If you’ve ever bought a drink from Starbucks, you may have encountered the term “handcrafted.” What does it mean? What makes “handcrafted” beverages different from other Starbucks drinks?
Handcrafted Starbucks drinks are beverages made at the espresso/cold bar and are made with a bit more love. They’re a great investment for those willing to pay more for a drink tailored to their tastes.
Below, I will walk you through the most frequently answered questions regarding any handcrafted drink Starbucks creates.
I will dive deep into the specific drinks Starbucks considers “handcrafted,” the benefits and pitfalls of buying them, and recommend handcrafted Starbucks drinks you may want to try.
What is considered a handcrafted drink at Starbucks?
In marketing terms, any handcrafted drink Starbucks sells is made with “a bit more love.” A handcrafted Starbucks drink requires more complex techniques and personal touch than non-handcrafted beverages.
According to Starbucks’ official website, handcrafted drinks include:
- Iced teas
- Cold coffees
- Seasonal drinks
What makes the above drinks “handcrafted”? Let’s unpack a typical handcrafted drink Starbucks puts together.
When you think of “handcrafted” drinks, espressos aren’t the first to come to mind. After all, the first step to making them involves specialized machines.
The machine forces pressurized hot water through ground coffee beans, creating the potent mixture people use as their morning pick-me-up. The grind size looks like this:
However, espresso shots take skill to pull off, even with a machine. You need to use the right beans, do the size basket appropriately, work the grounds and lock the portafilter — all before pulling the shot!
At Starbucks, you can get two kinds of espresso:
- Espresso: A doppio-sized (1.5 fl oz) espresso has ten calories, making it one of the healthiest beverages Starbucks has.
- Espresso con Panna: If you don’t mind adding 25 more calories to your doppio espresso, Espresso con Panna is the way to go. As the English translation of its name implies, it contains whipped cream. Also, the Starbucks version of Espresso con Panna has vanilla syrup.
Tip: You can make an Espresso con Panna at home by following this easy-to-make recipe!
If you want to learn more about the difference between an espresso and a doppio espresso, you can find more information in this article.
You won’t find anything called “Frappuccino” in non-Starbucks coffee chains. That’s because Starbucks purchased the rights to the name during the 1990s. The deal paid off handsomely: Today, many credit Starbucks’ success to the Frappuccino.
It’s easy to identify a Frappuccino: an iced drink topped with whipped cream, sprinkles, and the signature Frappuccino syrup. According to Starbucks employees on Quora, the syrup holds everything in the Frappuccino together.
Of course, the syrup recipe is a trade secret.
Considering that the Frappuccino is Starbucks’ signature product, you’d think the company has found a way to mass-produce it. In reality, the Frappuccino takes longer to produce than any other handcrafted drink Starbucks offers.
Every Frappuccino needs to come out right and not become too chunky or runny. And that’s not accounting for all the possible customizations of this sugary beverage.
As of this writing, Starbucks has 21 varieties of Frappuccino pre-customization. All of them fall under one of two categories:
Like espressos, iced teas aren’t beverages you associate with the word “handcrafted.” However, as far as Starbucks is concerned, iced tea isn’t just leaf extract mixed with cold water.
What makes iced tea a handcrafted drink Starbucks offers is you can customize them according to:
- Ice water: The more water or ice your tea has, the weaker it is.
- Sweeteners: You can request a specific sugar or syrup to satisfy your sweet tooth.
- Other flavors: Depending on the iced tea you pick, you can also adjust the amount of milk, toppings, etc.
Cold coffee isn’t just an iced version of its hot counterpart.
Starbucks baristas use cold brewing to make cold coffee. The method involves mixing coarse ground coffee with cold water and steeping the mixture for 20 hours, like so:
As the water turns warmer, the coffee gets extracted and becomes the cold handcrafted drink Starbucks patrons enjoy.
