As I’ve said before, there’s not actually a secret Starbucks menu. I don’t say this to crush your dreams. I get why you want there to be a secret menu; I think it’s a fun idea, too. I just say it because, well, there isn’t a secret menu. What there is instead is the ability to customize your drinks in hundreds of ways. Syrups, milks, with or without coffee, with or without tea, hot, on the rocks, blended, there are thousands of possible combinations.
That’s all the online secret menus are, really. They’re just lists of possible ingredients that people have posted online and given catchy names to.
So, what are these drinks, exactly? And how do you ask for them in a way that will get you what you want without having to ask for something as embarrassing as a filthy chai?
First, understand how baristas think. They don’t think in terms of fancy names, they think in terms of specific ingredients. Specificity is very important, which is why they very often ask you so many questions.
Ordering a filthy chai doesn’t mean anything because it doesn’t actually have a specific definition. On some online secret menus, it’s a chai tea latte with an extra shot of espresso. On some menus it’s a chai tea latte with two extra shots of espresso. On some menus it’s a chai tea latte made with brewed coffee instead of water. So when you ask for a filthy chai, the person you’re ordering from doesn’t actually know what you mean by that. Instead, just tell them exactly what you mean.
If you want a grande chai tea latte with one extra shot, order a single grande chai. For two shots, order a double grande chai. For three, order a triple grande chai. This not only ensures that the barista knows what you want, it actually makes you sound much more like a Starbucks insider than saying, “I want a filthy chai.”
Same thing with red eye, black eye, green eye, pink eye, whatever weirdo names people have come up with for shots of espresso in brewed coffee. If you want one shot of espresso in a tall coffee, order a single tall coffee. Or a double tall coffee. Or a triple tall coffee and so on. Specificity is good.
On one secret menu I’ve found, they have a drink they call liquid cocaine, which they claim is only for the most hardcore of coffee drinkers. I looked up their recipe, and it’s not even close to hardcore. It’s sweet and caramely and tastes like dessert. Four pumps of white mocha and four shots of espresso on ice? I actually love the way espresso mixed with white mocha tastes, but I’m not going to lie to myself and say I’m drinking it because I’m hardcore.
And this leads me to another reason I’m frustrated by the online secret menus. Not only are they not official, they’re written by people who don’t understand coffee. The person who wrote about the drink they called “liquid cocaine” then went on to say if you couldn’t handle the caffeine content of the drink, you should get something less hardcore like a black eye. Their definition of a black eye? A cup of coffee with two shot of espresso. I rolled my green eyes so freaking hard.
One ounce of espresso has approximately 75 mg of caffeine in it. One ounce of brewed coffee has approximately 20 mg of caffeine in it. This is why people think, “Oh, man, anything with espresso in it is going to jack me up!”
What they don’t think about is how much of each you consume. You don’t drink sixteen ounces of espresso at a time, you only drink two and the rest of the drink is made up of milk and syrup. You drink sixteen ounces of coffee, though. You might put some sugar and a splash or two of milk in it, but you drink much more brewed coffee per drink than you do espresso. Therefore, a grande latte averages around 150 mg of caffeine while a grande brewed coffee averages 320 mg of caffeine, more than twice what’s in a latte.
As for the faux-secret-menu’s author’s claim that four shots of espresso is somehow magically more caffeinated than a grande coffee with two shots of espresso added to it? Do the math. Four shots equals 300 mg of caffeine. A grande coffee with two shots? More like 450 mg of caffeine.
Do you see why the secret menu frustrates us? Not only do we have to explain to customers every day that we’re sorry, we know that people online say there’s a secret menu but there’s not and we don’t know what the drink names mean because they’re just things randos on the internet made up, we also have to deal with the fact that they say things all the time that are flat-out wrong, but people believe them because they make themselves sound like they’ve got some sort of inside track.
So, then, what do you do if you’ve found a drink on a secret menu you want to try? You’ve already learned that you can’t just walk into a Starbucks and order a dalmatian and have the baristas understand what you want. So instead of going by the fancy name, go back to what I told you before about how baristas think in terms of ingredients. Only go off so-called secret menus that have ingredients listed, then remember those.
For example, what some secret menus call a Raspberry Cheesecake latte, a Starbucks barista would call a raspberry white mocha. What some menus call a Turtle, a barista would call a grande one pump caramel one pump toffee nut mocha.
And then talk to your baristas. We do this for a living, after all, and we’ve all got our own personal favorite combinations. For example, I usually just drink coffee, but when it’s really cold and late at night I sometimes get a tall one pump hazelnut two pump white mocha no whip white hot chocolate. That’s not a catchy name, I know, but it’s really delicious and you can walk into any Starbucks, order it, and they’ll know exactly what you mean. I work with people who insist that the best combination on the planet is cinnamon dolce and mocha. I work with people who love peppermint in their green tea, matcha in their smoothies, and cinnamon powder steamed into the milk for their lattes. Ask your baristas what customizations they like, and if you’ve got something in mind, even if it’s vague, ask if it’s possible. The answer is usually, “Yes.” Having somebody make something just for you, just the way you like, is way better than some fake secret menu any day.