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Jun 8, 2012 05:46 AM

Starbucks "skinny": when did this happen? I'm poisoned!!

When did "skinny" stop meaning "skim milk" and start meaning skim milk AND sugar-free ? I usually get drip coffee, but the grinder was broken, so I got a "skinny mocha". The damn thing was disgusting, and a bit of googling led me to the realization that saying skinny got me sugar free chocolate syrup.

To make matters worse, the starbucks website has a blank where the nutriton info is supposed to be, so I can't tell what kind of artificial sweetener I accidentally consumed. If it's aspartame, I'll be throwing up soon. ARRGGH!!!

Anybody know when this happened, and/or what kind of sweetener they use?

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  1. Can't answer your questions but I will say that as a non-Starbucks barista I find all the code words very confusing. I'm not sure what the point of them is. "Skinny" isn't any quicker to say than "nonfat" and it is evidently more ambiguous. I have another customer who insists on saying "schizo" rather than "half-caf," even though half the time she has to explain what "schizo" means. People ask for a tall -- I don't know whether they mean our taller size cup (16 oz) or a Starbucks tall size (12 oz).

    I suppose this might be my comeuppance for all the times I went into Starbucks and ordered a "medium."

    20 Replies
    1. re: yellowstone

      you are quite right! I pledge to say non-fat from now own, but I swear I had no idea there was any possible ambiguity with "skinny". Thinking back, I believe that at first real coffee bar in our town (which didn't get a Starbucks until YEARS later) they always said skinny back to me when I would say "skim milk" , so I guess that's how I got in the habit.

      1. re: danna

        I've always ordered it nonfat, but most other coffee places just say "skim mocha."

        I would tweet them to ask what nasty chemical they use.

        1. re: rockandroller1

          thank you. Actually, I did tweet reply. but it's been 2 hours and no puke, so i'm gonna bet it's not aspartame.

        2. re: danna

          To be fair, ordering a coffee "skinny" doesn't mean sweetened (artificial or otherwise). However, ordering a drink that is normally prepared sweetened as "skinny" implies non-fat with artificial sweetener. I don't think they did anything to mislead you, you just applied your conventional ordering terminology to a different beverage.

          1. re: danna

            Non fat has more sugar than whole milk. Fat and calories are what's killing america... it's sugar. These 'healthy' options are not actually healthy. Most 'health' foods adds tons of sugar to make of for the terrible taste. You're better off drinking 2% or better yet no milk at all... it is not meant for human consumption.

            1. re: Beaucott

              That is wrong. Skim milk has the same sugars as whole milk (12 grams in a cup). However because of the increased fat, whole has a lot more calories, 149 vs. 86 for skim.

              Now, I'm sure you're thinking about artificial products like cookies, etc. in which case your assertion about added sugar to make up for the loss of fat might be correct. But skim milk is a perfectly natural, healthy product. And when it comes to weight control, the bottom line is calories.

              FYI, the usda has a really handy nutrition database where you can check your facts before you post. I actually keep it saved on my desktop. There have been a few times I was surprised but what I found.

          2. re: yellowstone

            ...I will say that as a non-Starbucks barista I find all the code words very confusing. I'm not sure what the point of them is."Skinny" isn't any quicker to say than "nonfat"
            It's marketing psychology. The word "skinny" has a positive connotation while the word "nonfat" has a negative connotation since it includes the word "fat."

            1. re: ttoommyy

              At Starbucks, 'skinny' is meant as a shortcut instead of 'sugar free syrup and nonfat milk'

              1. re: cellophane_star

                Ok, but it's still a marketing ploy. Skinny is a positive word to many people, especially women of a certain age and demographic. Subconciously the mind associates drinking that particular drink with being thin.

                1. re: ttoommyy

                  Thinking a little about it - saying "skinny" also sounds less neurotic than "a latte with skim milk and sugar free vanilla syrup". So from a marketing standpoint, I get the point of giving a code term.

                  1. re: cresyd

                    "Skinny" is a nice twist on diet/low-cal items, and makes complete sense to use.

                    In my personal opinion, given the widespread use of aspartame, if someone's so sensitive to it that it makes them vomit almost instantly, they should probably ask what sort of alternate sweetener's being used when ordering something obviously reduced-calorie / reduced-sugar.

                    1. re: Boston_Otter

                      I absolutely DO ask about the sweetener if I think there's any possibility of confusion. That's my point. I never realized "skinny" had any connotation other than "skim milk". Of course, I do now.

