The Secret Starbucks Cappuccino

Starbucks Short Cup

I’m not a Starbucks fan, but some people can’t help it. Actually, if the coffee machine at work is broken I sometimes have to settle for Starbucks since it’s the closest place to my office (although a Coffee Bean is scheduled to open in a month or two…)

When I am forced to go, I only order a cappuccino or one of their teas, never the crazy concoctions or frozen slushie drinks. I don’t order a tall, grande or venti. I order a short.

Starbucks has a size that they don’t feature on their boards. If the current sizes are too large for you, ask for a “short” cup.

Here’s a little secret that Starbucks doesn’t want you to know: they will serve you a better, stronger cappuccino if you want one, and they will charge you less for it. Ask for it in any Starbucks and the barista will comply without batting an eye. The puzzle is to work out why.

The drink in question is the elusive “short cappuccino”—at 8 ounces, a third smaller than the smallest size on the official menu, the “tall,” and dwarfed by what Starbucks calls the “customer-preferred” size, the “Venti,” which weighs in at 20 ounces and more than 200 calories before you add the sugar.

The short cappuccino has the same amount of espresso as the 12-ounce tall, meaning a bolder coffee taste, and also a better one. The World Barista Championship rules, for example, define a traditional cappuccino as a “five- to six-ounce beverage.” This is also the size of cappuccino served by many continental cafés. Within reason, the shorter the cappuccino, the better.

More on the economics on the “short” cup over at Slate. More proof of short cups on Flickr.

So besides getting better flavor from a short cup, you’ll also save some change. The short cup costs less than most of the more exotic items on the menu.

Why doesn’t Starbucks feature the short cup on the menu? They claim that they don’t have enough room on the menu boards. And the Slate article mentions that the short can’t be found on their website or other signage either. But the real reason?

Economics has the answer: this is the Starbucks way of sidestepping a painful dilemma over how high to set prices. Price too low and the margins disappear; too high and the customers do. Any business that is able to charge one price to price-sensitive customers and a higher price to the rest will avoid some of that awkward trade-off.

This isn’t breaking news, but I thought I’d share in case you haven’t heard about this by now. Anyway, it tastes better and it’s cheaper, so why not go short?

Oh, and you also might want to know that apparently Starbucks baristas will make anything you can think of. They technically aren’t allowed to say “no” to something they’re capable of making. So let your mind go crazy and watch the baristas go nuts.

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37 comments so far

  1. hurricanecandice on

    The administration just put a Starbucks on my campus and despite the fact that they are a fairly earth and worker friendly company, many of us were angry that the student body wasn’t confirred.
    I am happy to know there is such a thing as a “short” and I will pass this on to my Starbuck’s frustrated friends.

  2. cincodemayo1 on

    Please do. You’ll enjoy your coffee much more.

  3. fsdfs on

    why would you say ‘watch the barista’s go nuts” seems kinda mean

  4. cincodemayo1 on

    I hope you’re not a barista…

  5. Hayley on

    I’m a barista. And it’s customers like you that make me want to go home and kill myself. You’re twisted. Yeah we have a short size that we don’t advertise, that’s not the barista’s fault though is it?

  6. cspahn on

    i love the arrogant tone of this little article, like this person thinks they know some inside information that no one else knows. truth is, baristas PREFER to make short drinks because it’s much less milk to steam. and as for trying to make them go nuts, try to think of a drink more complicated than we’ve thought of before. go on, try it

  7. tsurera on

    short is not advertised, but if you order a dopio con panna or similar, they are put into short cups.

    And just because it’s smaller doesn’t mean it’s better. Some people order the the drink not just for the caffeine.

    And lastly, i have had many weird drink combinations but i have never had trouble making any of them. The only problem i had was dealing with pricks like you.

  8. cincodemayo1 on

    Thanks for the comments. I believe this article was written with a humorous tone, but I guess that doesn’t translate well to some people.

    As for making your barista go nuts, that too, was a joke. And as for your barista never saying “no” well apparently they will. I’ve had a delicious iced cappuccino from The Coffee Bean, and I’ve asked my Starbucks barista to put a cappuccino on ice for me and they refuse. I’m not really sure why…if they can make a cappuccino why can’t they put it over ice?

