How To Order Vegan Coffee When Out – The Fail-Proof Guide

How to Order Vegan Coffee – let’s face it, if you are over the age of 18 there is a good chance (in fact there is a 50% chance) that you will drink coffee. And I am not just talking about one cup of coffee – the average coffee drinker will drink three and a half cups of coffee every day. Personally, that is a little too much for me. I limit myself to about two cups per day. One in the morning and then one around 2 pm. Anything after that time and I am over-caffeinated come bedtime. The fact remains that coffee is the most popular drink in the world – in 2020/2021 the entire planet consumed 166.63 million x 60 kg bags of coffee). More than 450 million cups of the stuff are drunk each day in the USA alone. Having now written a whole host of articles on what is vegan and what is not at coffee chains like Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, Peet’s, Philz, The Coffee Bean, Gloria Jean’s, Dutch Bros, Biggby Coffee, Panera, and McDonald’s – I realized that (A) There are general rules of thumb you can follow when ordering from coffee chains to ensure you get a vegan coffee, and (b) there isn’t a complete guide out there on what these “rules” are.

How To Order Vegan Coffee?

As a general rule, to order vegan coffee make sure to substitute dairy milk for plant-based milk, hold the whip, avoid any toppings and avoid most sauces such as caramel, white chocolate, and pumpkin spice. Any specialty drinks or drinks with “fun” or different sounding names such as an “Irish Nut Caramel Whip” should always be doubled checked with the barista.

I decided to put together this guide: How To Order Vegan Coffee – The Complete Guide for Vegans. In it I answer all you need to know about when ordering coffee at your favorite coffee chain or restaurant and answer the following questions:

  • Is Coffee Vegan?
  • What Vegan Milks are available?
  • Is Whipped Cream Vegan?
  • What Coffee Syrups are Vegan?
  • Which Coffee Sauces are Vegan?
  • Is Pumpkin Spice Vegan?
  • Are Frappuccino Style Drinks Vegan?
  • Is Hot Chocolate Vegan?
  • Are Cappuccinos Vegan?
  • What Teas are Vegan?
  • Are Chai Tea Lattes Vegan?
  • Is Sugar Vegan?
  • Are Artificial Sweeteners Vegan?
  • Are Smoothies Vegan?

If you want to know about specific chains such as Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts I have put links to all of my coffee chain pieces at the end of this article. You can also check them out in my by visiting the Coffee Chains & Restaurants section of Vegan Bev HQ by clicking here.

How to Order Vegan Coffee - Coffee

Is Coffee Vegan?

Let’s start with the most important ingredient – coffee. Is coffee vegan? Coffee itself is vegan. The rare exception is one of the most expensive coffees in the world – Civet Coffee (also known as Kopi Luwak). Civet coffee is made from digested and excreted coffee beans that have been fed to a Covet Cat (which looks a bit like a weasel). FYI, Civet Coffee can sell for as much as $100 a cup. If you want a full discussion on coffee, I go into detail in my post Is Coffee Vegan? How To Find Out The Truth. For now, all you need to know is that Coffee Beans are vegan.

Black Coffee

If coffee is drunk black it will always be vegan. This will be the case everywhere – even at places like McDonald’s – where often the only two vegan options are the Americano and a Black Coffee – see Vegan Drinks at McDonald’s – The Complete Guide For Vegans.

A lot of coffees are, in fact, amazing drank black – for example at Philz they encourage you to drink their coffee black as they liken drinking their coffee to wine tasting! You can taste notes like chocolate, caramel, and toffee in coffee – all without dairy. I covered Philz Coffee in my post: Vegan Drinks At Philz – How To Actually Order Vegan. If you don’t have a Philz Coffee near you can order their beans online – here is the link to Amazon which will show you their popular Tesora bean blend.

If all you drink is black coffee such as Espressos, Americanos, Filter, and Cold Brew – these black coffees are almost always vegan as-is. Congrats, you no longer need to continue reading this post.

Even if you are a latte or cappuccino fan or like your coffee sweet and flavored then fear not. Read on – there are still vegan options available for you.

How to Order Vegan Coffee - Almond Milk

What Vegan Milks Are Available?

Almost all coffee shops offer at least one type of vegan milk. Most I have found tend to offer three milk alternatives (although some do offer four). They tend to consist of a combination of:

  • Oat;
  • Coconut;
  • Almond; and/or
  • Soy.

The increasing number of plant-based milk options in coffee shops is so encouraging. The days of just having soy (or worse, no alternative) are thankfully behind us! Personally, my favorite is oat milk – I find it is the creamiest and doesn’t overwhelm the taste of the coffee. Coconut, in comparison, I find too strong and overwhelms the coffee.

