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I worked in various Southern California locales for 4 years. Allow me to shed some light:
1. Iced Teas are double-strength in pitcher and watered down for your final recipe. Ask for "no water" for a much stronger (and, in my opinion, more effective) flavor.
2. Also, Iced Teas are generally "sweetened." This means 3, 4, 6 or 8(?) pumps of sweetener at ~30 calories each. This adds up, and is largely unnecessary if you're a fan of tea. The (?) next to the 8 is because I don't know how many pumps the new 30 oz. Trenta calls for. My drink of choice is a Venti unsweetened, no water Green Tea.
3. Chai Lattes (hot) are made with hot water to even out the flavor. If you enjoy cinnamon/chai flavors, ask for a Chai Latte with no water. For even better flavor, ask for Soy.
4. A Caramel Macchiato is built as such: Vanilla flavor, milk, foam, shots on top, caramel. Macchiato is something like "to mark" in Italian. An old, but very good, variation on this is the "Marble Mocha Macchiato" (or Zebra Macchiato). Replace vanilla with white mocha and caramel with mocha for a sweet variation.
5. If you're in line behind a group of teenagers, chances are, they're all ordering Frappuccinos which take an annoyingly long amount of time to craft. Want to decrease your wait? Order the same Frappuccino as them, or get a simple beverage.
6. The workflow of a Starbucks cafe will generally start with 1 person running cashier, 1 person making drinks. A third person will ring / make drinks, a fourth person will split the duties 2 & 2 or do bakery / sandwich preparation. In terms of beverage crafting, Hot and Cold beverages are separated. The takeaway? If everyone in line is getting hot drinks (white, paper cup), get a cold drink to decrease wait time. The corollary: If there are a lot of cold beverages to make, get a hot drink, or coffee. There are plenty of really good drinks on both sides of the menu.
7. Gonna be hanging around for a while? Order a French Press of coffee. For the uninitiated (and I know in the tech world there are very few who haven't heard of the wonders of coffee nuance), brewing a coffee in a French Press uses much larger granules of coffee, steeping them in hot water (Red taps at Starbucks are @ 200 degrees) for 4-7 minutes and then separating the coffee-water from the wet beans through a filter, all in a contained cup. The benefit? You get guaranteed fresh brewed coffee and you'll get the whole Press to yourself at your table.
8. If you visit Starbucks often, try to visit the same place every time. Get to know the local crew by name. Eventually, they'll know you, and more importantly, your drink. When working there, if there's a line to the door of non-regulars, we'd still have your drink ready by the time you hit the cash register if we could manage it. That's why you tip, too.
Frequently, you'll want to impress someone with your drink. Here you go:
9. Doppio Macchiatto, Soy, Extra Foam, Ristretto. (Two shots of espresso over a thick bed of soy foam [no liquid]. Ristretto means the shots are pulled short, adding an extra complexity to the flavor)
10. Grande Dirty Soy Chai, no water, 4 pumps Chai, 2 pumps Caramel, Extra Hot, Extra Foam (Dirty means "add a shot", the Caramel compliments the cinnamon flavor of the chai, the extra hot brings out the overall flavor much more and especially so for Soy milk)
And, my favorite, just because filling up an entire cup's worth of label-space:
11. Triple Grande two-thirds caf., 2 pumps vanilla 1 pump Toffee Nut, Half-Skim Half-Soy, 185 degree, Extra-Foam, Upside-Down Caramel Macchiatto. (If you order this, you have no idea what you're doing.)
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