A Breakdown Of Starbucks' Iced Coffee Types

To be frank, the list of iced coffee options at Starbucks is almost absurdly long. Give or take some seasonal specialties and regional differences, there are generally over 30 iced coffee options on the menu at your average Starbucks, ranging from the salted caramel cream cold brew to an iced caramel macchiato, or just a good ol' iced americano. Factor in the different sizes and various add-ons (like extra pumps of syrup) and there's a seemingly infinite combination of cold, caffeinated Starbucks drinks you can slurp up.


Fortunately, there's an easier way to wrap your head around the options. If you boil down the options on offer, Starbucks really has four types of iced coffee on its menu. These are iced filter coffee (the "classic" iced coffee, if you will), iced espresso drinks, cold brew, and nitro cold brew. All 30-plus iced menu items then just build on top of these basic options with extra ingredients like milk, flavored syrups, and whipped cream. Here's the rundown on those four basic types of iced coffee.

Iced (filter) coffee: The simplest option

This one is arguably the simplest and most classic cold coffee beverage. Starbucks calls it "iced coffee" on the menu, but it would be more precise to describe it as iced filter coffee. It's more or less the iced version of Starbucks' standard brewed coffee: It's brewed hot, then chilled on ice (it's typically made extra-strong since the ice will dilute the flavor). It's made with a medium-roast coffee, usually a blend called "Terraza" that's otherwise not directly available to consumers.


Compared to the other iced coffee types (like espresso and cold brew), the typical Starbucks menu doesn't really feature variations on the standard iced coffee, with the exception of the (self-explanatory) iced coffee with milk. Of course, you can always customize it by asking the barista to add flavored syrup, or by adding your own milk if there's a self-serve station with it. If you're not a sweet tooth, be warned — baristas are meant to add a shot of plain syrup to classic iced coffee orders by default, meaning that a tall iced coffee has around 15 grams of sugar. To avoid this, be sure to order the coffee unsweetened.

Iced espresso: The biggest part of the menu

Starbucks is known for its espresso drinks, from plain shots to uber-sweet pumpkin spice lattes, so it's unsurprising that its iced espresso creations make up the majority of the company's cold beverages. Espresso shots are the base for all these drinks: For each order, the barista should pull these shots fresh from the cafe's espresso machine into a cup that's stacked with ice, so the coffee chills quickly. From here, it's a choose-your-own-adventure scenario, as baristas can build the various iced espresso drinks off this base.


The simplest options are the iced espresso (which is just the shots over ice, nothing more) and iced americanos, which add some cold water to the cup. Almost as simple is the iced caffè latte, which just adds milk to the iced espresso (there are also "reserve" versions of some of these drinks, which follow the same process but use a higher-quality coffee blend).

The more complex iced espresso drinks then throw in a few more ingredients — for example, the iced caramel macchiato features the iced espresso with milk, vanilla syrup, and caramel, and options like the iced pumpkin spice latte also feature whipped cream alongside syrups and extra flavorings. The various "shaken" iced espresso drinks have similar ingredients but are shaken up by the barista to mix the drinks together a little more.


Cold brew: the newer, colder menu addition

While iced coffee and iced espresso are longer-term staples of the Starbucks menu, the chain introduced a new type of cold coffee around 2015: cold brew. Unlike these other iced coffees, which are made hot and then chilled on ice, cold brew is made entirely in cold water. It's a pretty simple process, with ground coffee and cool water mixed together and left to brew, although it's a bit time-consuming. Starbucks steeps its cold brew for around 20 hours because coffee brews far more slowly in cold water than in hot. The end result is a more mellow and even citrusy coffee, compared to the coarser, more roasted taste of coffee that's made with hot water.


As with the espresso drinks, Starbucks cold brew can be served simply or with a bunch of extra ingredients. Ordering a regular cold brew will get you that cold-brewed coffee poured over ice (a "reserve" option is the same but with a fancier coffee blend). Other cold brew drinks tend to add in sweeteners and dairy products: For example, the chocolate cream cold brew, which features vanilla syrup and a chocolate-flavored cream that permeates the drink. Compared to the wide variety of espresso drinks, Starbucks' cold brew menu is relatively short, with about nine options.

Nitro cold brew: Starbucks' shiniest, newest thing

Not long after adding cold brew to its menus, Starbucks also added nitro cold brew. Although it's arguably just an extension of the standard cold brew menu, nitro cold brew has some distinctive elements. It starts out the same way as cold brew, by steeping coffee in cold water for 20 hours. To turn that into nitro cold brew, Starbucks runs the coffee through a tap that infuses nitrogen into the drink, where it develops a creamy head that looks similar to a tap beer (although there's no cream here — it's just the nitrogen that causes this). The nitrogen gives the drink a super smooth consistency, and it's completely safe to drink, not affecting the flavor so much as the texture. It's served without ice to help maintain that unique quality. 


The nitro cold brew options on the menu are more limited: There's the regular version and a more upscale reserve option (both served black, without syrup or other add-ons). Then there are two flavored choices: Cinnamon caramel cream and vanilla sweet cream, which add in either vanilla or cinnamon caramel syrups and creams for those who want a sugar hit.