Is the Starbucks brown sugar drink vegan?

The Starbucks brown sugar drink has become very popular in recent years. With its sweet brown sugar flavor, it’s easy to see why so many people love this drink. However, there has been some confusion around whether or not the brown sugar drink is actually vegan. As more people adopt plant-based diets or look to reduce their consumption of animal products, the question of whether this favorite Starbucks beverage fits a vegan lifestyle is an important one to answer.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll take a close look at the ingredients in the Starbucks brown sugar drink to determine if it is vegan compliant. We’ll also provide some helpful background on what being vegan means and why people choose to follow a vegan diet. Let’s dive in and settle the debate over whether Starbucks brown sugars drinks are vegan!

What Does It Mean For a Food or Drink To Be Vegan?

For a food or drink to be considered vegan, it must not contain any animal products or byproducts. This means no meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs or honey can be used as ingredients. In addition, the product cannot be processed using any animal products or byproducts. Some examples of common non-vegan ingredients include:

  • Meat, poultry, fish
  • Dairy products like milk, cheese, yogurt, butter
  • Eggs
  • Honey
  • Gelatin
  • Whey or casein protein
  • Carmine food coloring (made from crushed insects)
  • Animal fats or oils

Being vegan is about avoiding the use of animals as much as realistically possible. Vegans do not want to support industries that profit from animal exploitation. So in addition to diet, vegans also avoid leather, wool, silk, down feathers, bone char filtration, and products tested on animals when alternatives are available. It’s an ethical stance seeking to exclude animal cruelty where possible.

When checking if a food or beverage is vegan, it’s important to check all the ingredients and preparation methods, not just the main components. Small ingredients like natural flavors, emulsifiers, thickeners or preservatives can sometimes be animal-derived. Knowing exactly what is in a product is key for vegans.

Examining the Ingredients in Starbucks Brown Sugar Drinks

Now that we understand what makes a food or drink vegan, let’s take a closer look at the primary ingredients and preparation methods for Starbucks brown sugar drinks. Starbucks offers several beverage options with its brown sugar syrup, including:

  • Brown Sugar Shaken Espresso
  • Brown Sugar Cream Cold Brew
  • Brown Sugar Oatmilk Shaken Espresso
  • Brown Sugar Oatmilk Latte
  • Iced Brown Sugar Oatmilk Shaken Espresso
  • Hot/Iced Brown Sugar Oatmilk Latte

The main components in these brown sugar drinks are:

  • Milk or milk alternatives like oatmilk
  • Espresso
  • Ice
  • Brown sugar syrup
  • Cinnamon powder

Let’s explore whether each of these ingredients are vegan:

Milk or Milk Alternatives

The non-dairy oatmilk offered at Starbucks is vegan, as it’s made from just oats and water. No animal products are used.

However, the regular dairy milk offered is not vegan, as it comes from cows. All types of regular milk at Starbucks including whole milk, non-fat milk, soy milk, almond milk and coconut milk are non-vegan.


The espresso used in Starbucks brown sugar drinks is vegan. It’s brewed from coffee beans and water only, with no animal products involved.


The ice used is also vegan – it’s simply frozen water. No animal products or byproducts are used.

Brown Sugar Syrup

This is where things get a little tricky. The main sweetening component in these drinks is a brown sugar syrup, which gives them their signature flavor.

Starbucks has not officially stated all the ingredients in their brown sugar syrup. However, some investigative consumers and baristas have found that the syrup contains milk derivatives. Specifically, the emulsifier carrageenan is commonly derived from dairy milk.

So unfortunately, while the brown sugar itself may be vegan, the syrup as a whole likely contains some non-vegan ingredients.

Cinnamon Powder

The cinnamon spice sprinkled on top of some brown sugar drinks appears to be vegan. Cinnamon is made from the inner bark of cinnamon trees – no animal products are used.

Are Starbucks Brown Sugar Drinks Vegan? The Verdict

Based on an analysis of the ingredients, **Starbucks brown sugar drinks are currently NOT vegan** due to the use of dairy-derived carrageenan in the brown sugar syrup.

While the oatmilk, espresso, ice and cinnamon powder seem to be vegan, the brown sugar syrup cannot be considered vegan. Since the non-vegan syrup is a primary ingredient in every brown sugar drink, it means these popular Starbucks specialty drinks are off the table for vegans and others avoiding dairy.