Starbucks’ Nitro Cold Brew takes longer to make. Baristas steep the beans in cold water for up to 24 hours.
Tip: You can also make nitro cold brew at home! Check out this in-depth guide to learn more about it!
As their name suggests, you can only order seasonal drinks at certain times of the year. For example, the Pumpkin Spice Latte is available every fall and is probably the most famous seasonal handcrafted drink Starbucks offers.
Aside from Pumpkin Spice Latte, seasonal Starbucks drinks include:
- Peppermint Mocha
- Irish Cream Cold Brew
- Caramel Brulée Latte
- Toasted White Chocolate Mocha
- Chestnut Praline Latte
Keep in mind that not all seasonal drinks are available every year. In 2021, for instance, Starbucks phased out the beloved Eggnog Latte.
Other discontinued Starbucks offerings are:
- Strawberry Shortcake Frappuccino
- Tazo Tea Infusions
- Apple Crumble Frappuccino
Should you buy handcrafted drinks at Starbucks?
Is there an added benefit to buying a handcrafted drink Starbucks makes? Or are you shelling out extra cash for nothing?
You should buy handcrafted drinks at Starbucks if you’re willing to pay a premium to tweak any beverage to fit your tastes. Customizability is the main selling point of Starbucks’ handcrafted drinks. However, their higher price may be a dealbreaker for budget-conscious patrons.
Besides customizability and price, what are the other pros and cons of Starbucks’ handcrafted drinks? Let’s break them down in the next section.
Pros of handcrafted drinks at Starbucks
When you purchase any handcrafted drink Starbucks has on hand, you’re paying for an experience like no other. After all, nothing beats a beverage you can call your own.
The pros of Starbucks’ handcrafted drinks are:
- You can customize them according to your preference.
- You can experience new flavors and beverage styles.
- You can match drinks to your mood and the seasons.
- You can enjoy special perks.
Let’s unpack the positive aspects of handcrafted Starbucks drinks below:
You can customize them according to your preference
If you have a sweet tooth, go for the infamously sugary Frappuccino. If you want a drink with few to no calories, get an espresso (10 calories) or iced black tea (0 calories).
Don’t mind indulging or paying a few more dollars? Pick any item from Starbucks’ secret menu.
Alternatively, ask the barista to create a healthier version of your Frappuccino.
You can experience new flavors and beverage styles
Almost every year, Starbucks launches new varieties of handcrafted beverages. In 2021 alone, honey almond milk lovers had flat white and cold brew versions of their favorite flavor.
An at-home version of the honey almond milk flat white can be made by following this 5-minute recipe!
Suppose you’re visiting a Starbucks in another country. In that case, you can try out flavors unavailable in the U.S.
For example, South Korea has the sweet potato-flavored Golden Wish Latte, the matcha-inspired Snow Mint Chocolate, and the lychee-topped Pink Chamomile Relaxer.
You can match drinks to your mood and the seasons
Need something to wake you up in more ways than one? The ice and caffeine combo in the cold handcrafted drinks Starbucks sells should do the trick.
In the mood for autumn and Christmas? Take your pick from Starbucks’ holiday drinks.
You can enjoy special perks
Considering how much one handcrafted drink Starbucks baristas make costs, you want to maximize any promos attached to them.
If you’re a Starbucks Rewards member, you can customize your drink the moment you earn 25 stars.
Now, let’s move on to the downsides of handcrafted Starbucks beverages:
Cons of handcrafted drinks at Starbucks
A handcrafted drink Starbucks baristas whip up can leave a bitter taste in your mouth (no pun intended). If you don’t consider the cons of Starbucks’ handcrafted drinks, you may feel disappointed when you order one.
The cons of Starbucks’ handcrafted drinks are:
- You pay significantly more than for regular drinks.
- You may not always find the drink you want on the menu.
- You may find the many choices too overwhelming.
- You may not know which ones are “handcrafted.”
