I wrote this post on how to order gluten-free coffee drinks at coffee shops for two reasons.
One, because I had someone request it and two, I want you to have safe coffee experiences. Not to mention my blood is practically coffee so it just seemed like a great topic to discuss.
P.s. Don’t forget to sign up for my FREE Gluten-Free Restaurant Cheat Sheets for the USA! In these free restaurant cheat sheets I cover what’s gluten-free at different USA restaurant chains and cuisines in the USA PLUS I give you scripts to help build up comfort with ordering. Grab your copy of these FREE cheat sheets here!
When talking about how to order gluten-free coffee, it’s important we know what gluten is. Gluten is a protein found in barley, rye, contaminated oats, and wheat. It may be helpful to remember the acronym “BROW” when trying to remember what foods have gluten.
In baked goods, gluten holds things together working as a binding agent. It gives texture and chew to foods.
Most people can safely eat gluten. However, some people have gluten sensitivity or celiac disease which means they need to avoid gluten. It can cause digestive issues such as diarrhea and nausea as well as nonintestinal symptoms such as rashes, headaches, or joint pain.
Gluten wise, most coffee is safe for celiac and gluten sensitive people. If you don’t see gluten on the ingredient label, then you don’t need to worry about it. Most commonly if there is gluten in coffee, it’s found in instant coffee, not the actual beans.
That said, it’s important to keep in mind that caffeine is a well-known digestive system irritant. If you get a stomachache or if coffee just doesn’t sit well with you, it could be because it’s upsetting your stomach.
It’s also important to know that caffeine sensitivity is a thing. Some people are just very sensitive to it and need to avoid it. (If you’re caffeine sensitive, you might consider a half calf coffee, or my favorite Teeccino’s dandelion coffee (affiliate link). It’s seriously the best coffee alternative I’ve tried, just be mindful that not all Teeccino products are gluten-free).
With those things in mind, again, coffee is generally safe for people living a gluten-free lifestyle. Meaning yes, coffee is generally celiac-safe.
Some people suggest that coffee is cross-reactive with gluten, if you want to learn more about that please read this post!
When ordering gluten-free coffee drinks at coffee shops you will want to make note of cross-contact points that you’ll need to avoid. These cross-contact points include blenders, milk frothers, and steam wands.
I’ll cover these cross-contact points in detail below, but for more cross-contact points and help with dining out and ordering drinks check out the Gluten-Free Dining Course. In this course, I use my 10 years of lived experience with celiac combined with my 5 years of dietetic experience to teach you how to dine out safely with celiac in just 4 simple steps.
I hate to break it to you but a lot of these drinks are not safe if you don’t ask for cross-contact precautions. Even if the frappe or blended drink doesn’t have gluten, that doesn’t mean that your drink is automatically safe.
Blended drinks or frappes could contain gluten. Additionally, even if the blended drink is gluten-free by ingredient, blenders aren’t always cleaned thoroughly in between making drinks making them a cross-contact risk.
For example, drinks with Java chips in them at Starbucks contain gluten. And many baristas have reported to me that the blenders aren’t always washed and instead are just rinsed between use. This could be major point of cross-contact. As someone who used to make blended drinks in a coffee shop, I can also tell you often we rinsed the blender instead of washing it in between use.
To prevent this cross-contact tell them to thoroughly wash the blender before making your drink to avoid this cross-contact. It might look something like this “Hi, I have a gluten allergy, can I get the vanilla frappe and can you please make sure you fully wash the blender before making it so I don’t have a severe allergic reaction?”
Many coffee shops use the same steaming wand to steam all drinks, often only rinsing them in between use. If there is a flavored drink being steamed that isn’t gluten-free, it leaves your drink at risk for cross-contact.
Additionally, if they are steaming an unsafe oat milk (because oats aren’t always celiac-safe) this could be a point of cross-contact. Though it is important to note the risk of cross-contact with oatmilk actually transferring gluten at unsafe levels for celiac are extremely low.
Because the steaming wand could be a point of cross-contact, you’ll want to ask that they clean it before making your drink. Something like “Can I get a cappuccino and due to a food allergy, can you please make sure you clean down the steaming wand before steaming my milk?”
Of note, there is no research on this point of cross-contact and when we have no data to support safety, we generally approach with an abundance of caution and try to manage the potential risk.
Many coffee shops offer syrups to flavor your gluten-free coffee drinks with. Most of these syrups are gluten-free but they can contain gluten ingredients or gluten derivatives that may not be safe.
The biggest concern here is natural flavors. It’s a pretty low risk but especially for gluten-related flavors like “birthday cake” or “cookies and cream” you’ll want to be especially careful. Ask the coffee shop to see the ingredients of the syrups before using them to make sure they are safe or contact the chain or brand of syrup to make sure the natural flavors are safe.
An example of syrups you might want to keep an eye out for are the Torani Caramel Classic Syrup, Toasted Marshmallow Syrup, Sugar Free Classic Caramel Syrup, and their Sugar Free S’mores Syrup.
Some more tips for ordering gluten-free coffee drinks include:
If you’re attending a fairly popular chain, chances are they have allergen info posted. Try doing a simple google search for the chain and their allergen menu. Many chains have this information accessible via simple google searches or through their FAQ section on their website.
Call ahead and ask to see if the barista or manager knows if anything is gluten-free or can be made safely. This will give you the reassurance that they will be accommodating when you ask for any precautions too.
Try going to places that serve all or mostly gluten-free drinks! (This is more common than you think and you can call ahead or do research to find out).
When in doubt, order black coffee and doctor it yourself. Most black coffee should be safe (with the exception of some instant coffees, I’ve never seen coffee contain gluten), so ordering a black coffee and adding in the cream and sugar yourself is a safe bet.
Many coffee drinks at Starbucks are gluten-free. Though there are a few coffee drinks that aren’t gluten-free like the drinks featuring java chips. If you want a cheat sheet to gluten-free drinks at Starbucks, sign up for my FREE Restaurant Cheat Sheets here!
Just like any other coffee shop, when ordering gluten-free drinks at Starbucks, make sure to ask for cross-contact precautions. Alternatively, order drinks that are made in the cup.
If you’re a Dunkin Donuts fan, I have good news for you! Most coffee drinks at Dunkin Donuts are gluten-free!
Just watch out for drinks made with oat milk, smoke flavoring, cookie dough flavoring, or oreo flavoring. They may have not be suitable for people living gluten-free. Of course always check the suitability of products for yourself as ingredients are likely to change in the restaurant industry.
My favorite celiac-friendly coffee order? An iced coffee with cream and simple syrup.
Your order might look difference, but I generally keep things simple when I order. I also don’t shy away from cream and sugar because they help me feel more satisfied by my coffee experience.
For more tips on how to dine out safely, including how to order gluten-free drinks at bars and dine safely at restaurants that aren’t dedicated gluten-free, check out the Gluten-Free Dining Course.
In this course I cover how to dine out and reduce your chances of getting glutened in just 4-simple steps. Complete with practice problems, simulations, and guides to help you ease into it so you’re as comfortable and safe as possible when dining out. Check it out here.