It’s no secret—Starbucks drinks aren’t made with real caramel or fresh fruit. Every frappuccino, sweetened latte, and refresher gets its signature flavoring from concentrated syrups, sauces, and powdered mix-ins. The company has this down to a formula, creating a perfectly engineered food product by combining caffeine with a cravabley sweet approximation of vanilla, toffee nut, or chocolate. In a way, the artificial roots of these sweeteners is a benefit to vegans, as they recreate the taste of dairy-laden foods without the use of dairy. However, not all Starbucks syrups and sauces are dairy-free, and it can be confusing. Case in point: the caramel syrup is vegan but the caramel sauce is not. Here is everything you need to know about these flavor-enhancers so you can order with confidence the next time you stroll up to a Starbucks.
Vegan Starbucks syrups and sauces
The key to any Starbucks chocolate drink—be that a mocha or hot chocolate—is a few pumps of this thick, chocolaty sauce. It’s used to flavor drinks as well as drizzled on top for an extra burst of deep chocolate flavor.
Pro tip: For a sweet ending, ask your barista for one pump of mocha sauce at the bottom of a non-dairy Coffee Frappuccino. That last sweet sip is similar to discovering the chocolate center at the end of a Trader Joe’s Mini Ice Cream Cone.
Strawberry Purée Sauce
New in 2021, this fruity, thick sauce is featured in the summertime Strawberry Funnel Cake Frappuccino (which can be made vegan with a few adjustments). It’s made with real strawberry purée, white grape juice concentrate, xanthan gum, citric acid, and fruit and vegetable-based food colorings.
Pro tip: Veganize the Strawberry Funnel Cake Frappuccino by asking for non-dairy milk and no whipped cream.
Funnel Cake Syrup
This sugary syrup may only be around for as long as the Strawberry Funnel Cake Frappuccino is, so experiment while you can. It’s also found in the Strawberry Funnel Cake Crème Frappuccino, which is caffeine-free.
Pro tip: Try ordering an Iced Almondmilk Latte with this syrup (two-to-three pumps for a tall size, depending on your preferred sweetness).
Coffee Frappuccino Syrup
Yes, in addition to espresso, Starbucks adds coffee-flavored syrup to some beverages (like the non-vegan Caramel Ribbon Crunch Frappuccino). Just accept it.
Pro tip: For a caffeine-free treat that still tastes like coffee, order a decaf Coffee Frappuccino with your favorite non-dairy milk.
Crème Frappuccino Syrup
In full transparency, we can’t really say what this syrup tastes like or what purpose it serves, other than the fact that it is found in the non-caffeinated, crème-based frappuccinos. We do know, however, that it is completely vegan.
Pro tip: We wouldn’t advise adding this to any beverage without a complimentary syrup. It’s cloyling sweet on its own.
In other words, this is simple syrup—the same thing that’s used to sweeten up cocktails. It’s used in everything from frappuccinos to iced coffee. Simple syrup doesn’t have a flavor other than sweet, so use it sparingly.
Pro tip: Baristas typically use three pumps of syrups for a tall drink. For a less-sweet option, ask for one or two, tops.
Vanilla Bean Powder
True, this is not a syrup or a sauce, but it’s a common flavoring agent found in bestselling beverages such as the Caffé Vanilla Frappuccino. Fun fact: it’s not that artificial. It truly contains vanilla beans.
Pro tip: Ask for a scoop of vanilla bean powder in a non-dairy hot chocolate for a more complex flavor.
Matcha Tea Blend
Thankfully, there are no hidden animal ingredients in Starbucks’ matcha. The blend does contain sugar, though, so it’s not quite for the matcha purists.
Pro tip: If you’ve yet to step on board the matcha train, this sweetened version may be a palatable first step if you want to get into matcha like the cool kids.
Chocolate Malt Powder
Malt traditionally contains dairy, but during a plant-based kick, Starbucks debuted this new ingredient without using any animal products. You’ll find it in the new favorite summertime beverage—Iced Chocolate Almondmilk Shaken Espresso. It’s a mouthful to say, but it’s one of our favorite debut drinks in a long time.
