What Should You Order from Starbucks (and Other Coffee Shop Suggestions)


by Nikita Thadani

Two coffee cups, one open with latte art of a heart, the other closed with a wafer on top.

As you all may or may not know, in addition to my role here in Graduate Student Life, I am also a barista of almost five years! I started working at a coffee shop during my freshman year of undergrad and worked there for three years, and have since been working at Starbucks for the past couple years. When I’m starting a study session or settling into an evening class, there’s nothing I love more than doing it with a fresh cup of coffee or tea. Although my time at Starbucks is coming to an end as I will be starting my counseling practicum soon, I’d like to impart some Starbucks order suggestions and wisdom to all of my fellow graduate and professional students.

First, though, I’d like to recommend all of the coffee options we have on our Mason campuses:

Fairfax Campus: Starbucks (Northern Neck or Johnson Center), Dunkin’ Donuts, Panera Bread (Johnson Center), Einstein Bagels (Merten Hall), Argo Tea (Fenwick Library – temporarily closed due to COVID-19)

Arlington Campus: Au Bon Pain (Van Metre Hall), Common Ground (Van Metre Hall, Room 222)

SciTech Campus: Randall’s Cafe (Colgan Hall)

If you have an early morning and need an extra boost, you should order… Iced Shaken Espresso or a Redeye

If you’re like me and have a hard time waking up on those early mornings or after you weren’t able to sleep the night before, I would recommend ordering either an Iced Shaken Espresso or a Redeye. What are they, you ask? A “redeye” is a cup of coffee with a shot of espresso in it for an extra kick of caffeine, and it’s not exclusive to Starbucks – you can order this anywhere! If this sounds too strong for your tastebuds, you can always add milk/cream and sugar, or pumps of your favorite flavoring. For those of you who prefer iced coffee drinks, I’d recommend the Iced Shaken Espresso. This drink is basically shots of espresso shaken with ice and flavoring, then topped with milk, and each size has one more espresso shot than drinks of their size typically get. What I love about this drink is you get a lot of bang for your buck in terms of caffeine, and you can customize it how you want – for example, you could get your Iced Shaken Espresso with caramel instead of classic syrup, or you could get almond milk instead of 2% milk, if you prefer!

If you want to get into drinking coffee, but still have a sweet tooth you should order… Java Chip Frappuccino (or a Mocha Blended Coffee/Frap at other cafes) 

Back when I was 16 and had just started drinking coffee, this was one of my favorite drinks. A Java Chip Frappuccino is essentially a blended drink made with coffee, milk, ice, mocha syrup, and chocolate ‘frappuccino’ chips. Many people compare frappuccinos to having a slushie/milkshake texture while also being a caffeinated beverage. It’s sweet and smooth and has a texture I love from the frappuccino chips. 

If you want your coffee to taste sweet and spicy like a cinnamon roll, you should order… a Cinnamon Dolce Latte

The Starbucks Cinnamon Dolce Latte is one of my all-time favorite drinks. It’s pretty straightforward – a latte (espresso and steamed milk) with Cinnamon Dolce syrup, topped with whipped cream and Cinnamon Dolce sprinkles. I absolutely love cinnamon, and while this drink is extra popular during the winter time, I love drinking it year round. I usually get it with almond milk, an extra shot of espresso, and no whipped cream. Although you can get this drink iced as well, I think it tastes extra yummy as a hot beverage!

If you’re a vegetarian and you want breakfast on the go, you should order… the Impossible Breakfast Sandwich or Kale & Portabella Mushroom Egg Bites

Starbucks has a lot of breakfast options, but if you’re like me and you don’t eat red meat (or if you are a vegetarian or have other dietary restrictions), the options are pretty limited. When I want a filling but quick breakfast, I usually eat either the Impossible Breakfast Sandwich or the Kale Egg Bites. They are both filling and have a good amount of protein. I’d recommend asking for salt & pepper packets or a sriracha packet to add some extra flavor to them. 

If you like your coffee simple, but want something smoother than just drip coffee, you should order… Americano 

For those of you who simply like black coffee, but would like to step it up from just ordering drip coffee, you should get an Americano. An Americano is espresso shots with water, and while that may sound weird, it’s basically like black coffee but smoother. Similar to the other drinks I mentioned, you can add milk/cream, sugar, or syrup to this drink. You can also order it iced, if you’d prefer, and this is another drink that’s not exclusive to Starbucks — you can get it anywhere!

