Fit with Fave - Common Sense Changes for Better Eating - Girl of Cardigan

First things first: I’m not trying to sell you any Starbucks beverages.  Those of you here in Portland, I know you probably aren’t willing to admit you ever go to Starbucks, and that’s fine – I’m not telling.  But the rest of the country is pretty keen on that place, and a lot of us who have sugary coffee beverage addictions are feeding them at the altar of the green siren.  So skip this challenge if the ‘Bucks ain’t your thang.

As for the rest of us, well, let’s talk about your coffee habit, shall we?  I have no beef with coffee in particular, but man, the stuff we put in there can get a bit silly, as you well know, and the calorie count goes through the frickin roof.  I used to have one customer who would order a Venti Caramel Frappuccino with five add shots and extra caramel 3 TIMES A DAY.  Which is literally at least 1500 calories worth of coffee beverage.  Which is a bit out of control, kids.

Today’s FWF is all about how to still enjoy your coffee beverage of choice, but to do so in a way that lessens its overall impact on your health.  I’ll use the knowledge I gleaned in my two years of mixing together random combos wearing my green apron to help you figure out how to get what you want, have your cake, etc. etc.

Starbucks Hacks - Girl of Cardigan

Some things to know before we get going:

1) It is a common belief that espresso has way more caffeine than drip coffee.  Not so.  An 8oz cup of brewed coffee has about the same amount of caffeine as 1-3 shots of espresso.  So a short cup of coffee carries at least the same caffeine punch as a Grande Latte, and a Grande Coffee is as powerful, if not more so, that a Quad espresso, or an Iced Venti Latte.  If you want caffeine, straight coffee is the cheapest, most calorie efficient way to get it fo sho.  There are so many sources for this info that I’m not inclined to list them – if you don’t believe me, a quick “espresso vs. coffee caffeine” Google adventure will set you straight.

2) You need to know what is going into a drink before you can figure out how to tweak it.  I’m not going to divulge any “recipes” here, but you should know:

Espresso shots are distributed as follows:
Short: 1
Tall: 1
Grande: 2
Hot Venti: Still 2
Iced Venti: 3

and syrup (Vanilla, Caramel, whatever) is distributed, in pumps:
Short: 2
Tall: 3
Grande: 4
Hot Venti: 5
Iced Venti: 6

When you order a drink with two flavors, like a peppermint mocha or a cinnamon white mocha, you get double the syrup.  So an Iced Venti Peppermint Mocha has 3 shots of espresso and 12 pumps of syrup.  Are you with me?  Cool.

3) I’m not a fan of fake sugar, so I would rather you find a way to adjust your order using the real stuff than journey into the land of artificial sweetener.  That’s just me.  Do what you will.

4) We’re going to look at adjusting your order three ways: Shrinking the size, changing the base, and swapping sweeteners.  Let’s do this.

If you drink: Regular Coffee, but with a ton of cream and sugar, try –

-Using soy milk instead.  The soy at Starbucks is sweetened, so you might find you’re able to use it to replace half & half AND sugar in your drink.  Ask for it steamed for fun foam.  My standard order is iced coffee, unsweetened, with a dash of soy.

-Asking for one pump of classic or hazelnut syrup instead of adding your own sugar.  Syrup is just liquid sugar, and will distribute itself through your drink better than the stuff that has to dissolve, so you may get away with using less.  Most stores won’t charge you for one pump of syrup, although they are supposed to, so expect an extra .30 or so.

If you drink: Flavored Lattes/Mochas, try –

-Ordering your drink with one fewer pumps of syrup.  A Grande 3-Pump Vanilla Latte, or a Tall 2-pump Mocha, etc.  See if you can taste the difference.  Try it that way for awhile and see if you get used to it.  Deduct another pump.  I find that a Grande 1-Pump Mocha tastes plenty sweet to me now, and I used to be an “extra white mocha” kinda girl.

-Using sweeter syrups wisely.  As far as I know, most of the syrups (excluding mocha, white mocha, pumpkin spice, and caramel sauce) have a similar calorie punch, but some of them taste sweeter than others.  Experiment.  You may find that one pump of hazelnut tastes as sweet as four pumps of vanilla (this is true for me).

