The Essential Vegan Guide to Starbucks Summer Drinks
From simple cold brew to Red Velvet Frappuccinos, sip on these cool drinks all summer long.
In May 2021, coffee chain Starbucks launched Oatly oat milk across the US to much fanfare, debuting two new iced beverages made with the non-dairy milk. As temperatures rise, we’re swapping our hot Oatly vanilla lattes for some caffeine on ice. From no-fuss nitro to the little-known Violet Drink, here is your essential vegan guide to summer Starbucks sips.
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1. Nitro Cold BrewAt first glance, the thick layer of foam that floats atop this unadorned chilled coffee may look like cream, but it’s not—it’s crema, and there’s a big difference. Crema is simply the CO2-infused froth that is produced when coffee oils emulsify with water under intense pressure. In Starbucks’ case, it’s also produced when nitrogen is added to cold brew. The result is an unbelievably smooth, ever-so-slightly sweet, ice-cold coffee unadulterated without sugar or cream. Even those who say they can’t drink coffee black may enjoy this beverage—no creamer or Stevia required. Barista tip: Steer clear of the nitro cold brews that come with Sweet Cream or Salted Honey Cold Foam. Those actually do contain dairy and other animal products.
2. Iced CoffeeThe difference between iced coffee and nitro at Starbucks is $1.50. Beyond the price, iced coffee is more bitter since it is not infused with nitrogen, and you won’t find any crema on top. However, it’s the perfect jolt when you need it, and it goes down smooth with a splash of soymilk. Since Starbucks’ signature brand of soy is exceedingly sweet on its own, you can probably do without the pump of Classic syrup. Barista tip: Opt for soy or oat milk if you crave a creamy element. Both have been tested and reliably do not curdle in coffee. Add almond or coconut milk at your own risk.
3. Flavored Iced CoffeeIf you lean toward the sweet side, mix up your go-to drink with flavored syrups. An iced coffee with a splash of soy and a pump or two of sweetener can stimulate your brain and delight your taste buds. Instead of the default Classic syrup, opt for hazelnut, vanilla, caramel, Toffee Nut, raspberry, or Cinnamon Dolce varieties. All of these are vegan! Barista tip: A tall automatically comes with three pumps of Classic syrup. For a not-so-cloyingly sweet coffee with just a hint of sweet flavor, ask for one to one-and-a-half pumps for a tall and two for a grande.
4. Starbucks Espresso on IceFor an almost immediate surge of caffeine with a bold coffee flavor, espresso on ice is the drink to order. Sip it like a fine whiskey or shoot it back if you’re on the go. Order the chain’s signature espresso or ask for Blonde for a more mellow flavor. Barista tip: To cut the harsh taste of pure espresso, ask for an Espresso Doubleshot on Ice with soy, almond, coconut, or oat milk.
5. Americano on IceAn Americano is simply coffee diluted with water. The Blonde roast option is also available for a smoother finish. Barista tip: It’s basically iced coffee after the ice melts, but it’s 10 cents cheaper for a tall.
6. Iced Chocolate Almondmilk Shaken EspressoWhen mixology combines with coffee, you get a shaken espresso. Launched in March 2021, this vegan-as-is espresso beverage is made with Starbucks’ Blonde espresso that’s shaken with ice in a plastic cocktail shaker. The cooled shots are poured over ice and combined with vegan malt powder and almond milk. Barista tip: This drink actually isn’t cloyingly sweet, but if you want to taste the espresso, ask for a long shot.
7. Iced Brown Sugar Oatmilk Shaken EspressoThis new item has bounced on and off the menu since it was introduced due to the fluctuating availability of Oatly oat milk. Ever since its debut in March, Starbucks has struggled to keep oat milk in stock due to the obviously unpredicted consumer demand. If you do happen to find it on the menu, here’s what you need to know: it’s a cinnamon-forward creamy beverage made with shaken iced Blonde espresso combined with Oatly oat milk and brown sugar syrup. Barista tip: Hack your way to this beverage even when oat milk is out. Ask for a Shaken Iced Espresso with two pumps of Brown Sugar syrup and almond milk (the soy will be overly sweet).