If you like sweet tea, you should order… Iced Peach Green Tea Lemonade or Iced Guava Black Tea Lemonade 

If you’re not huge on coffee but you like iced tea, you should get the Iced Peach Green Tea Lemonade or Iced Guava Black Tea Lemonade! While the Peach Green Tea is definitely more popular, I personally prefer the Guava Black Tea. You can get these drinks with or without the lemonade and with or without added sweetener. This is pretty similar to an ‘Arnold Palmer.’

If you like matcha, you should order… Iced Green Tea Latte with Coconut Milk

Okay, so I love matcha. Matcha is essentially a type of ground green tea powder with a very earthy taste. People who don’t like it describe it as tasting like grass… people who do like it say it tastes delicious! Plus, matcha supposedly has a lot of great health benefits. I like getting the matcha latte from Starbucks iced and with coconut milk, which I think really complements the matcha flavor. A lot of people also order this drink with soy milk. If you want to get really crazy, you can ask them to add vanilla syrup, pineapple ginger syrup (which you can order by asking for the Pineapple Matcha Drink), or classic syrup if you want it sweeter. Or, at any other cafe, you can see if they have matcha on the menu and try it with an alternative milk like almond, soy, oat, or coconut. 

If you don’t really like coffee OR tea, but you want something fruity with a little bit of caffeine, you should order… Dragon Drink

The Dragon Drink is the Mango Dragonfruit Refresher made with coconut milk instead of water or lemonade. Basically, it is mango and dragonfruit refresher base (which is kind of like juice), coconut milk, dried dragonfruit pieces, and shaken with ice. There’s green coffee extract in these drinks which give them a little bit of caffeine without any of the coffee/tea taste. The Dragon Drink is especially refreshing on a hot summer day. 

If you don’t like Starbucks or any other coffee chain, you should check out these cafes local to Northern Virginia! 

Matcha boba and a latte from Chateau de Chantilly Cafe

Here are my favorite local coffee shops in the area: 

Cafein – This coffee shop in Chantilly, VA is one of my favorites. They have some cool flavored lattes like a Honey Cinnamon Latte and a Rose Latte, and they also have fresh pastries every day. Their matcha cheesecake is to die for.

Ridgetop Coffee & Tea – Another personal favorite, Ridgetop Coffee & Tea in Sterling, VA has a huge, spacious seating area, friendly baristas, good coffee, and great pastries. Their homemade pop-tarts are a personal favorite. 

Simply Social – This is another great local coffee shop that’s fairly close to the Fairfax campus! They have one location in Fairfax and another in Vienna. They have coffee, tea, some pastries and sandwiches, and even Kombucha on tap. 

Chateau de Chantilly – Chateau de Chantilly is actually quite new, and is located just around the corner from Cafein. This cafe also has pastries and sandwiches, as well as boba! While a little on the pricier side, they have a gorgeous, funky study space.

Three Whistles – For those of you based at the Arlington campus, Three Whistles is a HUGE coffee shop that also has gelato, sandwiches, pastries, tea, and more. Plus, they have free parking!

Grounds Central Station – While I’ve never been, I’ve heard great things about Grounds Central Station located in Manassas, VA (near the SciTech campus). They have a lot of cool offerings on their menu. 

Lastly, some tips of the trade to ordering your coffee & tea: 

As someone who’s worked in the food service industry for a long time and has been an essential worker throughout this pandemic, the advice I have for you is…

  1. Be nice and be patient with your baristas. Although there is a pandemic, we are no less busy than we were before, and we are often understaffed and overworked. A friendly face and a smile from a customer can go a long way, as well as a please and thank you! And remember, if you’re in a rush, you can always mobile order at Starbucks ahead of time if you’re worried about waiting in a long line. 
  2. Order your drink by stating the components in this order: [size] + [hot or iced] + [drink name] + [modifications]. For example, “May I please order a tall iced latte with oat milk?” or “May I please order a grande iced shaken espresso with vanilla syrup instead of classic syrup, and soy milk instead of coconut milk?” This will save both you and your barista time! 
  3. If you don’t know what to get or if you have questions about what a drink is, always ask! We’re happy to help you decide what you’d like or help clarify what a drink is if you don’t know. 
  4. Wear your mask, and please do not touch your customer service workers! Until mask mandates have been completely eradicated and we are in a COVID-free world, please wear your mask to any food establishment you go to. Please do not touch your customer service/food service employees – this is a rule of thumb that applies COVID or not. Customer service workers are entitled to personal space and boundaries, too!

All that being said, I hope these tips and tricks help provide you with some new and fun ideas of how you can change up your coffee order or check out some new local spots. Enjoy!