-Swap your base.  If you like the creamy syrups, try ordering brewed coffee with your syrup of choice – this works especially well with white mocha and pumpkin spice.  A little goes a long way – don’t hesitate to ask for fewer pumps.  I call my Grande Coffee with 2 Pumps Pumpkin Spice the “Poor Girl’s Autumn.”  Because, oh, did I mention it’s way cheaper?   It is.

-Order with nonfat milk, and skip the whipped cream.  Or, if it makes you happy, order the full fat, full sugar version in the magical secret size: short.  8 oz of splurge won’t kill you, but 20 oz everyday just might.  😉

-Try iced!  The presence of ice actually removes volume from your drink, so you’re getting more water and less other stuff.  This isn’t true of ventis, as a venti iced cup is actually 4 oz larger than a hot cup, and they add more syrup to compensate.

-If you like a drink with more than one syrup, try cutting the syrup in half.  Try one of these: Grande 2 pump Peppermint 2 pump Mocha, Grande 2 pump Cinnamon Dolce 1 pump White Mocha, Tall 1 pump caramel 1 pump Mocha, on and on etc. etc.  If you need help with the math, see my offer below, or just say “I’d like a Venti Cinnamon White Mocha with half the syrup, please” and let the people do their jobs.  😉

-If you get into eggnog at the holidays, ask for your eggnog latte “light” – they’ll cut the eggnog with nonfat milk, which helps a ton, cause man is eggnog ever terrible.  But a tall chai with half eggnog and half soy is heaven on earth.  Splurge on.  It’s Christmas, after all.

If you drink: Iced Tea/Tea Lemonade/Hot Tea/Chai try –

-Fewer pumps of chai.  Chai is a syrup too.  Or try it with “extra water”.  They’ll know what you mean.

-Order your tea lemonade unsweetened (the lemonade is already pretty sweet) or ask for a lower number of pumps in your iced tea.  Try 2 pumps of vanilla in your iced grande black tea instead of the usual 4 pumps of classic.

-Hot tea drinkers – you just carry right on.

If you drink: Frappuccino (dun dun duhhhnnnnn) try –

-Ordering a smaller one.  Not rocket science.

-Skipping the whipped cream, or asking for light caramel sauce, or no caramel sauce at all, for that matter.

-Not drinking frappuccino every day.  Seriously.  See if you can find an iced latte that’ll do ya, and save the blendeds for special treat time.  If you like Caramel Frappuccino, see what happens when you ask them to melt a little caramel into an iced nonfat latte.  Maybe throw in one pump of white mocha.

And remember, folks:

WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS, ORDER A SHORT.    A little goes a long way.  Did you know this used to be the standard size for coffee, before we all lost our ever loving minds?  Truth.

For a limited time only, I’m offering you a custom beverage makeover!  Comment what you normally order on this post (at Starbucks or otherwise), and I will hit you with a customized alternative that you can save to your phone and hand right over to the barista to try out.  No guarantees that you’ll immediately see things my way, but I’m pretty good at these adjustments – can’t hurt to try!



  • Craig Fitts August 5, 2013 at 12:14 pm

    Wonderful breakdown Karyn. I have a venti no foam skinny vanilla latte about 3-4 times a week on busy weeks. Would you suggest using the sugar syrup but to go for a 2 pump version??


    • karyn August 5, 2013 at 4:38 pm

      I would, absolutely, but some others wouldn’t. I just tend to fall into the camp that says “At least with real sugar, we basically know what it is and what it does”… jury is still out on all the imitation stuff, ya know? So, um, can’t beat the real thing? Try it with 3 pumps first, then cut back to two – artificial sweeteners are sweeter than sugar, so it might taste pretty bitter to you at first, but give it a few times. You could also try it with soy milk and even less syrup, just to mix it up! A venti 3 pump vanilla nonfat no foam latte is a good place to start. 🙂 The grande version is my other default bev.

