Ron Wurzer  /  AP
Gary Lass takes a sip from his grande mocha Frappuccino with whipped cream that he bought from a Starbucks in Seattle June 25.
updated 6/30/2004 12:16:15 PM ET 2004-06-30T16:16:15

Gary Lass didn’t think twice before ordering his usual Starbucks grande mocha Frappuccino one sunny afternoon.

“I drink too many of these, and they’re not good for me,” the 63-year-old admitted a bit sheepishly as he sipped the 420-calorie chocolate, coffee and whipped cream concoction. “I always wish I hadn’t afterward, but my craving overcomes common sense.”

It may seem counterintuitive to say that coffee is fattening — and, indeed, a regular cup of joe at Starbucks has just 10 calories. But add a little milk, a splash of chocolate or a squirt of whipped cream and things can get considerably more caloric.

A 16-ounce nonfat latte weighs in at a meager 160 calories, but the same size mocha — with whole milk and whipped cream — jumps up to 400 calories.

Tempting summery drinks
The sweet, summery frozen drinks can be even more tempting — and sinful. The largest Java Chip Frappuccino tips the scales at 650 calories — 50 calories more than a Big Mac — and contains 25 grams of fat, compared with 33 grams for the Big Mac.

Surprised that your afternoon coffee break can be so caloric? Diane Javelli, a clinical dietitian with the University of Washington in Seattle, said many people do not count the calories they slurp, whether it’s coffee, juice or soda.

“I think often we have the perception if we’re drinking it, it doesn’t have to have calories,” she said.

When compiling a diet history, Javelli often walks through her patient’s coffee drink choice, breaking down everything from flavoring to milk fat.

She doesn’t necessarily recommend cutting out lattes altogether — after all, there is protein, calcium and vitamin D in that milk — but she does often counsel patients to try a smaller size or limit themselves to just a few drinks a week.

Parents take heed
For kids, however, Javelli is more cautious. The fat and calories in drinks like Frappuccinos might be enough to give a parent pause, she said, and the caffeine is just an added stimulant that youngsters probably don’t need.

Hoping to appeal to more calorie-conscious coffee drinkers, Starbucks on Wednesday will launch “light” versions of its Frappuccino drinks, made with lower-fat milk and artificial sweeteners. A 12-ounce serving of the new light drink will have 110 calories and 1 gram of fat, compared with 190 calories and 2.5 grams of fat for the regular version.

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The Seattle-based chain of coffee shops also plans to stock stores with brochures detailing nutritional information about all their drinks. The same data has been available on Starbucks’ Web site for about a year.

Despite the increased attention to obesity in America, Starbucks Senior Vice President Michelle Gass said the company has not seen a backlash from customers suddenly worried about how fattening their coffee is. The new light drinks and brochures, she said, “are just part of, in general, us trying to answer consumer needs.”

Carl Sibilski, an analyst with Morningstar in Chicago, said he has not seen any evidence that sales of the higher-calorie Frappuccinos are down. The move to offer light drinks follows an industry trend toward more healthy foods, which could expand Starbucks’ customer base, he said.

Even nonfat drinks add up
Still, he doubts the light Frappuccinos will be a blockbuster item. “I don’t think that people are thinking about calories or the health of the products they buy when they go into a Starbucks,” he said.

Instead, he said, people seem to see their Starbucks drinks as an affordable indulgence they deserve.

Gass said Starbucks spent two years perfecting a light Frappuccino that still tastes good. But she does not expect it to lure away those who are loyal to the originals — people like Lass.

“When does nonfat taste good?” he asked skeptically.

Even nonfat drinks add up.

Diana Kawamoto, 31, of Aptos, Calif., usually orders her 20-ounce venti Chai lattes two at a time, a treat that can add up to 600 calories even though she always asks for nonfat milk.

Javelli notes that reducing your caloric intake by 250 calories a day can lead to a weight loss of half a pound per week.

“Some of those coffee drinks might be the difference between losing half a pound a week or not, even though they’re the light ones,” she said.

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