Pro tip: If you enjoy a less-sweet beverage, keep the amount of malt powder the same but ask for an extra shot of espresso. In our humble opinion, this is the perfect ratio of coffee-to-chocolate flavor.
Ready for the list? These vegan-friendly syrups can be added to any beverage for a hint or a tidal wave of sweet flavoring. They include: Cinnamon Dolce, Vanilla, Funnel Cake, Brown Sugar, Hazelnut, Peppermint, Pineapple Ginger, Raspberry, Toffee Nut, and Sugar-free Vanilla.
Pro tip: While not promoted, Starbucks carries peppermint all year round. Good to know if you’re in the mood for a non-dairy Peppermint Mocha in July.
Flavored Refresher Bases
Every fruity Starbucks Refresher Base—from the Pink Drink to the Kiwi Starfruit—is vegan. They contain a mix of water, sugar, natural flavors, citric acid, natural green coffee flavor, white grape juice concentrate, and Rebaudiside A—an artificial sweetener that is a derivative of stevia, but 240-times sweeter.
Pro tip: Remember, refreshers contain caffeine!
Non-vegan Starbucks syrups and sauces
Dark Caramel Sauce and Caramel Sauce
Starbucks carries two different caramel sauces—a dark and an original—and both contain dairy. Stay away from any beverages that contain or are drizzled with either of these sauces. Alternatively, ask for the caramel sauce to be substituted with caramel syrup inside of your beverage.
White Chocolate Mocha Sauce
Like most white chocolate, this sauce contains dairy. Sorry, previous White Chocolate Mocha lovers. At Starbucks, stick to the regular mocha.
Chai Tea Concentrate
Alas, seek chai elsewhere. This spicy concoction contains honey. It’s found in both the Chai Crème Frappuccino and the chai latte.
Found in the Honey Almond Flat White as well as any seasonal honey-flavored beverage, this mix contains actual honey. Avoid it, and perhaps write a letter to Starbucks suggesting they use Un-Honey.
Pumpkin Spice Sauce
Following several years of consumer outrage when the secret was let out that Starbucks’ cult-favorite Pumpkin Spice Latte did not contain any pumpkin, the company pivoted and added pumpkin purée. Unfortunately, Starbucks did not omit the dairy while changing the recipe, keeping the Pumpkin Spice Latte out of reach for vegan customers. When fall rolls around, seek out Peet’s Coffee for a taste of this iconic beverage.
Introduced to add subtle sweetness to the coffee chain’s line of cold brews, this creamy substance is not vegan and is made of dairy-based cream. Each flavor iteration—Sweet Cream, Irish Cream, Vanilla, and Salted Caramel—all contain dairy. When ordering cold brew or nitro, it’s best to enjoy it black.
Sometimes, it’s necessary to state the obvious. Starbucks has made major strides in providing a medley of non-dairy milk options (soy, coconut, almond, and oat), but the company has yet to introduce a vegan whipped cream. However, hope is on the horizon. In September, the company teased a non-dairy whip made with … wait for it … lentils.
Found in the Double Chocolatey Chip and the Java Chip Frappuccinos, these chocolate chip bits contain milk. Omit them to veganize these drinks.
Cinnamon Dolce Topping
Made exclusively for the warming Cinnamon Dolce Latte, this edible drink adornment is not vegan—it contains extractives of butter made from cow’s milk. Vegans can still enjoy this year-round beverage by ordering it with non-dairy milk, no whipped cream, and no topping. The syrup used to make the drink is flavorful enough to still produce an outstanding pick-me-up.
Powdered Sugar Funnel Cake Pieces
As part of the limited-edition Strawberry Funnel Cake Frappuccino, these vegan-friendly sugary bits of yum may not be around forever. Get your fill while you can.
Caramel Sugar Topping
This crunchy, caramely powder is vegan! Ask for it on a hot beverage that involves foam—it just dissolves if there’s nothing to suspend it on top of the drink. Try it on a hot Toffee Nut Latte made with your favorite non-dairy milk.
Blended into the Java Chip Frappuccino (which can be veganized by asking for no Frappuccino Chips or whip), these tiny cookie morsels are accidentally vegan. Whether we should be consuming cookies in our coffee is an entirely different discussion.
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