Do Coffee Shops Charge Extra For Vegan Milks?

You will in most places be charged extra (normally 50 cents to 75 cents) for the milk if you order a coffee like a latte or cappuccino i.e. a drink where it needs a large amount of heated milk added. However, I have found a lot of coffee shops do not charge you extra if you just want a dash of cold plant-based milk added to your coffee (for example you are ordering a filter coffee and just want a dash of cold oat milk added) so it is always worth asking.

Also note, coffee chains such as Philz and Panera do not charge extra for plant-based milk. If you are interested in knowing the lifetime saving you could make from not paying for vegan milk, check out the end of my Panera Bread article – Vegan Drinks at Panera – How To Know What Is Vegan.

Is Whipped Cream Vegan?

Whipped cream is obviously dairy-based, so if your drink includes whipped cream make sure to hold the whip. Sadly, most coffee shops do not have vegan whipped cream available. That said Costa Coffee just released a vegan whipped cream in all its Polish Stores (insert Costa post) and Peet’s coffee used to have a vegan coconut house-made whipped cream but that was discontinued (Vegan Drinks at Peet’s – How To Know What’s Vegan). Hopefully, as veganism continues to become more mainstream, we will start to see vegan whipped cream becoming more widely available. In the interim, if you fancy some vegan whip on top of your coffee at home this is a great Coconut based Whipped Cream option you can order online (this link will take you to Amazon).

As a general rule, you should know that most other additional coffee toppings (for example cinnamon dolce topping) will not be vegan.

What Coffee Syrups Are Vegan?

Most clear coffee syrups are dairy-free. The exception is a honey syrup which contains…. well honey.  Note if you are based in the US syrup may contain sugar that has been processed with bone char – this is an issue for some vegans. If you are based outside of the US, you do not tend to need to worry about bone char.

Also, the Monin brand of syrups which is the syrup of choice used in a lot of coffee chains has a sugar-free range that is labeled on their bottles as vegan so that is always a safe bet. You can also purchase Monin to use at home as well – see here at Amazon.

How to Order Vegan Coffee - Caramel

Which Coffee Sauces Are Vegan?

Most sauces are not vegan as they contain dairy.

Is Caramel Sauce Vegan?

In my experience caramel sauce is almost always not vegan, so make sure to avoid any drinks with caramel in them. Note, caramel sauce is different from caramel syrup. That means if you love caramel, then you can ask for some caramel syrup (or even sugar-free caramel syrup if they have it) for that caramel hit.

Is Chocolate Sauce Vegan?

A chocolate sauce doesn’t always contain dairy (for example at Starbucks, Dunkin’, and Biggby the mocha sauce does not contain dairy). In my experience, this is the only sauce that is sometimes dairy-free. This is something you will have to double-check with your barista, but a chocolate sauce could be an option depending on the coffee chain.  Note, even if a chocolate sauce is dairy-free it will almost always contain sugar (which potentially could have been processed with bone char) – this could be a deal-breaker depending on your stance on sugar.

Is Vanilla Vegan?

Vanilla powder usually contains dairy so again make sure to substitute vanilla syrup instead of vanilla powder. If made at home this sugar-free vanilla syrup from Monin (as mentioned above) is labeled as vegan on the bottle – find it on Amazon here.

Is Pumpkin Spice Vegan?

Pumpkin Spice sauce usually contains dairy – for example, Starbucks, Coffee Bean, Dutch Bros, and Dunkin’ pumpkin spice lattes all contain dairy. Peet’s pumpkin spice latte does not contain dairy – this is the only coffee chain with a dairy-free pumpkin base that I have come across.

If you want to know why Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte is not vegan and other options available I dedicated a whole post to it – Is Starbucks Pumpkin Spiced Latte Vegan? The Amazing Truth.

Are Frappuccino Style Drinks Vegan?

Blended “Frappuccino” style drinks can sometimes be ordered vegan if ordered with plant-based milk and minus the whipped cream. It tends to be the more complicated/indulgent flavors (such as caramel and cookies and cream for example) that cannot be made vegan.  A simple coffee frappe or mocha frappe can often be vegan with plant-based milk and minus the whipped cream. Obviously, avoid any flavors which have cookie pieces or chocolate chips mixed in (e.g. the Frappuccino chips at Starbucks) as they are almost always not vegan. A matcha frappe with plant-based milk is also a great vegan frappe option in most coffee shops.

How to Order Vegan Coffee - Hot Chocolate

Is Hot Chocolate Vegan?

