The Sweetener Mistake That Makes Starbucks Coffee Undrinkable

Sweeteners are an exceedingly popular way to elevate your favorite Starbucks drink. In addition to plain sugar, the chain is known for its expansive, much-loved collection of flavored syrups, including vanilla, hazelnut, and more. However, these customizations are easy to overdo. A small misstep in the ordering process can leave you with a cup of thick and sugary sludge with the merest hint of java –- not exactly what we all want in our coffee.

The sneaky mistake to avoid is requesting both a flavored syrup and a sweetener in your drink. It's easy to slip up this way by asking for extra sweetener in an already-sweetened beverage, especially one that has syrup. Yes, syrup is technically a type of sweetener, but Starbucks treats it as a separate component of their drinks. "Sweetener" is the term used for sugar, classic (unflavored) sugar syrup, sugar-free sweeteners, honey, and more. This means you can wind up with both syrup and sweetener in the same cup, if you're not careful. 

This might not sound like a big deal, especially for those who prefer some sweetness to mask the bitterness of coffee, but you're likely to end up with an undrinkable sugar bomb. When ordering a Starbucks flavored latte or another drink that comes with flavored syrup, don't request more sweetener until you've tasted the drink. You can always add sweetener, but you can't take it back out once the drink is too sweet.

Sneaky and super-sweet ingredients in your Starbucks drinks

Syrups aren't the only thing to watch out for when avoiding a sickeningly sweet Starbucks drink. Other sweet ingredients like mocha sauce, pumpkin spice sauce, or vanilla bean powder are built into many of the chain's options. Requesting more sweetener or syrup in drinks like an Iced Caffè Mocha or Pumpkin Spice Latte is asking for trouble. And even if your drink has no flavored syrups, sauces, or powders, they might still be sweetened by default. Iced teas and lemonades, for instance, always come sweetened with plain syrup, unless you request otherwise. 

Surprisingly, Starbucks' plain iced coffee is also sweetened with simple syrup by default. Your barista might ask if you'd like the drink sweetened or not, but it's a good rule of thumb to know what you're ordering. Don't blindly ask for more sweetness in a drink and assume the sugar levels will be just fine. This is doubly true for a drink you've never tried before — it's pretty much never wise to ask for extra sugar in a beverage you haven't even tasted.

If many Starbucks drinks are just too sweet for you by default, you'll be happy to know that many beverages can be ordered half-sweet. However, some drinks, like Refreshers and Frappuccinos, are made with pre-sweetened bases, meaning you can't order them any less sweet. For these choices, you definitely don't want to request extra syrups or sweeteners until you've tried the default version.

Low-sugar drink options at Starbucks

With so many sugary drinks on the Starbucks menu, you wonder what you can order that has little to no sugar by default. You actually have plenty of options to choose from, without having to sacrifice flavor or creativity. Beyond plain drip coffee, espresso, and iced tea, you can order a café Americano, which contains no sugar, and dress it up with some sugar-free vanilla or Cinnamon Dolce syrups. You can feel free to sweeten your drink worrying about a sugar overload. A cappuccino is sweetened only by its foamy topping, making it another drink that's low-sugar, but doesn't feel boring.

Starbucks Refreshers don't have a low-sugar option, but you can get a similar vibe by ordering an Iced Passion Tango Tea (without any added lemonade). This drink contains no added sugar, and instead derives flavor from hibiscus, lemongrass, and apple. Likewise, rather than ordering a chai tea latte made with a pre-sweetened base, order a simple chai tea that gets its flavor from various spices. Adding milk might impart a gram of two of natural sugars, but overall, the drink won't taste strongly sweet.

You can also ask your barista to make your drink "skinny." This phrase signals to the barista that they should use low-sugar or sugar-free ingredients wherever possible. Again, you should keep in mind that this might not be possible for every drink on the menu, but it's an option worth trying to those of us without a big sweet tooth.