If you’re looking for reasons not to buy a Starbucks handcrafted drink, look no further than the next section.
You pay significantly more than for regular drinks
On average, Starbucks beverages cost around $2.75 in the U.S. The price can go over $5 for handcrafted drinks.
If you’re adventurous and loaded, you can do a William E. Lewis Jr. and order a Super Venti Flat White for $148.99.
Remember how the Eggnog Latte vanished from Starbucks’ menu? At least 27 percent of diehard fans were disappointed.
Also, certain ingredients can fall victim to shortages like hazelnut, matcha, caramel drizzle, strawberries, and blackberries.
If you’re looking for something beyond the usual chocolate/coffee/mocha/cappuccino combo, you’ll feel disappointed.
You may find the many choices too overwhelming
The thing about ordering handcrafted drinks is knowing what you want.
But what if you don’t know the difference between “tall,” “grande,” and “venti”? What if you make all the mistakes newbies make when ordering at Starbucks?
Instead of enjoying the pleasures of a handcrafted drink that Starbucks baristas work hard to make, you’ll complain about why ordering one drink has to be so difficult.
Tip: Do you want to learn how to order at Starbucks like a pro? Then you can check out this in-depth guide!
You may not know which ones are “handcrafted”
Some people (including Starbucks employees) believe all Starbucks drinks are handcrafted.
If that’s the case, Starbucks won’t offer Happy Hour promos at all because a “buy one, take one” tag on everything won’t help their corporate bottom line.
Generally, if a drink is ready-made or prepackaged in a bottle or paper bag, it’s probably not handcrafted. If a barista has to make it from scratch, it is.
Considering all the handcrafted drinks Starbucks offers, which one should you try first? I’ll give you my recommendations in the next section.
Best handcrafted drinks at Starbucks
Whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned coffee lover, you’ll surely enjoy at least one handcrafted drink Starbucks has.
I’m not going to give specific rankings for the drinks because I believe everyone should experience what Starbucks offers in their way.
The best handcrafted Starbucks drinks are:
- Pumpkin Spice Latte
- Caramel Frappuccino
- Vanilla Sweet Cream Cold Brew
- London Fog Tea Latte
Ready to hear my steaming hot takes on the above drinks? All right, let’s get brewing. (I promise not to make any more coffee puns after this.)
Pumpkin Spice Latte
Who doesn’t love the Pumpkin Spice Latte? It’s almost as much a part of American food culture as apple pie and mac and cheese.
The pumpkin’s distinctive sweet, earthy flavor combined with the triple threat of cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg makes you want to wind down and look forward to the last quarter of the year.
The Caramel Frappuccino is an oldie but a goodie. The simplicity of this beverage makes it easy to customize.
If you want a decadent version of the Caramel Frappuccino, try the Ultra Caramel Frappuccino. You’ll enjoy alternating layers of whipped cream and dark caramel on top of white chocolate and a cold brew.
Vanilla Sweet Cream Cold Brew
Don’t think the Vanilla Sweet Cream Cold Brew is, well, vanilla. If you want just a little shot of caffeine, the vanilla tones down the bitter coffee taste.
Like the Caramel Frappuccino, the relative simplicity of the Vanilla Sweet Cream Cold Brew makes it ripe for customization.
If you want to jazz it up, add toppings like caramel brulée, chocolate curls, and salted brown butter topping.
Tip: Make a vanilla sweet cream cold brew at home by following this recipe!
London Fog Tea Latte
If you like Earl Grey tea, you might enjoy the London Fog Tea Latte.
Aside from the classic combination of black tea and bergamot oil, London Fog Tea Latte also has steamed milk, vanilla, and lavender.
You can substitute the black tea with chai or matcha if that’s more your thing.
If you pick any beverage from a Starbucks menu, you will likely end up with a handcrafted drink. However, these premium beverages seem to be bringing something new to the table.
Whether the investment is worth it or not will ultimately depend on your budget and preferences.