Starbucks Hot Tea Tips
Starbucks offers a good variety of Teavana tea, each brewed in a sachet. While there are only so many ways to order up a cup of your favorite tea, here are some Starbucks hot tea secrets worth knowing.
These Starbucks hot tea tips are from me, a regular Starbucks tea drinker, as well as my Starbucks barista daughter. Each “secret” shows you how to get a better brewed cup of tea, discover more variety, and maybe even save a little money.
To see all the blends and types of Starbucks tea available, take a look at this post: A Barista’s Guide to Hot Tea at Starbucks.
And if you came here looking for Starbucks iced tea information, be sure and check out: Best Iced Tea at Starbucks, a Barista’s Guide.
Additionally, see a list of the most popular Starbucks tea drinks that customer order over and over again at Best Starbucks Tea Drinks.
Before we begin, you should also know that hot tea from Starbucks is simply prepared with triple-filtered hot water and Teavana tea sachets. You can add sweetener or a little milk at no additional cost.
Hot drinks are available in four sizes: short (8 ounces – but who gets that?), tall (12 ounces), grande (16 ounces) and venti (20 ounces).
Finally, Starbucks has four hot tea lattes on their official menu. Now, onto the Starbucks hot tea secrets you’ve been waiting for!
Order your Starbucks hot tea in a cup one size bigger
If you order hot tea from the Starbucks drive-thru and let it sit and steep a few minutes before drinking then you’ve probably experienced the same mess I have: a car cup holder full of tea.
At first, it confused me. How can a cup with a lid and stopper leak hot tea? Luckily, I figured it out. The tea wicks up the tea bag’s string and turns into a steady drip-drip-drip down the string and tag outside of the cup.
I tried tucking the paper tag under the cup’s rim but that didn’t solve the dripping problem. Next, I thought, how about putting the entire tea bag, string and tag inside the cup. But let’s be real, who wants an inky tea tag steeping in their tea?
The best solution I came up with is to order a cup size one size larger. By this I mean, order a tall hot tea in a grande cup or a grande tea in a venti cup. The barista will only add as much hot water as you ordered and there will be plenty of empty space inside the cup. Don’t worry, you’ll only pay for the amount of tea you ordered, not the actual size of the cup.
Ordering a cup size up not only solved my tea dripping, drive-thru dilemma, but another benefit is that it leaves room in the cup to add milk after steeping (if that’s your thing). Which brings me to the next secret.
Get a splash of milk on the side
There’s nothing I love more than a cup of black tea with a little sweetener and milk. If you do too, you should see how I make it with brown sugar. But as any tea-with-milk drinker can tell you, it’s preferable to add milk to your hot tea after it’s finished steeping.
Since black tea should steep for at least three minutes, this creates another Starbucks hot tea drive-thru dilemma. It’s not like the barista can wait 3 or 4 minutes for the tea to steep then add milk and hand it to you out the window. The solution, ask for a little milk on the side.
You’ll drive off with two cups: one with your tea happily steeping in hot water only, and another tiny cup with a little milk. This way you can add the milk when you remove the tea bag(s). And this, my tea-drinking friends, was a game-changer for me.
Order steamed milk; it’s free
And while we’re speaking about topping off your tea with milk, did you know your Starbucks barista will gladly steam your milk and it won’t cost extra?
Now, we’re not talking about a latte’s worth of milk, just the usual splash or two. You can even ask for the steamed milk on the side, again, to pour in after steeping is finished.
Whether you enjoy sipping hot tea in the cafe or taking it with you, steamed milk certainly keeps your drink warmer and tastier longer.
Ask the barista to use an exact water temperature to brew your Starbucks hot tea
Starbucks has all types of tea available: black, green, white, and herbal. Tea aficionados know the importance of using the proper water temperature for each tea type. No matter the type of tea, however, Starbucks hot teas use approximately 200°F water.
Not to be too dramatic, but water temperature can really make or break a cup of tea. Brew it too hot and the delicate leaves may burn and the tea becomes bitter. The rule of thumb is that it’s better to brew it slightly too cold than too hot.
On the plus side, Sean Paajanen states in his tea temperature brewing guide that the water temperature suggestions only apply to loose leaf, not bagged tea like Starbucks has.
But if you think water temperature makes a difference even with bagged tea like I do, there’s something you can do. Simply ask the barista to steam the water to your desired temperature. That’s it. Now you no longer have to have a Teavana green tea, for example, dunked in almost-boiling water.
Here are the recommended brewing temperatures for each type of tea.
- Green 175°F
- White 185°F
- Oolong 190°F
- Black 205-212°F (or boiling)
- Herbal (varies by type) but boiling is fine for most
Get the second tea bag on the side
Typically, tea is made with one tea bag per eight ounces of water. So it makes sense that Starbucks grande (16 ounces) and venti (20 ounces) hot teas come with two tea bags each.
However, if you don’t mind your tea a little weaker, here’s a tip. Order your tea with “one in, one out.” The barista will prepare your tea with one tea bag in the hot water and give you the second unopened bag on the side. As a bonus, you can make another cup of Starbucks tea on your own later.
