Your Guide to Vegan and Plant-Based Options at Starbucks
You're rushing to work and it hits you: You've skipped breakfast and your morning is now time-crunched with barely enough minutes to get something healthy before your first meeting. Plus you need caffeine, stat. Rather than start the day off hangry and under-caffeinated, you pop into Starbucks and see what you can grab that does not contain dairy or animal products. And because you went plant-based or vegan to be healthy, the higher bar is to find something that is remotely healthy, other than a packet of almonds. The choices aren’t overwhelming but you'll definitely have some options that can quiet your hunger when you need a quick bite on-the-go.
Drinks That Deliver the Caffeine But Leave Out the Dairy
First, let’s tackle the vegan drink options. At Starbucks, you don’t have to settle for a black coffee if you're staying away from dairy. Instead, you have a few options of plant-based milks: Just ask for your favorite drink without the dairy and add soy, almond or coconut milk in your coffee for some creaminess. If you're just getting drip coffee, you have to ask for the almond and coconut milk when you order, and it's an additional 60 cents, but the soy is free and on the same counter as your skim and low-fat options. For all the tea drinkers out there, the Iced Matcha Green Tea Latte with almond milk is a good pick-me-up.
In the cold case, those Evolution Fresh green juices are vegan (Starbucks actually bought the company back in 2011) and we love that they're a solid non-GMO, organic, healthy, vegan option found at most—if not all—stores.
As of now, the barista-made strawberry and banana smoothies come with plant protein but simply ask them to leave out the milk or Greek yogurt to make 'em vegan. The more complicated orders require you to know that you have a few traps to avoid (like honey or java chips, which aren't vegan). For a complete list of what to order and what to ask the barista to hold, read this comprehensive guide that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) published last March. Since then, Starbucks came out with plant protein for the smoothies so that is a step in the right direction.
It goes without saying that dairy-based whipped cream should get left off the fancy drinks. Some seasonal drinks are good options, like the Chestnut Praline Latte (with a non-dairy milk). For a list of which of the syrups are vegan (the clear ones) and which are not, like the caramel drizzle, see this excellent piece from UrbanTasteBud, but if in doubt, leave it out.
Quick tip about foaming and plant-based milk choices. Don't try to make a latte with coconut milk since it won't foam up nicely. Until Starbucks embraces the oat milk trend, choose soy!
Breakfast at Starbucks: Hold the Meat, Eggs, and Cheese, Plz
Starbucks offers a large variety of breakfast sandwiches, but they all contain either eggs or meat or cheese…or all three. Your best bet? The humble oatmeal—we heart the version with blueberries, since you get an extra kick of antioxidants with your cereal. Ask them to make it with either water or almond milk, since you can get the barista to heat it up for you when you order.
Another option: all bagels sold at Starbucks are vegan, other than the everything bagel which is topped with asiago cheese. As for spreads, ask if they have avocado spread which may be puréed but it's pure Haas avocado (yep, you can DIY your own avocado toast). Otherwise spread it with almond butter, hazelnut butter or bring your own Tofutti or Violife non-dairy cream cheese for a full meal.
Don't Just Reach for the Almonds—Ask for Plant-Based Bowls
We love a good packet of almonds as much as the next person, but there are times when you need a little something extra. Select locations have introduced an entirely plant-based bowl option, such as the Vegan Superberry Açaí Bowl, which is pureed fruit topped with granola, coconut and pepitas. Similarly, the Strawberry & Toasted Almonds Overnight Grains are made with coconut milk and are completely plant-based.
Hacks to Vegan-ize Non-Plant-Based Options
If you're not concerned with the idea of buying boxes with dairy and discarding it then the Protein Box and PB&J Box are good choices, and you can make them fully plant-based once you deconstruct them and remove the cheese; then you're left with apples, cucumbers, almonds and multigrain crackers. Take the chocolate-covered raisins and Greek yogurt ranch dip out of the PB&J Box, and you're left with the sandwich, carrots, cucumbers and apple slices, which almost amounts to a meal.
Bottom Line: Overall, we would head into Starbucks when really in need but definitely wouldn’t run there as a first option. If we were in the UK, that statement wouldn’t be true. Starbucks in the UK has enough plant-based options to provide a full course meal. There you can find everything from vegan sandwiches and wraps to Vegan Mac and Cheese. (#jealous.) Here, we still have a ways to go. Starbucks would not get an A in vegan options, but it wouldn’t get a failing grade either—more like a C+ from us.
Which grade would you give Starbucks' vegan options? Send in your comments and suggestions for how to eat vegan on-the-go below!