are delivered frozen and prepackaged, and these sandwiches are about as good as you’d expect, given that knowledge.

Spinach, Feta, and Egg White Wrap

Paired with sriracha this is a surprisingly decent pick, but alone it’s too bland.

Egg Bites: Bacon and Gruyere, Egg White and Roasted Red Pepper, Kale and Mushroom

All the egg bites are similarly alright, depending on what kind of flavors you like with your eggs.

Ham and Swiss on Baguette; Turkey, Provolone, and Pesto on Ciabatta; Tomato and Mozzarella on Focaccia

Okay, people definitely don’t know we sell these. They’re fine in a pinch, when you need something more substantial to eat, but I don’t think I would call them good. Also, baguette is a fairly broad term, but the definitions of ciabatta and focaccia are absolutely being stretched here.

 

A-Tier:

Blonde Vanilla Latte

This is a simple alteration of the basic latte—it just uses blonde espresso and adds vanilla syrup—but it comes together very well, hot or iced.

Pistachio Latte

I’m partial to all of the nutty flavored syrups, and pistachio is the only one that gets its own standalone drink on the menu, complete with a nice crunchy topping.

Caramel Macchiato

This is one of the more iconic Starbucks beverages, and deservedly so. It makes it to A-tier mostly because of the iced version, in which the ice helps keep the espresso on the top of the drink, the caramel drizzle falls down the sides, and you can see it all through the transparent cup. I like when a drink looks cool, and the caramel macchiato is among the coolest looking. It does also taste good though.

London Fog Tea Latte

For how good this drink is, I’m surprised it isn’t ordered more often. The tea flavor is subtle compared to most Starbucks flavors, but the drink is still plenty sweet from the vanilla syrup, and that balance is great. The iced version is a pain to make, but it’s worth it.

Matcha Tea Latte

Like I said earlier, if you like matcha you’ll enjoy this. And I do like the occasional matcha drink.

Caramel Apple Spice

Another somewhat underrated drink, this is made with steamed apple juice, and it’s probably the best application of the otherwise underwhelming cinnamon dolce syrup.

Caramel Ribbon Crunch Frappuccino

It’s dessert in a cup again, but this time it’s made with a syrup I actually like—not caramel, which I’ve already denounced, but dark caramel, which is completely different and objectively better. It sounds like I’m joking, but I’m not. This comes with a crunchy topping too, which is great.

Frappuccinos: Strawberry Crème, Vanilla Bean Creme, Chai Crème

This is the trifecta of the best frappuccinos Starbucks has to offer, which stand out by forgoing the coffee flavor and going in a totally different direction instead.

Cold Brews: Plain, Chocolate Cream, Salted Caramel Cream, Pistachio Cream, White Chocolate Macadamia Cream, Cinnamon Caramel Cream

I mentioned earlier that I like the cold brew, and here we are! All of the foam variants are equally good to me, but the cold brew is great black as well.

Iced Shaken Espresso, Chocolate Almondmilk Shaken Espresso

The shaken espresso is such a simple but effective drink, and the flavors of these two versions have an extra edge, too. The classic syrup comes in half pumps, so the drink isn’t overly sweet, and the malt powder has a similar effect.

Iced Black Tea Lemonade, Iced Green Tea Lemonade, Strawberry Acai Lemonade Refresher

These are some of the most reliable, refreshing, well-balanced iced drinks Starbucks sells, and they are the definitive runner-ups for the best way to drink tea or juice at Starbucks. The winners are up in S-tier.

Grilled Cheese

Grilled Cheese. It’s pretty good!

Cinnamon Coffee Cake, Red Velvet Loaf, Iced Lemon Loaf, Banana Walnut and Pecan Loaf, Pumpkin and Pepita Loaf, Double Chocolate Brownie, Chocolate Chip Cookie

All of these are the standout options for food at Starbucks. They are well-sized, somewhat reasonably priced, and they aren’t trying too hard to be interesting or different, which allows them to succeed at their task: just being some tasty little morsels.

