Being Vegan At Starbucks: Drinks, Toppings, And Ethics Of The Coffee Bean

by Keep It Vegan

 February 16, 2017
Think being a vegan at Starbucks is difficult? Well that's because you don't know these awesome tricks for ordering coffee.

If you are a vegan AND a die-hard Starbucks fan, you might find yourself in a big dilemma while placing an order.

Maybe you are simply thinking about going vegan but are afraid of being excommunicated from the church of Starbucks - Not being able to place even the simplest of orders. 

This article will be your ultimate best friend for surviving Starbucks as a vegan. We’ll go over which menu items are plant-based and several hacks you can use to turn most of their drinks vegan-friendly.

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Coffee Beans. Something so simple and natural. Are they vegan though? In this section we solve that mystery.

Coffee Beans. Something so simple and natural. Are they vegan though? In this section we solve that mystery.

First Things First: Is Coffee Vegan?

Tl;dr: No worries! Starbucks uses beans that are ethically sourced!

Going vegan doesn’t mean you have to give up on your morning coffee ritual. The first question that may cross your mind is ‘Can vegans drink coffee?’ In short, coffee is suitable for vegans but as you dig deeper into the subject, there are several things you may have to consider.

The ingredients that make up coffee are vegan but the process and techniques used for growing coffee beans may not necessarily hold up against the vegan philosophy. When selecting a cruelty-free and sustainable cup of coffee, here’s what you must take into consideration

On the left is a shade grown coffee operation. On the right, you'll see how sun grown coffee is grown. Sun grown coffee clearly causes destruction of nature.

Shade grown coffee operation (left) - Sun grown coffee operation (right)

Shade Grown vs Sun Grown Coffee

As the name suggests, shade-grown coffee grows naturally underneath tropical and subtropical areas at high elevations.

Certain coffee plantations are deliberately harvested under the scorching heat to speed up the process of production and generate revenue faster.

The sun grown method of growing beans isn't as pleasant though. The downside to using this harsh sun grown method is it leads to deforestation and loss of biodiversity. Veganism aside, sun grown coffee is not a good idea at all due to its negative impact on the environment. A coffee plantation usually lasts for up to 30 years on average but sun grown coffee trees only last for 15 years or even less in some cases.

Shade grown coffee keeps the nutritional content of the soil intact but not the case with sun grown coffee. The sun grown method requires more chemical input in the form of fungicides, agricultural pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Using the sun growing method renders the soil infertile after a couple of years, leaving no other option for the farmers than to clear out new land to cultivate new coffee plants.

In a nutshell, sun grown coffee damages the ecosystem in more ways than you can imagine. It destroys the trees and plants that are home to hundreds of different species of animals. (And since the sun grown method indirectly harms animals, that's why it isn't vegan.)

Shade grown coffee, on the other hand, checks soil erosion, provides a sanctuary for natural habitat of the forests and doesn’t produce toxic water run-off from harmful chemicals, herbicides, pesticides, etc. that may harm wildlife.

On the topic of selecting good coffee, there are many other factors that you should consider such as USDA organic coffee, conventional coffee, rain forest alliance/bird-friendly coffee beans, etc. Urban Vegan wrote a great article on everything a vegan should know about coffee.

Three cups of Starbucks coffee lined up in a row.

Where Starbucks Stands

According to Starbucks, 99% of its coffee beans are ethically sourced.

The coffee beans are not what you have to worry about at Starbucks. You can easily order a black coffee worry free.

It’s the ingredients you have to watch out for.

For instance, pumpkin spice, white mocha, caramel brulee and light frappuccino drinks should be avoided. But, here’s a fun fact: The mocha syrup and clear syrups are vegan-friendly!

Most people think cheat codes are only in video games, but they are also in real life. Here's a vegan cheat code to make most Starbucks drinks vegan.

In this section, we go over a "cheat code" you can use to turn most drinks vegan.

The Starbucks ‘Cheat Code’

Luckily, with a few compromises here and there, you too, can enjoy a delicious guilt-free cup of coffee. Today, I’ll share with you the ultimate cheat code on how to order vegan-friendly drinks at Starbucks!

The ol' "Give me soy instead of dairy" trick​

Surprisingly, just by substituting dairy milk for coconut or soy milk, most Starbucks drinks become vegan. However, there are certain unavoidable ingredients that you may have to give up on.

Syrups and Sauces that are NOT Vegan

Certain syrups and sauces contain traces of dairy products. For instance, sauces like Java Chips, Caramel Drizzle, Whipped Cream and Chai Syrup contain different milk products.

Keep in mind that the Chai syrup contains honey. While honey is not considered vegan, there are many vegans who don’t mind having honey since it has zero cholesterol and lacks the health downfalls of meat, dairy, and eggs. Disagree with vegans that consume honey? Feel free to leave a comment down bellow with your opinion.