Starbucks has not labeled any of their brown sugar drinks as vegan, which suggests the drinks do not meet their internal standards for vegan products. Some baristas have also confirmed the inclusion of non-vegan emulsifiers in the syrup.

Hopefully in the future Starbucks will reformulate the brown sugar syrup to be dairy-free. This would open up their brown sugar line to the growing vegan customer base. Until then, vegans will need to enjoy their Starbucks beverages without the brown sugar component.

Finding Vegan Starbucks Drink Options

While the brown sugar drinks are currently not vegan, Starbucks does offer some great vegan-friendly beverages to choose instead, including:

  • Coffee, espresso or cold brew with oatmilk or soy milk
  • Iced or hot teas
  • Starbucks Refreshers
  • Vegan smoothies
  • Hot chocolate or steamers made with oatmilk/soymilk and without whipped cream
  • Iced passion tango tea
  • Vegan coffee cake, oatmeal or snack boxes

Starbucks baristas are also usually happy to recommend vegan customizations to standard menu items. Some ideas are:

  • Vanilla latte with oatmilk or soymilk
  • Pumpkin spice latte with oatmilk/soymilk and without whipped cream
  • Pink drink lemonade with strawberries and oatmilk instead of coconut milk
  • Matcha green tea latte with oatmilk/soymilk and no sweetener
  • Caffè misto with oatmilk/soymilk

While Starbucks has room for improvement to expand their vegan offerings, there are still many delicious drinks you can customize to be plant-based and cruelty-free. Know which ingredients to avoid and don’t be afraid to kindly ask your barista for suggestions.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do some think the brown sugar syrup is non-vegan?

Many deduce that Starbucks’ brown sugar syrup contains non-vegan emulsifiers because the company does not label any drinks made with the syrup as vegan. Starbucks typically specifies when drinks are “vegan” on the menu if they meet vegan standards. Since they have not done so for any brown sugar drinks, it implies those items likely fail the vegan test, most likely due to non-vegan ingredients in the proprietary syrup.

Could the recipe differ across locations?

It’s highly unlikely. Starbucks uses standardized ingredient sourcing and production methods for their syrups so the recipes remain consistent across all stores. Any ingredients in the brown sugar syrup would be the same nationwide. Regional differences in recipes are very rare for major chains like Starbucks.

Are there vegan brown sugar syrup options?

Yes, there are a few vegan-friendly brown sugar syrups on the market as possible alternatives:

  • Monin Gourmet Brown Sugar Syrup – uses vegan emulsifier sunflower lecithin
  • Torani Brown Sugar Cinnamon Sauce – dairy-free and vegan
  • Oat Boy Brown Sugar Syrup – oatmilk-based and vegan
  • Nutpods Brown Sugar Syrup – made from coconut cream and vegan

These could be added to black coffee or espresso beverages at home to mimic the Starbucks brown sugar drink. Always check labels to confirm vegan status when buying syrups.

Why do vegans avoid animal-derived ingredients like carrageenan?

Vegans aim to avoid animal cruelty and exploitation as much as realistically possible. Though carrageenan isextracted from seaweed, the common food-grade type used as an emulsifier is processed with milk protein. So the dairy industry still profits from its use. Obtaining carrageenan also pollutes waterways that sea life depend on. So there are environmental and ethical issues around carrageenan that go against vegan principles.

Could Starbucks ever offer a vegan brown sugar syrup?

Absolutely! Many coffee chains have started offering vegan-friendly seasonal syrup flavors, so there is no reason Starbucks could not do the same with a dairy-free brown sugar option. With some tweaks to their recipe to use plant-based emulsifiers, Starbucks could easily make their brown sugar drinks accessible to the growing vegan market. Adding a vegan brown sugar alternative would be a smart innovation.

The Bottom Line

While exceedingly popular with customers, unfortunately at this time Starbucks’ line of brown sugar espresso and coffee beverages cannot be considered vegan. The use of dairy-derived emulsifiers in the brown sugar syrup ingredients makes the entire drink off-limits for those avoiding animal products.

Vegans who want to enjoy the cinnamon brown sugar taste profile still have some great options available by using vegan-friendly brown sugar syrups in their own homemade coffee drinks. And Starbucks has many other delicious vegan beverage choices available on the menu too.

We can hope Starbucks decides to launch a vegan brown sugar syrup in the future to make these sought-after seasonal drinks accessible to all customers, regardless of dietary preferences. But for now, vegans will need to stick with other coffee shop selections to fulfill their pumpkin spice cravings.

Leave a Comment