Posted on February 15, 2016

Coffee Hacks from a Starbucks Barista


It’s no secret that many (dare I say most?), college students have a bit of a caffeine dependency, and one of the best tasting options to satiate that addiction desire is sweet, sweet coffee. If you’re like the Average Joe (get it?), a quick cup of black coffee straight from the Keurig is what gets your morning started and keeps those around you safe from pre-caffeine harm.

Sure, a vanilla latte with two extra pumps, soy milk and no foam from Starbucks is what you want, but no one has the time to wait in line or the money to drop $4 every morning. The other obvious alternative is to make it yourself, but that’s a little hard to do without a full-blown espresso machine. What’s an overworked, sleep-deprived student to do? As a seasoned barista who has worked at both Starbucks and an independent coffee shop, I have several hacks for ways to bring that morning coffee from basic to bomb AF.

French Press

No, this is not a dupe for a fancy, complicated latte (we’ll get to that later)—this is for those who like to stick to a black cup of java. If I’m drinking plain coffee, this is the only way I’ll do it. Being a barista has formed me into a coffee snob that has become accustomed to a certain quality of coffee that a Keurig just can’t deliver.

First, go buy a French press. Starbucks sells pretty decent ones for about $20, and I’m sure Amazon has some for even cheaper. Once you’ve got your magical coffee maker, go buy whatever blend you like! Most coffee shops will grind the beans for you, so be sure and ask for it to be ground on a French press setting.

Now, we get to brewing. First, dump two to three tablespoons of your ground coffee directly into the french press. Heat up one to two cups of water, either by boiling it on the stove or by popping it into the microwave for a few minutes. Next, you will pour about half of your hot water into the press with the beans and let it sit for 30 seconds, then stir. Lastly, pour in the rest of the water and let sit for three minutes and 30 seconds. Press down the top and pour! Guaranteed to be the one of the smoothest cups of brew you’ve ever had.

Iced Caramel Macchiato

The iced caramel macchiato is possibly one of the best things Sbux offers and it’s insanely easy to make. This drink can be made with espresso if you happen to own a machine or regular coffee. You will need: coffee, caramel syrup, milk, and Torani vanilla syrup (optional).

If you want it to truly be the same drink you order at the drive-thru, you’ll start by pumping three or four pumps of the vanilla syrup into the cup. This is mainly just for extra sweetness, so if you don’t need the extra sugar you’ll start at the next step: drizzling the caramel anywhere and everywhere inside of the cup. There’s no exact science for this but I prefer a pretty thick coating of caramel. Now, you’ll brew a super strong, and small, cup of coffee (or pour two shots of espresso) into the cup. If you’re using a Keurig, set it to the strong setting and only brew four to six ounces. Now just pour in milk on top until it’s full and throw in some ice cubes!

For my fellow caramel lovers, drizzle some caramel sauce on top in a crosshatch pattern. As an extra kick, sprinkle on some cinnamon.

Cafe Mocha

Chocolate lovers unite! One of my all-time favorite beverages is a mocha. It combines the world’s best ingredients: coffee and chocolate. This one is a bit harder to make at home because it’s a hot drink (which means the OG calls for steamed milk and espresso), but I know how to make it work. (Pro tip—you can substitute the chocolate syrup with white chocolate syrup for a white chocolate mocha.) You will need: Torani chocolate sauce or hot cocoa mix, coffee, milk, whipped cream (optional, but we all know it’s not).

Begin by pumping anywhere from three to five pumps of the Torani chocolate syrup in your cup, depending on how devoted you really are to chocolate. If you’re using hot cocoa packets, dump one or two in your mug. Now, you’ll again brew a super strong cup of coffee directly into your chocolate filled mug, or pour your two espresso shots. I suggest brewing about six ounces of coffee for this one. As soon as your machine finishes brewing, stir the chocolate and the coffee. The Torani syrup really likes to sit at the bottom, so be sure to blend it all together.

To replicate steamed milk, simply pour the milk to the halfway point of a microwave-safe jar. Nuke it for roughly a minute. Pace the lid on your jar and shake it vigorously. Pour into your coffee/chocolate mixture and top with whipped cream. For extra flavor, you can add a little cinnamon or honey (or both) on top.

Tea Lemonade

I promise I didn’t forget you tea lovers out there! This last recipe is one of the best selling drinks at Starbucks and something that caffeine lovers of all kinds can enjoy. You will need: Tea (black, green or passion, it’s up to you), lemonade, and simple or vanilla syrup.

For real, this is, like, the world’s easiest thing to make at home or actually on the job. You will start by pumping three or four pumps of vanilla or simple syrup into a glass. Then begin brewing a strong half-glass of tea (try two tea bags). Next, you will let your tea cool a bit and pour it over ice. Lastly, fill the rest of the glass with lemonade, and add a few more ice cubes.

Get Your Coffee On

Your training is now complete, my young coffee padawan. Stay awake, and may the force of caffeine be with you.  

Photo by: Will Baldwin

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