    • karyn August 5, 2013 at 4:45 pm

      Oooh, one more thing worth noting – you don’t get more caffeine with a hot venti latte than you do with a grande latte (both have two shots), just more milk and sugar. If it’s caffeine you’re after, a grande will give you the same punch. But if you want it to last longer, well, that I understand. 🙂

  • Erica August 5, 2013 at 5:59 pm

    I am in love with Starbuck’s Chai, even though they don’t offer the decaf version and am risking a headache every time I get one 🙁 I order the grande iced chai in a venti cup with added water. It’s a bit of a pain, because every time, we have to do this dance “We don’t add water to the iced chai”. I know, but I want you to in this case. Please carry on. It’s funny, it’s almost always the same reaction, no matter who I order from, like they are all pre-programmed and realize that the record has skipped! It tastes the same, lasts longer than a grande does (iced drinks are gone in like 3 sips), and has less calories. Win!

    • karyn August 5, 2013 at 6:02 pm

      Applause applause!!! Perfection. 🙂

  • Laura Thurston August 5, 2013 at 6:14 pm

    Thank goodness an occasional latte is all I have. Sometimes flavored. We have to have a least one vice!!

    • karyn August 5, 2013 at 8:46 pm

      Amen to that!

  • Jessica August 5, 2013 at 9:08 pm

    Thankfully (for both my wallet and my waistline) I don’t have a Starbucks addiction. Especially now that I am limiting my dairy intake. Tried the soy version of a chai tea and was not impressed. I am really going to miss those eggnog lattes come winter time though! Lately I like their Iced Peach Green Tea/Lemonade on a hot day – I just ask for 1/2 the normal amount of syrup because I never know how many pumps they use. Would you ever ask for added water to that, or is that just for chai orders?

    • karyn August 5, 2013 at 10:49 pm

      I probably wouldn’t water down the tea – would just make it taste kinda blah… I did try the peach tea though, and I think you could try it with just one pump of syrup – the green tea is pretty mild and the lemonade is already sweet, and I think one pump of the peach might be enough to give it a kick. Worth a try at least! The peach is also good in the black tea if you want to skip the lemonade- I learned that from a gal at Target, actually. 🙂
      RE: limited dairy – we found almond milk based mini ice cream sandwiches at the store last week, and they’re actually pretty legit. Cause I’m sure you soooo need some ice cream sandwiches. I mean, don’t we all?

  • Lucas Thurston August 18, 2013 at 8:01 am

    I get me a Bucky’s in a pinch, but it has to be a pinch that smarts pretty good, since my beverage of choice is black coffee or something slightly stronger (Joe Pesci sized americano, usually). Starbucks makes a pretty grody version of both. Credit to Starbucks, though, for making it so we need a dichotomous key to tell apart milkshakes from coffee.

    In Portland we have such an embarrassment of riches when it comes to coffee shops, coffee roasters. Why not get out there and try that little corner shop or coffee cart / truck? It may be good, it may be bad, but perhaps you’ll meet your soulmate, or another soulmate (souls aren’t monogamous, duh).

    • karyn August 18, 2013 at 8:32 am

      Oh, I’m all for the corner shop or cart, though I’ll confess that I tend to prefer my black coffee on the “burnt” side of things – shamefully unhip in a land that celebrates the spritely tang of the barely browned bean, but true. But YES, by all means, in the PNW, go for your local artisan coffee. However, for a lot of folks, the Bucks is the best and/or only option in their area, hence this post on how to best make do. People live in the valley of the pinch, my friend. Those of us on the mountain top have to help out when we can. <3

  • Ali October 19, 2013 at 8:21 am

    Depending on the day or season I’ll either get an iced caramel macchiato upside down with fat free milk, because honestly I taste no difference in the kind of milk they use, or a caramel or pumpkin spice frappucino. I’m open to any alterations to the actual beverage or a completely different drink that’s worth trying and is a bit less expensive than frapps. Thanks!