Drinks You Can Order

Lucky for you, most drinks on the Starbucks menu are completely vegan and you can have as many as you want!

Caffe Americano

You can never go wrong with a plain ole cup of Caffe Americano. Simply switch to soy milk or drink this coffee black and voila! It’s vegan friendly.

Soy Steamer

The Soy Steamer becomes totally vegan when you use hazelnut, peppermint, caramel or vanilla syrups that do not contain any dairy ingredients.

Chocolate Smoothie

Don’t fret because your favorite chocolate smoothie can become vegan instantly if you follow these steps. First, order your chocolate smoothie with soy milk in place of dairy milk. Second, chuck out the protein powder and you’re good to go.

You need not worry about the chocolate because it comes from the mocha sauce completely suitable for vegans.

Soy Latte

Since the Soy Latte contains soy milk instead of dairy milk, it is ideal for those who follow the vegan diet. In addition, you may enhance the flavor of your drink with peppermint, hazelnut or vanilla syrups.

Gingerbread Latte

Even though the Gingerbread Latte is not particularly vegan, you can make it vegan-friendly by asking for soy milk in place of dairy milk.

Strawberries and Creme Frappuccino

You don’t need to boycott the Strawberries and Creme Frappuccino anymore. Good news is, Starbucks now uses lycopene, a natural coloring agent derived from tomatoes instead of cochineal coloring from crushed beetles used previously.

Don’t forget to ask for soy milk and you’re all set. Here's an interesting read on the saga of the Strawberries and Creme Frappuccino.

Shaken Sweet Tea Lemonade

You need not make any adjustments to the Shaken Sweet Tea Lemonade for it is completely vegan by default.

Green Tea Creme Frappuccino

This drink can become vegan instantly if you add soy milk or coconut milk in replacement of dairy milk minus the whipped cream.

Mocha Frappuccino

The Mocha Frappuccino becomes perfectly vegan-friendly when you lay off the dairy milk for soy or coconut milk sans whipped cream.

Teavana Iced Oprah Cinnamon Chai Latte

This one is an all-time favorite of many regular vegan Starbucks goers. Instead of ordering the regular Chai Tea that contains honey, go for the Oprah Chai. Another reason to go for the Oprah Chai in particular is the donation made to the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy Foundation with every purchase of this drink to support youth education.

However, the Oprah Chai still contains milk which you’ll have to substitute with soy milk instead.

Caffe Misto

Simply switch to soy or coconut milk to replace dairy milk and your cup of Caffe Misto becomes totally vegan-friendly.

Classic Hot Chocolate

I’m sure no vegan would want to deprive themselves from this classic treat! Enjoy your guilt-free serving of the Classic Hot Chocolate by swapping the dairy milk for soy milk and omitting the whipped cream.

Strawberry Smoothie

You don’t have to give up on your favorite Strawberry Smoothie. All you have to do is nix the protein powder and use a vegan friendly alternative like soy milk in place of dairy milk.

Latte Macchiato

Just omit the dairy milk and go for soy milk to make Latte Macchiato a lean, green, vegan drink.

Frappuccino

As heartbreaking as it is, the caramel drizzle on top must go. Starbucks caramel is made of three different dairy products and therefore, is not fit for consumption by vegans. You’ll also have to ask for soy milk minus the whipped cream to make your drink vegan-friendly.

Other Starbucks Products

Evolution Fresh Drinks

Starbucks Evolution Fresh Drinks’ primary ingredient is fruit so it is perfectly vegan and needs no changes.

Ginger Molasses Cookie

There was much hype about Ginger Molasses Cookies being vegan but actually, they’re not. Egg is used in the making of these cookies and so, it is best to avoid it.

Vegan Oatmeal at Starbucks

Your bowl of vegan oatmeal at Starbucks can actually taste very delicious with lots of nuts, fruits and brown sugar.

Sugar-Free Syrups

All sugar free syrups at Starbucks contain Splenda and can be considered vegan as far as the ingredients are concerned but Splenda is not cruelty-free. The product is tested on animals, a major no-no for most vegans.

Starbucks Disclaimer

If you ever read the Starbucks Disclaimer notice, it says their products are not guaranteed to be free of allergens including tree nuts, soy, dairy, wheat, etc. The disclaimer notice is put in place to mitigate any risks that may warrant legal exception.

In my opinion, if you’re just careful about what you order and thoroughly check the ingredients of each drink before ordering, nothing can stop you from enjoying vegan Starbucks.

Cheers!​

Now that you know all about which drinks are completely vegan and how you can make minor alterations to have them suit your lifestyle, have fun and indulge in your favorite Starbucks drinks carefree!

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