Young and Hungry

Grande Green Eye What? Starbucks’ ‘Secret Menu’ Is Really Secret

Tip: This is not a 'Zebra Mocha', nor is it a 'Penguin Mocha'

The Daily Meal on Monday released its "ultimate guide to Starbucks’ secret menu," threatening to expose all the java giant's exotic coffee combinations that only its coolest customers seem to know about.

Armed with this arsenal of unique-sounding orders, Young & Hungry stopped by a few Starbucks on Tuesday to test D.C. baristas on their classified coffee knowledge. It turns out, the secret menu is so secret that many of Starbucks' own employees don't know about it. Based on my experience, the guide could be more accurately titled, "How to bewilder the barista and alienate the rest of the line just trying to get coffee." But that's a little long.

Pity the poor cashier along P Street NW who had no idea that "Cake Batter Frappuccino" was simply a vanilla Frappucino with vanilla and almond syrup. The "Zebra Mocha" was an equally unsettling order that prompted him to call over a coffee comrade in arms. "I've worked here five years and I've never heard of that!" he remarked.

Undaunted by the prospect of slowing another line, Y&H headed over to a  Dupont Circle location to try again, this time in alphabetical order. The queries for a "Cake Batter Frappaccino," "Chocolate Dalmation," "Captain Crunch Frappaccino," earned me the accusation that I was "making this up!"

So I abandoned the hope that I was about to be inducted into an exclusive club wherein my barista and I would exchange knowing smiles over my drink order and skipped ahead to the Z's: "Zebra mocha?"

"Oh, I know that one. Black and white mocha!"

And 20 minutes later, my heavily sweetened drink arrived. It sort of resembled a hot chocolate with some coffee as an afterthought. No secrets there.

Photo by Megan Arellano

  • Scott Ninethes

    Move along, thank you. Stop slowing down the line.

  • Brent

    That's because there is no 'secret menu', there's just names people come up with for other ways of using the ingredients on hand. I worked at a Starbucks back in college. With some frequency, you'd get people asking for the following: a zebra, a black and white, a Michael Jackson, a nun. It’s all the same drink, mocha with some number of pumps of white mocha, and some pumps of regular mocha. The problem is that since none of these were real drinks, the barista would make it however they felt like it. Sometimes it would be 3 pumps of white, 3 pumps of mocha, sometime it was 1 pump of white, 1 pump of mocha, so depending on who was working what day, or what store you went to, you'd get a completely different drink, sometimes good, sometimes undrinkable.

  • Tom M.

    Once you've gone mocha, you NEVER go backa.

  • Brent

    2 exceptions: The short drink they mention is real. Its the smallest size cup that they have in stock, usually used for a kids sized drink, or shots of espresso. Saves you a couple cents off a tall drink of 1/3 less drink.

    The French Press thing is also real. The folks working will grumble because it takes a lot longer to make, and therest of the line will hate you.

  • Sarah

    They can make all of this secret crap and can't brew decaf after 2PM, or whatever time the cut-off is? But now I can get french press decaf-thanks for the heads-ups.

  • Brandon

    @Sarah. You could get a french press at anytime of the day excluding right before closing. For decaf, we would just do a pour over. There's a method that we use to scoop the exact amount of coffee into a special filter depending on the size of the cup. The we just add the hot water. It takes like 1 minute. 😀

  • L

    Normally if someone asks for a drink with a weird name like that, I, or any of my other coworkers, would simply ask the customer how the drink is usually made and then attempt to make it that way. I personally think if you order a "Cake Batter Frappuccino" you're trying to be a pest on purpose, not share a secret. We get people who dislike our company and our product but somehow feel the need to come in and remind the hard working folk behind the counter of that sentiment. It's one thing to be creative with your drink, it's another to be frustrating on purpose.


    First off, your list is super old. We haven't had almond in 4 years. This may be why someone doesn't know what you're talking about. There is honestly no secret menu. There are things that baristas and customers have made up, but there is no official name for it. The customer is better off ordering what they want and not using a weird name for it. Baristas will have no clue what you are talking about.

  • Rach

    I worked for Starbucks for three years and first is right. We haven't had Almond in a very very long time and second I didn't mind hearing the names actually we thought they were fun we made them up ourselves sometimes. But the key is to ask what was in it, take Captain Crunch for example i have never met 2 Barista's that make it the same way. Some have toffee nut and Hazel Nut in them and others don't, some have chocolate chips in them and others don't its all how you like it. So in the long run customers just be prepared to tell us what was in it. And Barista's be careful what you put out there I believe we make our own needy customers by making them what we make ourselves, Crack con Pana, Red eye, Undertow, Captain Crunch, apple iced tea. I have met far to many customers that tell me this Barista told me to do it like this... Customers its great to order something creative but know it probably wont be made the some way twice. if you want something very specific stick to the menu.

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  • Rhys

    I find this article very interesting as I have recently been reading "The Undercover Economist" by Tim Harford (2007).

    In the text, he uses Starbucks as a case study for his explanation of price-targeting, a commonly used process by many, if not all, private companies. He explains that Starbucks' way of targeting both the customers who are price insensitive and the customers who are price sensitive, is to not even advertise some of the drinks they sell. That way they make sure most people will buy the more expensive option rather than the cheaper one. When I read this I thought it was very clever.

    However on further inspection, mainly by talking to a Starbucks employee, it seems the drink he used as an example, the Venti, is advertised in store. Although I cannot seem to find it online.

    But this reveals something new altogether - slang terms being awarded to coffees.

    In my opinion, I think it's a rather nice idea, if they became popular and well known; because it's more fun to ask for a "Zebra" than a black and white mocha.

    I also sincerely recommend the book I mentioned, it gave me a greater insight into the world of pricing and marketing!

    (My recently opened blog:

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