  9. redjuliet on

    maybe YOU like to get a short cappucino, and maybe YOU like to taste the espresso, but the average customer where I live wants 20 ounces of mocha, whole milk, and extra whip cream. They don’t even want to taste the espresso. They laugh about how absurd little our short cups are.

    I can’t pretend to have any special insight to Starbucks marketing plan, but I do know that if we put short cups on the menu they still wouldn’t sell.

    As for the iced cappuccino thing: the only difference between a latte and a cappuccino is how the milk is steamed and the amount of foam. There is no steaming or foam involved in an iced drink. That is why the baristas stare blankly at customers when they order an iced cappuccino. Try asking for an iced latte instead (it will be the same as the thing you get at the coffee bean).

  10. Jess on

    Good Lord. Bingo on the iced cappaccino. Please, if you order one of these, know what you’re ordering. Of course, they could just make you your iced latte, call it an iced cappaccino and let you on your merry way. And as far as the “Short” goes, this WAS on their menu at one point. Short, Tall, and Grande. That wasn’t enough for the crazy coffee people and so they added a Venti and took the short off the menu. People who haven’t been to Starbucks before, like 1993, or whatever year that was, might not know that the Stort is an option, but if you listen to customers, a lot, a TON, of people order shorts. Why does everything about Starbucks have to be drama with people?

  11. rustedart on

    As a Barista for Starbucks, I tend to make myself more complicated drinks then any of our customers can create. But then again if you want to pay 5 bucks for a drink, you can have what ever you like in my book!

  12. michael on

    oh, no! they’ve discovered the short size! what a find!
    making baristas go nuts! what fun to try and ruin the day of someone trying to earn a living!
    for someone so sharp that they found out the big secret of short size, you’d think you could discover that an iced cappuccino is a non-existent drink.

  13. tsurera on

    Well for the iced cappuccino thing. I had a lot of people ask me for that when i worked at starbucks and i would say no and then explain why.

    For hot drinks- the difference between cappuccinos and lattes is the amount of foam to milk. Caps have about 2/5 foam (technically they should be free poured as a foam-milk mixture and then the foam settles to the top) while lattes are just a half inch of foam on top.

    Iced drinks have no foam, so you would be asking for an iced latte not an iced cap. I only corrected them so they were informed and didn’t get a snarky starbucks barista scoffing at them at some other store.

  14. cincodemayo1 on

    Thanks for the comment tsurera. I’ve since ordered the Iced Latte, and it’s perfectly fine, but Coffee Bean, an LA based coffee chain, makes perfectly good Iced Cappuccinos, which is actually why I began asking for them at Starbucks.

    I understand the foam/milk ratio, but why can’t a Starbucks barista top off an iced latte with a little foam? They always refuse and I settle for an iced latte. Sometimes I’ll order a hot cappuccino and ask for a cup of ice. I can understand the item not being on the menu, but I just can’t figure out why Starbucks refuses to serve these.

  15. tsurera on

    Well i’m not sure how the coffee bean makes iced cappuccinos but the ice will melt the foamed milk really fast.
    I’m sure if you explain specifically what you want then the baristas will have to make it. If they say no talk to a manager. I’ve gone out of my way to make a few weird drinks myself back in the day, lol.

  16. Cindy on

    We dont make the iced cap because you would be putting warm foam on COLD ICEY milk which technically spoils the milk. I have done it for people before, when they are persistant about their “iced cap” but many of them have come back saying it tastes strange.
    on the contrary… a excellent iced cappuccino that will not spoil the milk is made with soy milk.
    it is simple. put a few cubes of ice into the cup, pour the shots over the ice, add more ice (i like my shots a bit watered down), and then top it off with soy foam. it tastes soooooo good… if you like soy.

  17. [...] (picture souce: will work for food) [...]

  18. carrielj on

    baristas are obligated to provide you with a great experience each time you come into the starbucks. i believe the “looks” you’re getting, are of confusion, and frustration for not understanding how to provide you with the drink you’ve asked for.