White hot chocolate is almost always not vegan (nor is any white chocolate coffee drink). Vegan hot chocolate can, however, be ordered at some coffee shops if ordered with plant-based milk and minus the whipped cream. You will need to double-check if the cocoa and/or chocolate sauce used contain dairy – I have come across a number of coffee shops that use a dairy-free powder and sauce to make their hot chocolates. Again, stay away from the more elaborate hot chocolates – stick to a simple one. For example, at Biggby the dark hot chocolate can be ordered vegan with plant-based milk. However, the mellow, mint, and caramel hot chocolates cannot be ordered dairy-free.

Are Cappuccinos Vegan?

Whilst we are on the topic of cocoa powder – if you are a cappuccino drinker make sure to double-check with your barista if the cocoa sprinkled on top of a cappuccino is dairy-free. If the cocoa dusting on top is dairy-free a cappuccino ordered with plant-based milk will be vegan.

What Teas Are Vegan?

Tea is usually vegan (if ordered with plant-based milk or drank plain). The main ingredient to watch out for is honey. In hot teas, this will normally be present in the title (e.g., chamomile and honey). However, it is often present in iced tea too, particularly sweetened iced tea. If you order unsweetened iced tea, you do not need to worry about honey.

Fun fact, most all tea comes from the same plant. Yep, Green, Black, Oolong, White, and Pu-erh all come from the same tea plant. If you want to learn more about tea I covered it in my post – Is Tea Vegan? Time To Know The Complete Facts.

Are Chai Tea Lattes Vegan?

Chai Tea Lattes are not always vegan as they contain honey at some coffee chains. For example, Starbucks and Gloria Jean’s chai tea lattes do contain honey whereas the chai tea lattes at Dunkin’s do not contain honey. Do not confuse Chai Tea Lattes with a Chai Tea (i.e., just a chai tea bag in hot water – those are often vegan and you can purchase them to have a home as well if you are a Chai Tea Fan (visit Amazon here for an example of a Chai Tea brand I like).

How to Order Vegan Coffee - Sugar

Is Sugar Vegan?

Sugar is not always vegan in the United States as it is often processed with bone char to give it a white color. Brown sugar uses refined sugar with molasses added for color so brown sugar can be not vegan too. No bone char is left in the sugar, however, it is used in the process. You can never know if sugar has been processed with bone char or not. Some vegans, therefore, choose to avoid sugar. If this is an issue for you, and you like your coffee sweet make sure to stick to sugar-free syrups or packets of sugar labeled as organic, raw, or beet.

For example, Sugar In The Raw packets, which are available at many coffee stores, are not processed with bone char. If you want to see what Sugar In the Raw looks like you can here on Amazon.

Are Artificial Sweeteners Vegan?

Most artificial sweeteners do not contain any ingredients derived from animals. However, artificial sweeteners are often tested on animals, so some vegans choose to avoid them. A good option is Sweet n Lo (the pink packets you see at coffee shops everywhere). If you don’t know what they look like you can find them here on Amazon. Sweet N Lo does not test on animals and is certified vegan.

Are Smoothies Vegan?

Smoothies ordered in coffee shops are not always vegan. Often, they will have yogurt or protein powder added (protein powder often contains whey from milk) so make sure to double-check. You can sometimes order your smoothie minus the non-vegan ingredient – for example at McDonald’s you can order your fruit smoothies minus the Greek yogurt.

How to Order Vegan Coffee - Hope Mug

How To Order Vegan Coffee – The Final Sip

Coffee, I love it. I couldn’t imagine starting a morning without my cup of coffee – filter with some oat milk added to it in a big white mug that says “Hope” on the side in gold letters. Every morning, like 100 million and more other Americans, I get up and start my day with the stuff and I don’t want that to change. I just want to be to have and order a decent cup of Joe even when I am out of the house. The good news is that if you love that “coffee flavor” as I do then the coffee will almost always be vegan (as long as you get it with some plant-based milk). If you like your coffee a bit more creative and fun then the simple rules are AVOID: (A) any toppings or add-ins such as whipped cream, cinnamon dolce topping, chocolate chips, etc; and (B) most sauces particularly caramel and white chocolate. Those will almost always never be vegan. The good news is that things are getting better for vegan coffee drinkers. Now, let’s just wish for some vegan whipped cream. Please!

How to order vegan coffee

…now you know.

Beverage makers may change ingredients and/or manufacturing processes. Always double-check ingredients before purchasing any beverages.

Like What You Are Reading

Want to know what is and is not vegan at your favorite coffee chains and restaurants? Do you love Starbucks, Coffee Bean, Dunkin’ Donuts, Peet’s, Philz’s, or Dutch Bros? If you do, then check out my other posts below:

Editorial Team

The Vegan Bev HQ Editorial Team - helping you find the best vegan drink out there!

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