    • karyn October 19, 2013 at 10:41 am

      Thanks for commenting! My tweaks would depend on your goal – fewer calories or lower cost? If you want to wean off the calorie factor, I’d start by requesting light caramel sauce in your caramel macchiato (that’s less sauce, not a sugar free version or something), and after a bit of that try a half vanilla half caramel syrup latte (two pumps vanilla, two pumps caramel in a grande), which should cost the same as a regular vanilla latte, a bit less than the caramel macchiato, and also nixes the caramel sauce, which tastes so good but is super laden with sugar and butter and madness. Try an iced pumpkin spice latte in place of a frappucino (I like iced drinks with soy – richer/creamier) – that won’t be cheaper though. Honestly, I’d aim to forgo Fraps altogether unless it’s a special occasion. My favorite once-in-awhile treat that you’d like is a tall vanilla bean cream frap with a caramel affogato – basically a vanilla milkshake with caramel sauce on top and a shot poured over the whole mess – like a frozen caramel macchiato. All the yum.
      Training yourself to like less sugary coffee is a long and tedious process that sucks, but for me it was worth it. Of course of course of course still get your favorites as a treat now and again. Let’s not be silly. 🙂
      Ultimate money saving idea: If you can eventually get to a spot where you like iced coffee (not a latte, just iced coffee) with a sweetner and some milk (maybe with caramel syrup? Definitely try an iced coffee with caramel instead of classic and a splash of half and half) – that stuff is cheap, and you’ll be down to <$3, even for a venti. Winning all the things. Hope that helps!

  • Lila Zatts October 20, 2013 at 12:53 pm

    Any hacks for the salted caramel mocha? (I know, I know .. but it’s a weakness)

    • karyn October 20, 2013 at 1:49 pm

      Haha! I know… They’re sooo good. Unfortunately, it’s tricky to make that one cheaper since it’s a seasonal offering. I’m also not sure if they’re making that out of the hot chocolate premix or the regular mocha, but I’ll investigate next time I’m there. In the meantime, try asking for half the syrup, just a little whipped cream, light caramel sauce- I often find that I can cut the sweet in half and still have it be sweet enough. And, of course, my fave option- order a full sweetness delicious yummy in the short size- craving still satisfied, but at only half a grande size, $$ and calories saved. Short is not on the menu, but now you know all the secrets. 😉

  • April April 8, 2015 at 5:45 pm

    I thoroughly enjoy your writing as well as the info within. Thanks for all of the tips. I just stumbled upon this while looking up “how many pumps/calories, etc”. My favorites are currently caramel macchiatos and vanilla lattes. Lately, however they have been too sweet. I’m thinking of cutting the pumps down by half to start and see what that tastes like. Also, they have this new “flat white”–wondering about your thoughts on this. With the above drinks mentioned, what do you recommend as far as a brewed or iced brewed choice?

  • brandi saverance May 11, 2015 at 2:01 am

    What milk is low carb low calorie I’ve been doing a venti ice coffee no classic syrup an sugar free carmel an heavy whipping cream but I stopped the heavy whipping cream cuz I found out it has alot of calories I think it’s 50 calories for one table spoon so I’ve been doing coconut milk but it’s not great I use to get a venti light coffee Frappuccino I drink starbucks every day but is the coffee Frappuccino light bad

    • karyn May 30, 2015 at 5:05 pm

      Hi there! Sorry for the delay – this post suddenly got a burst of action out of nowhere. 🙂 I’m not a fan of sugar substitutes in general – I believe you’re better off with smaller amounts of the real thing. I drink my venti iced coffee with two pumps of the regular classic syrup (you could do caramel) and a splash of half and half, which certainly has calories, but because I use so little I don’t stress about it too much. For me, I prefer to wean myself down to fewer pumps of real sugar syrup than to do the full amount of the sugar free stuff. Starbucks also uses a sweetened vanilla soy milk – you might try doing no syrup and adding a splash of soy and seeing how you feel about that. FWIW, half and half is about 20 calories a tbsp, so a little drop from your hwc. Hope that helps!

  • Tiffany Barsotti May 18, 2015 at 3:53 pm

    I love this! I’m a Starbucks addict. Used to be a daily venti iced white mocha drinker, i then dwindled down to a venti iced americano w/white mocha and cream. Now it’s that, but with only 3 pumps white mocha. I’m thinking of trying just regular brewed iced coffee with 3 pumps white mocha/cream. What do you think or recommend? Is there a price difference?