    Also, good cappuccino milk and foam take great care to make (the barista will have to watch the steaming milk the entire time, and cannot leave to toast your pastry, or make your other cold drink).

    cappuccino milk and foam is hand-crafted, and adding ice to that perfectly steamed craft is sort of an abomination of the drink title. To be honest, it doesn’t make sense to order cappuccino milk & foam, and then COMPLETELY ruin it with ice.

    I don’t mean this rudely, just honestly explaining why the starbucks baristas look at you funny. We still like you though.

    Oh, and I went to a Coffee Bean, and they wouldn’t steam my milk to 100 degrees. They said ithey can’t steam below 150 degrees, because they have to kill the bacteria… so if i just order cold milk… all the bacteria’s still there? makes no sense… as a lot of Coffee Bean policies do not.

    cheers.

  19. Djgoodybag on

    The only reason that the Coffee Bean will not steam milk to 100 degrees is because of the temperature danger zome (41 degrees to 140). Technically food and deverage items that have bacteria in them should not be served within this range.

    I work in a restaurant that does the same thing. For example, even though at some places you could order a rare stake along with a warning about raw meat, you can’t do that where I work. We have to cook beef to at least 160 to kill off bacteria.

    The option is theirs and it might be a pain to some (I understand), but those policies are set by corporate.

  20. ale1303 on

    i’m a barista and i have to tell you before i started working i had no idea that the short size existed but it is not a secret or anything of that sort…. i always get my hot drinks in a short cup just because its a smaller beverage…. now size has nothing to do with quality, the grande and venti sizes also share the same amoutn of expresso but in any case you can add extra expresso if you wish it all has to do with your personal preference….

    and i encourage what you said … please come up with crazy drinks… i love those costumers at first its a little tricky… but oce you have experience no matter how long the description of your drink… it usually ends up being harder to say than to make…. so as far as it goes for me bring on the challenge!!!!
    :-D

  21. starbucks on

    On the barista “technically aren’t allowed to say no” apparently your correct. We at Starbucks has the “Just Say Yes” philosophy. But this is not absolute, you could always say say, as long as its will, not diminish the quality of your beverage and you will not deviate with the Starbucks Standard. BTW visit this site http://www.starbucksbaguio.blogspot.com

  22. Whiskey on

    I know you wrote this like a whole year ago, and I didn’t read all the rest of the comments, but I have to say, I am was a barista in starbucks. the reason Starbucks doesn’t put “short” on the menu is because not enough people order it – it’s not that it’s because they want people to order larger drinks. And baristas do suggest the short size when they see little kids or if a customer says “oh, the tall still looks a little big”. And you’ve gotta be really stupid if you don’t know how to order an extro shot in your cap if you wanted it stronger. Oh yeah, and you know how one of those girls said that it’s pricks like you who make her wanna go home and kill herself? Well, not everyone’s that way – some will just put decaf in your regular, full milk instead of low or even just spit in your drink (don’t think there’s no time or anyone to see). I’m just saying… =)

  23. Clay on

    So the short size is such a gem because it’s stronger? Technically no…the short cappuccino is proportionately exact to the grande cappuccino. The short cappuccino (8 oz) is exactly have the volume of the grande cappuccino (16oz) and has one shot instead of the two that the grande comes with. Pretty dumb…not everything in the business world is conspiracy. Can you blame Starbucks for implementing business stragegies for higher revenue…this isn’t the freaking Soviet Union.

  24. [...] (picture souce: will work for food) [...]

  25. cate on

    anyone know how many inches tall the cups are?

  26. Andrew S on

    Never heard of the short cup, maybe if i’m not in the mood for a full sized drink, but I love my venti’s. Nowadays when I go to starbucks I get a Starbucks Double shot on ice with an extra shot. Every time I do I get a look and asked if i’m sure, because its 6 shots of espresso. The extra shot i’ve found makes it taste a bit stronger and gives an extra kick.

    It doesn’t seem like getting a SMALLER size would make it stronger though? The drinks seem to be pretty proportional with each other for sizes. Which is why in MOST of my drinks, maybe all of them, I get an extra shot.