Cake Pops: Birthday Cake, Chocolate, Cookies and Cream, Fox, Reindeer, Bumblebee, Earth Day

Having just a little bit of cake is something I didn’t know I wanted until I tried cake pops. When these things sound good to you, they taste amazing.

 

S-Tier:

Chai Latte

I have heard that Starbucks chai is not real chai, and I have no objections with that assessment. Nevertheless, I believe Starbucks chai earns its spot in the top tier, not despite its comparison to real chai but independent of it. In the same way that Taco Bell is not authentic Mexican cuisine, Starbucks chai is really more of its own thing, more thematically inspired by the original than anything else. Is it the same as the boxed chai you can get at, like, Costco? Well, yeah. But you’re not at Costco, are you? You’re at Starbucks. Get it iced and with oatmilk.

Iced Peach Green Tea Lemonade

This, finally, is the best iteration of tea-based drinks at Starbucks. Not too lemon-y, not too sweet, just enough peach to add some depth to the flavor without overpowering the tea taste. Not much else to say about this beautiful beverage.

Pink Drink

Maybe it’s telling that one of the S-tier drinks is a customer customization that got so popular that Starbucks started selling it as an official drink. I wouldn’t have guessed that coconut milk and strawberry go so well together, but they do, and the strawberry pieces are not nearly as offensive as the dragonfruit or pineapple ones. Like all of the best items on the menu, it’s simple yet effective. Also known as the pinkedy drinkedy, also known as the pink dink.

Vanilla Sweet Cream Cold Brew

This drink puts together the best parts of all the worst parts of Starbucks’ menu. In general, Starbucks coffee is bad and everything is too sweet, but the cold brew is actually decent and the sweet cream is only intended as a topping here, so not much can go wrong. This drink might still have landed in A-tier, but for the very cool visual effect that happens when pouring the sweet cream on top of the ice to finish off the drink, as pictured above.

Brown Sugar Oatmilk Shaken Espresso

It’s difficult to describe what exactly makes these elements come together to become so much more than the sum of their parts, but whatever it is, it is genuinely impressive. The drink comes with blonde espresso, which is better than the normal espresso, and oatmilk is always delicious, but it’s the brown sugar that really surprised me. The syrup itself smells as sickly sweet as any other, but something about the cinnamon powder, ice, and espresso mellows it out to mix into the oatmilk, and the result is a beverage that I’ve literally never heard of anyone disliking. I end up making probably dozens of these every single day I work, because they’re so popular, and honestly? I get it.

3 Comments

  1. Sam

    *reads post* Oh good, my drink is high on the list, so I’ll get a good grade in going to Starbucks, something that’s both normal to want and possible to achieve.

    In all seriousness, another top tier post Phil. I don’t go to Starbucks that often, but will absolutely use this as a guide the next time I feel the need.

    Reply
    • Phil Rienstra

      hahahaha yes I affirm your good grade lol
      and thank you!

      Reply
  2. Madeline May

    I’ve only gone to Starbucks maybe 5 times and I got the same thing because I’m afraid to try something new. I always get the vanilla bean frappé. It’s like ice cream. Anyway, this helped me no what is in the drinks and what to order next time. I’m definitely going for the pink drink and refreshers. Honestly, j love fruit combos like that so I’ll get those. I also like more warm drinks like hot cocoa and stuff like that. More in the winter though. Anyway, thanks for you help!

    Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Related posts

Siren’s Semantics
by Philip Rienstra, March 10, 2022
The Iced Clover
by Michael Kelly, September 23, 2014
How I Survived the Dunkin’ App Betrayal
by Carlisle Patete, October 17, 2023
Back to the Beans
by Jon Gorter, September 28, 2022
Coffee Crimes
by Philip Rienstra, September 10, 2022

post calvin direct

Get new posts from Philip Rienstra delivered straight to your inbox.

the post calvin