I have to be honest: I usually never go to Starbucks in my home country. There are way better and cheaper options around but in Japan it definitely is one of the places that serves soy milk all around the country and if you’re not into black coffee than that usually is a big benefit. Moreover, an English-Japanese bilingual menu is available Japan wide and it’s easy to order and navigate yourself through the menu (but don’t we all stick to our favourite drink all the time anyway?).
If you have been to Starbucks in other countries you already know that the key is to replace regular milk with a plant-based alternative. In Japan the magic word for soy milk is tōnyū 豆乳 or just soy ソイ. FYI: You’ll be charged 50 yen extra for ordering soy milk.
Finding soy milk in coffee shops is usually already difficult enough and it is the only plant-based milk alternative available at Starbucks in Japan at the moment. If you’re avoiding soy for one reason or another, you might get more lucky in establishments targeted towards vegans (check out HappyCow to find your nearest vegan-friendly coffee shop). Nevertheless, for travelers who don’t speak much Japanese, Starbucks is often a safe place to order familiar drinks and have some relaxed coffee time.
Basic Japanese phrases to order at Starbucks
To get your started to order vegan at Starbucks in Japan here are some key phrases:
X o tōnyū de onegai shimasu Xを豆乳でお願いします- X with soy milk, please.
Hoippu kurīmu nashi de onegai shimasu ホイップクリームなしでお願いします- No Whipped Cream, please.
Maggu de onegai shimasu マッグでお願いします -In a mug, please.
↑ If possible I highly recommend ordering your drink in a mug to reduce plastic waist. Drinks can be ordered in a mug up to tall size. Waiters are usually very accommodating and will happily fulfill your wish while reducing waste. Did you also know you get 20 Yen off when you bring your own mug or tumbler?
What to order
There are a variety of vegan options on the drink menu. Customising a drink to make it vegan is indicated as followed:
※ Drink must be ordered with Soy Milk
▼Drink must be ordered without Whipped Cream
- Drip Coffee (Hot / Cold)
- Drip Coffe Decaf (Hot / Cold)
- Cold Brew (Cold)
- Nitro Cold Brew (Cold)
- Cold Brew Flight (Cold)
- Caffè Misto (Hot) ※
- Espresso Macchiato ※
- Starbucks Latte (Hot / Cold) ※
- Decaf Starbucks Latte (Hot / Cold) ※
- Soy Latte
- Caffè Mocha (Hot / Cold) ※ ▼
- Cappuccino ※
- Caffè Americano
- Coffee Frappuccino ※ ▼
- Mocha Frappuccino ※ ▼
- Mango Passion Tea Frappucino
- Cocoa (Hot / Cold) ※
- Smoothie with Soy Milk ※
- Iced Soy Milk
- Matcha Tea Latte (Hot) ※
- English Breakfast Tea Latte (Hot) ※
- Earl Grey Tea Latte (Hot) ※
- Hojicha Latte (Hot) ※
- Camomille Latte (Hot) ※
- Mint Citrus Tea Latte (Hot) ※
- Teavana Tea
Safety system to assure your order with soy milk
Starbucks in Japan has actually implemented an additional safety measure to prevent mix ups with your order. When you order a drink with soy milk you’ll receive a “soy card” that is collected upon receiving your drink to make sure there is no mix-up with your order. If you order a drink to go there will also be a soy milk sticker on your cup to confirm the customisation of your drink. This seems unique to Japan though.
A quick note on sugar in Japan: Japan still hasn’t banned the use of bone char in the refining process of white sugar. It is used to filter and bleach the sugar but not part of the final product (read more on the refining process of sugar). This is a very delicate topic and unfortunately information on what kind of sugar is used in products and how it was processed is not readily available. Please keep this in mind when potentially purchasing products containing sugar.
Other benefits of Starbucks in Japan
Starbucks also does a pretty good job in updating their allergen list online (link is in Japanese) which makes it easy to find vegan options if you know a little Japanese.
Another positive point is that Starbucks usually has pretty decent WiFi and lets you stay for a while if you need to work on your computer or want to study.
One thing I wish Starbucks Japan would implement more is vegan snacks and food. Hardly any of the food items are vegan and even the veggie burritos that on the first look seem vegan aren’t.
By the way, my go-to drink is Matcha Latte with soy milk. How about you?