  27. Allen Davidson on

    hello, i am writing about the iced cappuccino

    there is a recipe card for it. first you fill milk up to the lower green line then shots then some ice and then you put a dollop of foam on top

    -Allen Davidson, store #7330 Maryland

  28. Michael on

    I think by “stronger” the author meant taste-wise. For example, a shot of liquor will have a stronger taste if drunk from a shot-glass with a little coke, but if you put the shot in a taller glass and add more coke to it, the taste of the alcohol will be less noticeable. (If that example helps.)

    As for the little debate earlier about the “iced cappuccino”, how is it any different from drinking coffee regular and drinking coffee over ice? Same difference, technically. One just likes their coffee hot, the other cold. Or one likes their coffee a little watered-down, the other likes theirs “stronger”.

    Get what I’m saying?

    I didn’t know about the “short” on their menu.
    Would’ve been nice to know before I got my first cup of “coffee” from Starbucks and giving them my paycheck only to find out it taste like ****. What’a waste.

    Good article by the way. :)

  29. Annelis on

    Yes, nice article, I found it through a link. We’ve had Starbucks here in Switzerland for a couple of years and I hardly ever go there as I don’t want such a big beverage, tall is about double the traditional latte or capucchino size around here, and also double the price. Never thought of asking for a short size as it’s not mentioned on their board. I’ll go try.

  30. Thomas on

    You are so stupid. Yeah it is a real secret!

  31. Ashley on

    We have a Starbucks on our campus where I attend college and I didn’t know the “short” existed until one day my roommate came back with a cute little cup. I asked her, “What kind of drink is THAT?” and she then informed me that if you asked for it, you could get a smaller size. Thanks for writing this, more people should know!!

  32. Jim H on

    Hers’s a thought on the iced cappuccino – If you’ve ever seen a demonstration of an immersion blender (like on an infomercial, or at your local fair), it possesses the strange ability to whip skim milk. The milk has to be very cold, and you have to use nonfat milk. It’s impressive to see, but I never saw any good use for it. I mean, it looks just like whipped cream, but you would never top your ice cream sundae with it. Anyway, maybe that’s what the Coffee Bean uses to top their iced Caps? It would probably stand up fine in a cold drink. Just a random thought – I like my cappuccino’s hot.

  33. Natalie on

    This article made me a little annoyed, but mainly amused at how stupid it was. I work for Starbucks, and people ask for the short all of the time!
    It makes me sad when people like you come in, and comment how other stores are better. Then why are you here? Seriously. And customers like you who are purposely difficult. We would be much more willing to address your needs if you weren’t being rude. We may just be lowly Starbucks employees, but we’re also university students, college students, or even high school students.
    Besides, why would you want to purposely be a prick to people who are making your beverage?
    Self important dicks like you are providing endless amusement for the baristas. We won’t take you seriously.

  34. DCbargirl on

    I’ve worked for Starbucks for 4 years at, and now am working as an assistant manager at one of the stores in Washington DC. The idea of an iced cappuccino always went right over my head. I’ve had partners put hot foam on cold milk, but that is against DoH health codes.

    HOWEVER, i have recently learned how to make an iced cappuccino that goes over exceedingly well at my store. You basically add espresso to cold milk, but it in the tea shaker with some ice, and serve it that way. It creates cold frothy foam.

  35. byeassst on

    vvvvvverry goo idea thanks for the tip:P

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    coffee shop / كافي شاپ صدف.كام / كافي شاپ صدف/ بانک اطلاعات کافی شاپ ها و رستورانهای ایران و جهان اولین بانک اطلاعات مرجع در ایران
    coffee shop / كافي شاپ صدف.كام / كافي شاپ صدف/ بانک اطلاعات کافی شاپ ها و رستورانهای ایران و جهان اولین بانک اطلاعات مرجع در ایران
    coffee shop / كافي شاپ صدف.كام / كافي شاپ صدف/ بانک اطلاعات کافی شاپ ها و رستورانهای ایران و جهان اولین بانک اطلاعات مرجع در ایران
    coffee shop / كافي شاپ صدف.كام / كافي شاپ صدف/ بانک اطلاعات کافی شاپ ها و رستورانهای ایران و جهان اولین بانک اطلاعات مرجع در ایران


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