    • karyn May 30, 2015 at 5:09 pm

      Iced coffee with white mocha is delicious, and iced coffee is generally cheaper than an americano (and lots of caffeine! Tired mama votes yes.) – give it a try! The iced coffee has a slightly stronger coffee taste, for me, so you may find it tastes less sweet. My mom really likes 2 pumps of white mocha with one pump of caramel or cinnamon dolce, if you want to mix things up. 🙂

  • cynde May 22, 2015 at 6:13 pm

    Stumbled on your site while asking about number of pumps etc. I have gotten quite attached to the venti mocha frappuccino… I get them with water substituted for milk and no whip. Trying to figure out if I can ask for less pumps of the frappuccino base to cut out some calories without cutting back on the mocha. Also trying to figure out exactly how many calories are in 1 pump of base and 1 pump of mocha.

    • karyn May 30, 2015 at 5:00 pm

      Hi there! Sorry for the delay. Frappuccinos are made with a pre-mixed base instead of a syrup (unless things have changed – it has been a while since I worked there), so unfortunately, you can’t really do less base – they don’t do “pumps”. You can do fewer pumps of syrup, as you know, but honestly, I think the best bet with Frap is to just order a small size, enjoy the splurge, and then get a venti ice water to guzzle when it’s gone. 🙂

  • Lenora June 3, 2015 at 10:45 am

    My go to drink is a short, one pump sugar free vanilla, soy latte with a splash of cinnamon. I love to have a soy macchiato but my stomach doesn’t tolerate the sugar.

  • Courtney June 14, 2015 at 11:34 am

    My regular drink is actuay pretty ridiculous. I order an iced venti quad soy vanilla latte.

    What should I do to that?

    • karyn June 16, 2015 at 9:32 pm

      I’d start by easing off on the sugar – next time, order an iced venti quad soy 4-pump vanilla latte (2 fewer pumps) and see how you feel about it. Once you get use to that sweetness, try it with 3 pumps (if it starts to taste too bitter, maybe go down a shot and just do a regular iced venti soy 3 pump vanilla latte.). You could also try ordering iced coffee with vanilla instead of classic and 2 inches of soy, then do the same gradual reduction in sweetener (way cheaper!!). The key, for me, is to slowly make it less and less sweet so your tastebuds can sort of acclimate as you go. I went from iced venti white mochas to venti iced coffee with two pumps of classic and a splash of cream, which is a looooong jump. You’ve got this. 😉

  • dar July 10, 2015 at 6:35 pm

    I used to order a venti mocha non-fat no whip cream but now that they’ve upped the price I want to try maybe a venti coffee with 2 pumps of mocha, non-fat, no whip of course. Is that how I order it?

    • karyn July 16, 2015 at 1:25 pm

      Hi Dar! You’d order a venti coffee with two pumps of mocha and room for cream – you can add your own nonfat milk at the condiment bar. If you’re in a drive thru, just ask them to put a little non-fat in there for you. You may want to start with the full amount of mocha and ease down, as it will be significantly less sweet to jump to coffee and just two pumps. Good luck!!

  • Kate September 11, 2015 at 12:17 pm

    Hi! Great blog! I’m in the mood for a PSL but not in the mood for the super sweetness, or heat. If I order an iced coffee, how many pumps of the pumpkin is enough to give the flavor, without overloading it with sweetness? For a venti? Thanks!

    • karyn October 3, 2015 at 3:26 pm

      Hi Kate! I put two or three pumps of syrup in a venti iced coffee and am usually pretty okay as long as it is stirred well! You can always ask them to throw another pump in if you need to! Hope that helps!

  • Anonymous September 11, 2015 at 7:41 pm

    I like to order an iced coffee, no syrup, light ice, and (lots of) cream…….thinking about trying an iced coffee with just a pump of mocha to eliminate all the beloved cream……ideas?

    • karyn October 3, 2015 at 3:27 pm

      I’d try having them add coconut milk instead of the cream and see how that goes!

  • Allison September 13, 2015 at 1:00 pm

    Hi. Trying to cut calories. If I order a grande caffe misto with pumpkin spice is that any better than a traditional PSL? I’m also going to try coffee with 2 pumps PS and add the cream. What do you think is better?