8. Iced Flat WhiteWhat’s the difference between a flat white and a latte? A flat white is stronger in espresso taste and does not have a layer of foam on top of the steamed milk. However, when it comes to iced options that don’t involve steaming, the difference is less noticeable. Order an iced flat white for a slightly less milky version of a latte. Barista tip: You’re looking at a 60-cent upcharge if you opt for an iced flat white over an iced latte. You’ve been warned.
9. Iced LatteWhen poured over ice, a latte loses its signature foamy topping. However, if you’re looking for a drink that will catapult you through the afternoon slump and goes down easy, an iced latte will certainly do the trick. As with iced coffee, you can add whatever syrup you like to it—just stay away from the caramel sauce (the syrup is fine, the sauce contains dairy. Confusing, we know). Remember to swap the cows’ milk for your favorite non-dairy alternative. Barista tip: Still want the creaminess but with more espresso flavor? Ask for a long shot. This type of shot is pulled with more water and ends up roughly double in volume than a traditional shot. The result is a less milky but still creamy beverage that actually tastes like coffee.
10. Iced Cinnamon Dolce LatteWhile we’ve already gone over the latte category, this one deserves special attention as it is not vegan by default. This menu item comes with whipped cream and cinnamon dolce topping—both of which contain dairy. Veganize this sweet, cinnamony beverage by asking for non-dairy milk, no whip, and substitute a sprinkle of nutmeg instead of the Cinnamon Dolce Topping. Barista tip: Ask for light ice so you get more of the good stuff and prevent a sad, watered-down beverage.
11. Star DrinkGiven this behemoth’s title, we’re genuinely surprised it hasn’t come up with this name sooner. McDonalds inserts “Mc” into virtually every menu item, yet this is the first we know of “star” being implemented into any sort of Starbucks drink option. The cool beverage is similar to the Pink Drink—it’s made with coconut milk, caffeinated Kiwi Starfruit Refresher Base, and freeze-dried kiwis. Barista tip: Beware the tiny kiwi seeds. This isn’t the drink for you if you’re going into a meeting. Prepare to pick seeds from your teeth.
12. Iced MochaIt’s caffeinated chocolate milk—what’s not to love? Swap in your favorite non-dairy milk and ask for no whip. Barista tip: Ask for one less pump of mocha sauce and add one pump of hazelnut, peppermint, or raspberry syrup (for a tall) to experience a tasty twist.
13. Iced Pineapple Matcha DrinkEven the matcha-averse will fall in love with this green-hued, slightly caffeinated beverage. The grassy taste of matcha green tea is cut with sweet Pineapple Ginger Syrup and smooth coconut milk all shaken together over ice. Barista tip: Want to taste more matcha? Ask for one to two less pumps of Pineapple Ginger Syrup.
14. Iced Guava Passionfruit DrinkLaunched just in time for Memorial Day and the unofficial start of summer, this new vegan item completes the trio of Starbucks’ coconut milk-based iced drinks. The soft pink-hued beverage is made with Guava Flavored Juice Blend, coconut milk, and Pineapple Ginger Syrup shaken with ice. Barista tip: If you have the patience to wait, this drink would make an incredible popsicle. Ask for no ice and pop the cup into your freezer for a few hours when you get home.