Transform your Starbucks hot tea into a tea latte
Starbucks can make any tea into a tea latte which is half tea, half milk. 2% milk is the default, unless you request otherwise. While not all flavors of tea pair well with milk, feel free to order any tea in latte form.
Keep in mind, a latte costs more than a regular brewed hot tea since the ingredients cost more than just hot water.
However, don’t think you have to design your own tea latte recipe; Starbucks has four hot tea lattes on the menu:
- Chai Latte – Black tea infused with cinnamon, clove and other warming spices combined with steamed milk and topped with foam.
- London Fog Tea Latte – Earl grey tea with a citrusy spark of Italian bergamot blends and hints of lavender, vanilla syrup, and steamed milk, topped with foam
- Royal English Breakfast Latte – A select blend of rich, full-leaf black teas from India and Sri Lanka sweetened with liquid cane sugar and topped with steamed milk and a velvety foam.
- Matcha Green Tea Latte – Smooth and creamy matcha sweetened just right and served with steamed milk.
Customize your brewed hot tea with extras
Customization is the name of the game at Starbucks with all their syrups, milks and sweeteners available. And guess what? You can use those same extras to create a custom tea drink.
The only caveat: with each pump of syrup, or specialty milk comes a little up-charge. But if you can dream it, they can make it.
Here are a few lists of all the options available so you can start imagining your own Starbucks hot tea recipe.
Starbucks milk options
- Dairy: whole, 2%, non-fat, heavy cream, breve (half & half)
- Non-Dairy: almond, soy, coconut, oat (not in all stores)
Starbucks syrup options
- Sugar-based: classic, liquid cane, vanilla, caramel, cinnamon dolce, hazelnut, toffee nut, peppermint, mocha, white mocha, honey blend (not all stores)
- Sugar-free: vanilla, cinnamon dolce, mocha
Starbucks sweetener options
- In all stores: cane sugar, raw sugar, Splenda, Equal, Sweet ‘n Low, Whole Earth (stevia), honey
- In stores that sell oatmeal: agave
Other extras for tea
A couple other add-ins that can be used in tea drinks are lemonade and apple juice. Both can be steamed. And both cost a little extra.
As a matter of fact, steamed lemonade is an ingredient in the ever-popular Starbucks Medicine Ball tea. You may know it by its official menu name: Honey Citrus Mint Tea. Also nicknamed Medicine Bomb and Sick Tea, a lot of people like to make their own homemade version. If you want to give it a try too, check out this post: Homemade Medicine Ball Tea: Starbucks Recipe.
Buy a bottle of syrup from a barista
Here’s a little known Starbucks secret: If you like making your own Starbucks-like drinks at home, you can buy a big bottle of syrup from your barista, the same ones they use behind the counter. The catch, they can only sell it to you if they have an extra bottle or two to spare before their next order comes in.
For example, if you love London Fog tea lattes, ask a Starbucks barista if they can sell you a bottle of vanilla syrup. You can use the syrup in this recipe for a London Fog Earl Grey Latte. Or perhaps you like English Breakfast lattes, then buy a bottle of liquid cane syrup.
Bring your own cup and save a few cents
Did you know you can bring your own cup from home and save about ten cents off each drink? Of course, the real savings is keeping one less paper cup from ending up in the landfill.
If you want to do your part to help save the environment as well as a few cents, here are a few barista tips (requests) on how to do so:
- Tell or show the barista right away that you have your own cup. When ordering through the drive-thru with your own cup, be sure to let the barista know right away that you’ll be using your own cup. They’re quick and this way they won’t start making your drink in their iconic paper cup. Afterall, the purpose is to create less waste.
- Rinse your cup out. Who wants a drink made in a dirty cup? While your barista may be kind enough to rinse your cup out, it’s not something they have to do, nor is it something they really want to do. Be kind and bring a clean cup.
- Starbucks baristas cannot touch your cup’s lid. If your cup has a lid, remove it while waiting in the drive-thru line or before handing it to the barista. For sanitary reasons, baristas are not allowed to handle your personal cup’s lid.
Get a free refill of Starbucks hot tea (or brewed coffee)
This may be a case of saving the best Starbucks hot tea secret for last. At least I think so, because who doesn’t like to get something for free?
Did you know that you can get a free brewed hot tea or brewed coffee refill at Starbucks? Of course, there are a few rules.
To get a free Starbucks brewed hot tea or coffee refill:
- You must order your first drink using the Starbucks app or registered Starbucks card.
- You must drink your first drink at the cafe. (No free refills for drive-thru orders.)
- Your must use the same Starbucks app or card as the original drink purchase to “pay” for the free refill.
- Free brewed hot tea (brewed iced tea, too) or brewed coffee is only available on the same visit. (So you cannot buy a drink in the morning and come back in the afternoon expecting a free refill.)
- Your original drink does not have to be the same drink as the refill. As a matter of fact, think of it more like a free cup of brewed tea or brewed coffee than a refill. For example, if you order a Chai tea latte using your Starbucks app and drink it in the cafe, you can get a free brewed Wellness Tea (Comfort, Defense or Rev Up) and take it with you.
- And if you’re not a Starbucks Rewards member, never fear, you can get a deal on refills, too. All the same criteria apply except the refill costs about fifty-five cents.