    • karyn October 3, 2015 at 3:30 pm

      Better is such a relative term. 🙂 I’d try a few different things until you land on what tastes best for you. I love a grande coffee with 2, or even 1 pump of PS and a splash of cream (I can even leave the cream out, since the sauce is creamy)! The Misto would lower cal, because no whip and less milk, but still high in sugar unless you backed off the syrup a bit. Side note – two pumps of the new toasted graham sauce in a grande brewed coffee is delicious. 😉

  • Laura September 15, 2015 at 7:49 am

    Just stumbled onto you. This is exactly what I was looking for. I have 2 questions though. What is “classic” and also exactly how many calories in one pump of syrup?

    • karyn October 3, 2015 at 3:32 pm

      Hi Laura! Classic is SBUX simple syrup – just unflavored liquid sugar, basically. I’m not sure how many calories are in each pump exactly – it varies, I’m sure, and it’s been a long time since I was behind the counter at a Starbucks. If I remember correctly, the number is somewhere around 30/per pump, but that is in no way based on fact – just my sleepy mama memory.

  • KC September 18, 2015 at 11:36 am

    I am addicted to iced Carmel machiatto’s…venti. I’m a RN & we have a starbucks in the hospital where I work. I never ever had more than one per day. Lately I habe 2-3 every day 🙁 I am a horrible person. Help!

    • karyn October 3, 2015 at 3:36 pm

      Darling, if this makes you horrible, I quit at life. 😉 I would start by swapping out one of your daily iced CMs with an iced coffee (start with the sweetened with cream kind) – more caffeine anyhow ;). You could try it with caramel syrup instead of classic if you miss the caramel taste. From there, just back off in bits – order your iced venti CM with half the vanilla, or light caramel, back it down bit by bit. Initially, you’ll taste the difference, but after a while, your brain and tastebuds adjust – then back down on the sugar a bit more. Maybe work toward a venti iced coffee in the morning with as little sweetener and cream as you can stand, a big venti ice water midday (ordering ice water at SBUX totally tricks my brain into thinking water is fun) and a tall or grande iced CM as an occasional treat, either less sweet or, heck, go for gold after a long day. Take your time getting there so you don’t hate me!!!

  • Laura September 28, 2015 at 6:07 am

    Just wondered if you could tell me what an Americano with a syrup shot, preferably hazelnut, would be like? I’m a flat white kinda girl but cutting back the calories (and cost!)

    • karyn October 3, 2015 at 3:38 pm

      Sounds good to me! You’ll probably want to add a bit of cream or milk to it, because you’ll miss the creaminess of the flat white. If you’re drinking your flat white unsweetened, I wouldn’t bother with the hazelnut and just try an Americano with a splash of milk or cream. The new toasted graham sauce is good and packs a creamy punch, so one pump of that might be fun to try!

  • Elisabeth September 28, 2015 at 7:43 pm

    Iced Oprah Cinnamon Chai….so good and toooo much sugar

    What if I got an unsweetened shaken ice tea no water with sf cinnamon dolce and room for cream?

    Could it work?!

    • karyn October 3, 2015 at 3:40 pm

      I don’t know, but I sort of love this idea! I might have to try it. I seriously may go order this exact thing just to see what happens, although I’ll probably opt for a few pumps of the regular CD syrup, because the sugar free stuff worries me. 😉 Do report back if you try it!!

  • Anonymous October 21, 2015 at 5:06 pm

    do you know how many calories are in a single pump of toasted graham?

  • Sarah November 10, 2015 at 4:08 am

    Thank you!!!! Just ordered my peppermint mocha with 1/2 the syrup!!!!

  • Jane November 15, 2015 at 11:41 am

    How many pumps of syrup are in a grande peppermint mocha? 4 peppermint and 4 mocha? If so, I ordered one today with 1 pump of each and it tasted so much better! It’s normally way too sweet. Hoping I helped the calories, too, though I’m sure there something else in here adding calories besides coffee.

  • Maggie January 31, 2016 at 8:49 am

    I usually get a venti iced coffee with nonfat milk. I will be ordering it with half the amount of pumps next time. I also just tried a venti iced chai with nonfat milk but man on man the amount of sugar in that…..I didn’t look that up before hand. It was amazing though. Any thoughts on how I could cut down the sugar in the venti iced chai with nonfat milk?