How to Make Coffee Shop Drinks Healthier

28 Nov

Coffee shops can be a place of excitement, and understandably so – salted carmel hot chocolate with whipped cream and carmel swirled on top?! Peppermint mocha with more whipped cream, chocolate sauce and peppermint pieces on top?! What is there not to be excited about, right?! Well, there is one thing…

These drinks come loaded with calories, sugar and fat.  Without knowing which ones are bad for you, or how to make healthier adaptations, these can drinks can set you back almost a half a day’s worth of calories (yes, half a day’s worth!) As a former barista I know exactly what goes into each drink – which typically can be mind numbing. However, it also means that I know exactly how to make these drinks as healthy as they are enjoyable! First, I’ll break down the basics of what is in each drink so you will be armed with knowledge when you go to get a coffee and can break down any new drinks that they may have:

Coffee = Plain brewed coffee
Misto or Cafe au Lait = 1/2 brewed coffee + 1/2 steamed milk of your choice
Latte = espresso + steamed milk
Flavored Latte = espresso + flavoring + steamed milk
Cappuccino = espresso + steamed milk + 1 inch of foam
Flavored Cappuccino = espresso + flavoring + steamed milk + 1 inch foam
Mocha = espresso + chocolate syrup + steamed milk + whipped cream + chocolate syrup drizzled on top
Macchiato = espresso + milk foam
Flavored Macchiato = espresso + flavoring + milk foam
Tea Lattes = tea concentrate + steamed milk
Smoothies = flavor concentrate + milk + ice
Frappuccino = iced coffee + ice + whipped cream
Flavored Frappuccino = flavor + ice + whipped cream + flavored sauce drizzled on top
Americano = espresso + hot water
Hot Chocolate = Steamed milk + chocolate sauce

Are you seeing a pattern? Anything with a flavor in the title, you just add that flavor to the basic drink. Anything that has carmel or chocolate in it will also get whipped cream with that flavor drizzled on top. For example: Peppermint mocha. It is a mocha, so  espresso + chocolate syrup + steamed milk + whipped cream + chocolate syrup drizzled on top. However, it’s a peppermint mocha so you just add peppermint syrup to it. The crushed candy cane pieces go on top, which is an additional topping for holiday drinks like this (ie/ holiday drinks like pumpkin spice have pumpkin pie spice sprinkled on top, honey cinnamon has honey bits with cinnamon on top, etc.).

Now, for size variations this is typically how syrup pumps go for flavored drinks (vanilla lattes, mochas, etc.):
Small/tall = 3 pumps
Medium/grande = 4 pumps
Large/venti = 5 pumps

This is how espresso shots vary by drink size for any espresso drink (except an Americano, which will be noted)
Small/tall = 2 shots (Americano = 3 shots)
Medium/grande = 3 shots (Americano = 4 shots)
Large/venti = 4 shots (Americano = 5 shots)

Difference between hot and iced? Only the temperature 🙂

Alright, now that you’ve mastered the basics let’s get on to how to make them healthy!

Ask for no whip. This alone will save you on average 120 calories and 7 grams of fat. Whipped cream is made by pouring an entire quart of heavy whipping cream into a canister with 8-10 pumps of vanilla flavored syrup (whipped cream without the added syrup is even more gag worthy), and then attaching a canister of nitrous oxide to infuse it with gas to make it fluffy. Um…delicious? No.

Ask for skim. This one is super simple – just ask for it! This simple change alone will save you 80 calories and 10.5 grams of fat for skim!

Ask for only 1 pump of flavoring or sugar free flavoring.  Asking for just one will save you on average about 60 calories and 20 grams of sugar per pump for the syrups, and even more for the chocolate and carmel!

Asking for these three things above can be done all at once at Starbucks by asking for it “light”.

Avoid shakes. Shakes are horrific nutritionally, and I’m not talking about frappuccinos. While frappuccinos are still anywhere from 300-500 calories a piece (if you get the light version, they are about half of that!) shakes, on average, contain about a pound of ice cream for a medium. Yes, an entire pound, as in scooping into a container on a scale until it says exactly 1 pound and then blending it with coffee powder and chocolate sauce. Many coffee shops no longer have these, however the one that I used to work at did and the fat content was around 57 grams and 600 calories. Unless you are in danger of dying from starvation, or the idea of atherosclerosis is especially appealing to you,  do NOT order one of these.

Start with the basic drink. If you want a mocha, but without all the frills (and calories!) order a latte (remember, once you take out what makes it a mocha – chocolate – you are left with espresso and milk, which is a latte!) and ask for one pump of chocolate – voila, a lower calorie, healthier for you mocha!

Ask for a smaller size. A lot of coffee shops have a size smaller than their smallest listed (at Starbucks, it’s called a short). While sometimes it costs the same as the smallest size (for some drinks it’s cheaper!), you’re saving yourself all those extra calories and chances are you won’t even notice that you drank a third less when you are done! Plus, the cups are so darn cute…

Lastly, look at the nutrition pages of your favorite coffee shops to familiarize yourself with them:
Coffee Beanery
Seattle’s Best

Now, some modifications do cost extra to have done to your drinks, but most of the ones listed above don’t! Here’s a list of what does and doesn’t cost to modify at most coffee shops:
Holding the whipped cream = free
Skim milk = free
Soy milk = on average, $0.60
Sugar free instead of regular = free
Adding a flavor to a basic drink = on average, $0.60 – but since I only ask for one pump, often times they give it to me for free!

Finally, I know that asking for modifications can seem daunting and make you feel like you are being complicated but trust me, barista’s get them all day long. The difference between us viewing you as complicated versus us making your drink accurately is kindness and patience. We have no problem making a drink with lots of modifications if you’re kind to us and patient if it takes a little bit longer than normal. Also, a little understanding (and a smile!) goes a long way! If we accidentally put whipped cream on your drink when you asked for it to be left off, just simply remind us of that and we’ll gladly scoop it off for you. Throwing a steaming hot (things are brewed between 160-200 degrees F) green tea latte at my head because it isn’t perfect will NOT result in you getting what you want (Yes, this did happen to me. Thanks to my cat-like reflexes, I didn’t suffer any burns to my face). What it WILL result in is you having to pay, again, for me to remake your drink and chances are, the barista remaking it will change something up that you won’t notice (I have personally seen a former co-worker use heavy whipping cream instead of skim milk to re-make a customer’s drink who was rude to them. Not only terrible, but seriously unhealthy!)

Now that you are equipped with all the knowledge that you need to spend less on coffee and make healthier choices while you’re there, go take on your favorite coffee house and start the day off right!


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