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Hey, How Many Carbs in this Latte?

Carbs, Calories, and Cappuccino

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Updated July 11, 2014

CafT latte on newspaper
Harrison Eastwood/Digital Vision/Getty Images
When did it happen that a plain ole cuppa Joe (zero carbs, zero calories) morphed into a white chocolate mocha with whipped cream -- with 58 grams of carb and 510 calories for a “medium” 16 oz? Yikes! Coffee shops have become places filled with land mines waiting to explode in the bodies of diet-conscious customers. Splurges that used to be reserved for very special desserts have become everyday morning experiences for anyone within sight of one of these coffee stores, from the multi-national chains to the small local cafes.

What Are All These Coffee Drinks?

Yes, you can still get a plain cup of coffee at any coffee store. Or you can get fancy roasts, flavored coffees, and custom blends from all over the world. From a nutritional point of view, whether you’re talking about mocha java or Maxwell House, this is still just coffee, with negligible calories and carbohydrate. The fancy drinks that are making so much money for the coffee chains such as Starbucks are not just made from coffee, they are made from espresso.

What is Espresso?

Espresso is an Italian way of forcing hot water through slow-roasted, finely ground coffee beans. The result is a thick, intense drink which is popular in Italy. In the U.S. it is more often the base for other coffee drinks (often NOT made in traditional Italian ways) such as:
  • Cappuccino: Espresso with some milk and a lot of milk foam, sometimes with cinnamon or cocoa powder sprinkled on top
  • Latte: Espresso with a lot of milk in it
  • Mocha: Latte with chocolate and (often) whipped cream on top
  • Americano: Espresso shot with enough hot water to fill the cup
  • Macchiato: Espresso shot with a small amount of frothed milk

How Many Carbs and Calories Are in Coffee Drinks?

A shot of espresso (at least in the U.S.) is an ounce (2 tablespoons) of liquid. Imagine 2 tablespoons in the bottom of your cup -- it isn’t much! So the rest of the cup is filled up with something else. The rub, as far as carbs and calories go, is what that something else is. If it’s milk, that's 11.4 grams of carbohydrate per cup (and 146 calories) for whole milk, 11.9 grams of carb (and 86 calories) for fat-free. Half and half is 10.4 grams per cup – again, not a lot of difference in carbs, but double the calories and three times the saturated fat of whole milk. And cream? A cup of heavy cream has 6.6 grams of carbohydrate, and (get ready for it) 821 calories and 55 grams of saturated fat.

As you have probably figured out, the nutritional information for coffee drinks that are mainly espresso and milk don’t vary that much from shop to shop, but once you start adding things like sugar, whipped cream, and chocolate, there is more variation.
  • Cappuccino –
    • 12 oz – 10 grams carb, 80-120 calories depending on milk (more for half and half)
    • 16 oz – 15 grams carb, 100-180 calories
    • 20 oz – 17 grams carb, 130-210 calories
  • Latte –
    • 12 oz – 16 grams carb, 120-200 calories
    • 16 oz – 21 grams carb, 160-260 calories
    • 20 oz – 27 grams carb, 210-340 calories
  • Mocha –
    • 12 oz – 28-37 grams carb, 170-358 calories (Dunkin Donuts’ 10 oz mocha has 37 grams of carbs for a mere 10 oz drink)
    • 16 oz - 33-42 grams carb, 210-433 calories
    • 20 oz – 43-56 grams carb, 260-490 calories

Other flavorings can add varying amounts of carbohydrates and calories. Fancy drinks like caramel whip extravaganzas can add many more carbs and calories. Even flavored syrups take their toll. One “pump” of flavoring from syrups with sugar has about 5 grams of carb and 20 calories. Usually 3 of these “pumps” are put into a 12 oz coffee drink, 4 into a 16 oz drink, and 5 into a 20 oz drink. So adding flavored syrup can add 25 grams of carbohydrate and 100 calories to a large drink. On the other hand, sugar-free syrups don’t add any carbs or calories.

Low-Sugar Suggestions

How can you enjoy your coffee and not overdo? Obviously, the best thing is to just drink regular coffee, putting a small amount of milk or sweetener in it. A plain espresso, caffee Americano or Macchiato (see above) are other options. If you want something fancier, cappuccinos have the least added carbs, and you can even add a sugar-free syrup for more flavor. If you are making lattes at home, or are willing to tote extra ingredients when you go out, try unsweetened soy milk. It has just 2-3 grams of carb per cup. (The soy milk in coffee shops is almost always sweetened.) You can order a plain espresso, which often comes in a 10 oz cup, and add your own soy milk and sweetener.

Perhaps the most important thing you can do is to get to know how they make the drinks at your favorite coffee haunt. Make friends with the barrista, and find out how they do things and how you can minimize your “sugar exposure” while enjoying coffee drinks.

Nutritional Information on the Starbucks Web Site
  1. About.com
  2. Health
  3. Low Carb Diets
  4. What You Can Eat
  5. Carb and Calorie Counts in Coffee Drinks

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