15. Pink, Violet, and Dragon DrinksAfter the unprecedented popularity of the infamous Pink Drink, Starbucks really leaned into this color scheme. The classic Pink Drink is a creamy energy beverage containing coconut milk, Strawberry Acai Refreshers Base, and freeze-dried strawberries shaken with ice. The Violet rendition features the Very Berry Hibiscus Refresher Base and blackberries in lieu of strawberries. The Dragon drink is an equally vibrant caffeinated beverage made with coconut milk, Mango Dragonfruit Refresher Base (mango and dragonfruit-flavored liquid spiked with green coffee), and freeze-dried dragonfruit pieces shaken over ice. Barista tip: The Dragon Drink does not actually contain mango—the base is mostly white grape juice concentrate with natural (but vegan-friendly) flavors.
16. Purple DrinkA sweeter, more kid-friendly version of Starbucks’ fruit-infused pink spectrum, the Purple Drink is a caffeine-free beverage that features Passion Tango Iced Tea, soy milk, vanilla syrup, and freeze-dried blackberries. Barista tip: Prefer strawberries? Ask the barista to swap them for blackberries.
17. RefreshersThese fruity drinks don’t contain coffee, but they’ll definitely keep you alert. Each contains 35 milligrams of caffeine (in a tall), which is about one-third the amount in a cup of coffee. They’re made with a flavored Refresher base shaken with ice and freeze-dried fruit. Choose from Mango Dragonfruit, Mango Dragonfruit Lemonade, Strawberry Acai, Kiwi Starfruit, Kiwi Starfruit Lemonade, and Very Berry Hibiscus. Barista tip: You can pair any Refresher with lemonade for a subtle hint of sweet summertime pucker.
18. Chocolate MilkWhether you have a kid with you or not, Starbucks can whip you up a custom chocolate milk. Simply ask for your favorite non-dairy alternative (oat or coconut would be especially delicious in this application) with 2-3 pumps of chocolate syrup (for a tall). Barista tip: Help yourself to a sprinkle of cinnamon or nutmeg on top for a chilled Mexican hot chocolate vibe.
19. Iced TeaStarbucks can put any tea on ice, but is also has a full menu of teas specifically designed to keep you cool. Choose from black, white, herbal, or green varieties (including matcha). Barista tip: You can ask for any iced tea with lemonade for a custom Arnold Palmer. Particularly perfect lemonade pairings include Matcha, Passion Tango, Black, and Peach.
20. Iced Tea LatteAny tea can be transformed into a tea latte by asking for non-dairy milk, though the menu currently features Matcha, London Fog, and English Breakfast tea lattes. Barista tip: Sadly, the Chai Tea Latte is not vegan. It contains honey.
21.FrappuccinoThese chilly milkshake-like coffee drinks hooked us in high school, and now, no summer is complete without the occasional Starbucks Frappuccino. The drink is split into two categories: Coffee and Crème (the latter is uncaffeinated and great for kids and teens). Vegan-friendly Coffee options include Mocha Cookie Crumble (substitute the Frappuccino Chips for extra Chocolate Cookie Grind Topping), Espresso, Caffè Vanilla, Coffee (yes, it’s different from Espresso), and Mocha. For the kiddos, Crème options include Chocolate Cookie Crumble (substitute the Frappuccino Chips for extra Chocolate Cookie Grind Topping), Strawberry, Vanilla Bean, and Matcha Green Tea. No matter what flavor calls to you, be sure to ask for the non-dairy milk of your choice and no whipped cream. Barista tip: For a less sweet indulgence, ask for one less pump of syrup. For off-menu, vegan-friendly options, check out this article (mmm, Red Velvet!).
22. Anything on iceDon’t see your favorite hot beverage in an iced form? Just ask. The Starbucks baristas have the power to ice anything. Always remember to substitute non-dairy milk for the standard 2 percent cows’ milk, hold the whipped cream, and stay away from the Java Chips, Frappuccino Chips, Cinnamon Dolce Topping, Pistachio Sauce, and caramel sauce. Follow these rules, and you’re virtually in the clear. Here’s to a cool summer. Tanya Flink is a Digital Editor at VegNews as well as a writer and runner living in Orange County, CA. Photo credit: Starbucks milk cream beverages soy non-dairy alternative
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