                      It's funny, a month or so after I posted this, I had to take a different route to work and wound up at an indie coffee place for the Friday ritual. After carefully ordering non-fat, the owner/barista repeated the order back to me, substituting "skinny" for non-fat. When I said something along the lines of "but I don't want any sugar-substitute", he gave me a weird look and said not unless you order it that way.'s a minefield out there ;-)

              2. re: ttoommyy

                Agreed. My super-figure-conscious sister in law buys "Skinny Girl" vodka, which is just watered down. She doesn't want to get accidentally drunk and eat too much or imbibe too many calories from alcohol, but she always mixes it with something horribly sweet. Go figure (so to speak).

              3. re: yellowstone

                Saying "schizo" for a split-something is wholly ignorant but common. Your friend, like many others, misunderstands schizophrenia to mean split personality. Sorry for the non sequitur. My sister has schizophrenia and it is always bothersome to hear others make this mistake.

                Back to the topic, I agree with others below that the use of "skinny" to describe the nonfat option is a marketing tactic to make one think s/he is guilt-free (calorie-wise) in drinking.

                1. re: yellowstone

                  Starshmucjs has created many of their own terms to make people feel better about parting with $3 for a burned cup of coffee that you could get down the street for $1.50
                  I have no idea why people think the terms created by Starbucks are or should be industry wide.

                  1. re: whoeverdroid

                    Starbucks did not create the word "skinny". Ever heard of Skinnygirl brand food/drinks?

                    A cup of coffee at Starbucks costs less than the same size (or smaller) at the mom and pop places 'down the street'.

                    1. re: Boston_Otter

                      Yes I have,
                      And it cost less but they routinely burn their beans too so I still say its not worth it

                      1. re: whoeverdroid

                        I just got a cup of coffee the other day from the indie coffeeshop near me. They sell Stumptown and Intelligencia coffees. It was a French Roast; the beans were 'burnt'.

                        What Starbucks sells is a dark full city roast. It gives their coffees a 'char' edge that a lot of people prefer to the milder coffees from other chains. They also have lighter roasts that don't have that distinctive flavor.

                    2. re: whoeverdroid

                      Reason why Starbucks coffee is more expensive and tends to taste "burned" is due to Starbucks using twice the amount of ground coffee in each of their brews (2 tablespoons of ground coffee per every 6 ounces, whereas most coffee shops use 1 tablespoon per every 6 ounces). That's why most places charge you half what SB charges.
                      As for their "skinny" mochas being a tactic, the info is on their site.
                      WHEN YOU BUY A MOCHA MADE WITH SUGARLESS INGREDIENTS, YOU AVOID THE INSULIN SPIKES THAT WOULD NORMALLY ACCOMPANY SUGAR. Having a low /minimal sugar daily intake in your diet is neccessary if you're diabetic, trying to lose bodyfat, or are into fitness or bodybuilding.

                      1. re: rj58orlando

                        OK . make since. I just don't see logic their own hrn you get more cafine but IMO it still tastes like crap

                  2. A Skinny Latte means low fat or nonfat steamed milk and espresso.

                    Mocha means chocolate. Did you think "skinny mocha" meant that it would be low fat but still have sugar in the flavoring? That seems to defeat the meaning of 'skinny'.

                    The store should have offered you an Americano for the same price as a drip until they got their grinder up and running.

                    You must have only taken one sip to realize the 'disgusting' flavor but were not able to walk back to the store ask and still were able to get to their website, this website and were able to tweet. Can't you get to a phone and call any Starbucks store to ask what is the sweetener?

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Cathy

                      since you're intersted, I did not take a sip until I arrived at work, by car, several miles away.

                      further, I didn't want to harrass the folks at the you might imagine, they didn't seem to be having a great day..what with being a Starbucks with no coffee and all...

                      mocha means coffee and chocolate. yes, I most certainly DID think skinny meant no-fat and nothing whatsoever to do with sugar or lack there of. No, I don't think it defeats the meaning of skinny.

                      Honestly, i'm not usually so hysterical about food ingredients. But I have been on a tearing rant about artifical sugar for years, ever since I hurled at work, called up the lunch place to ask if their lemonade had artificial sugar in it , and got major attitude the advice that I should always ask whether a drink had nutrasweet (this was the 90s) or not, that it was not her responsibility to lable it.

                      1. re: Cathy

                        I count calories because I like BEING skinny. Low-fat coffee drinks that still have sugar in the flavoring definitely don't defeat anything for me. They allow me to get a sweet treat, stay in my preferred calorie range and avoid artificial sweeteners.

                      2. AFIK, their "skinny" beverages have always been skim milk and sugar free syrup.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: jujuthomas

                          based on this press release, it apparently happened in 2008. I'm behind.


                          1. re: danna

                            I remember when they changed this. I stopped ordering coffee with skim milk because it always ended up confused even if I specified that I didn't want the sugar free syrup.

                        2. The original comment has been removed
                          1. The Starbucks "Sugar Free" syrups use Splenda (same with Torani and DaVinci)