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Action on Sugar

Hot flavoured drinks

17th February 2016

Up to 25 teaspoons of sugar per serving: equivalent to ≈ 3 cans of Coca Cola

  • 98% of hot flavoured drinks would receive a ‘red’ (high) label for excessive levels of sugars per serving – with 35% containing the same amount or more sugar than a can of Coca Cola
  • Starbuck’s Hot Mulled Fruit - Grape with Chai, Orange and Cinnamon Venti is the worst offender, containing a whopping 25 teaspoons of sugar - more than THREE times the maximum ADULT daily intake of free sugars (7tsp/d)
  • With the imminent release of the government’s Childhood Obesity Strategy – Action on Sugar is calling for stricter product reformulation of sugar and fat with mandated targets, a ban on promotions and marketing of unhealthy products and a 20% tax on sugar-sweetened drinks

For the data: Hot Drinks Survey 2016 [PDF 235KB]

For media coverage: 

With an estimated 1.7 billion cups of coffee sold each year in the UK from over 18,000 outlets and one in five of the population (including teenagers) visiting a coffee shop daily[1], campaign group Action on Sugar is today warning of the dangerously high sugar content of certain hot beverages found in many high street coffee shop chains.

This new research by Action on Sugar shows that 98% of the 131 hot flavoured drinks analysed would receive a ‘red’ (high) label for excessive levels of sugars[2] per serving as sold.[3]

What’s more, 35% of the hot flavoured drinks contain the same amount or more sugars than Coca Cola, which contains a massive 9 teaspoons of sugar per can[4] – equivalent to 7 chocolate biscuits.[5]

The worst offender is the Starbuck’s Hot Mulled Fruit - Grape with Chai, Orange and Cinnamon Venti (extra-large) – a mix of chai and fruit concentrate, topped with a cinnamon stick and a slice of orange – which contains 25 teaspoons of sugar (that’s the equivalent of sugar in 5 muffins)[6], followed by Costa Coffee’s Chai Latte (large) with a massive 20 teaspoons of sugar. Interestingly, a Starbuck’s Hot Mulled Fruit - Grape with Chai, Orange and Cinnamon Tall (medium) has almost half the amount of sugar  than the larger sized cup (13 vs 25 tsp).

Worst offenders for each type of flavoured hot drink per serving:  




Sugars per serving (g)

Teaspoons of sugar per serving**


Hot Mulled Fruit - Grape with Chai, Orange and Cinnamon - Venti

Hot Mulled Fruit




Chai Latte - Massimo - Eat In

Chai Latte




White Chocolate Mocha with Whipped Cream - Venti

White Mocha




Signature Hot Chocolate - Venti

Hot Chocolate








Caffe Nero

Caramelatte – Drink In

Caramel Latte



* Contains some sugars (lactose) naturally occurring in the milk.

** 4 grams of sugar is equal to 1 teaspoon of sugar.


Worryingly, from the entire out-of-home hot drinks surveyed, 55% contain the equivalent, or more than, the maximum daily recommended amount of sugars for an adult and teenager (30g – 7tsp/d).

When it comes to hot drinks that are perceived to be ‘healthy’, a Starbuck’s Chai Tea Latte Venti (extra-large) contains 13 teaspoons of sugar per serving alongside Eat’s Chai Latte Big and Matcha Latte Big at 11 teaspoons. 

Starbucks sells two sizes larger than a typical medium serving size of 340ml, at 454ml & 568ml – adding to the excessive sugar intake in many of its hot flavoured drinks. These serving sizes are much larger than those offered by its competitors. It is time coffee chains stopped serving extra-large cups of sugar-laden hot drinks.

Despite the negative attention that the likes of Starbucks, Costa and Caffe Nero attracted last year after reports that some of their Christmas drinks were full of fat and sugar, it’s clear that little has been done to rectify the situation and reduce sugar ladened drinks from their menus.[7]

Professor Graham MacGregor, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Queen Mary University of London, Chair of Action on Sugar says, “This is yet again another example of scandalous amount of sugar added to our food and drink. No wonder we have the highest rates of obesity in Europe. “Cameron now has all the evidence to make the UK the first country in the world to stop the obesity and type 2 diabetes epidemic.  To do this Cameron has to be radical and follow every single action that we have set out in our comprehensive plan (see below). Otherwise it will be the final nail in an already bankrupt NHS.”

Kawther Hashem, Registered Nutritionist and Researcher for Action on Sugar says,
 “Coffee shop chains must immediately reduce the amount of sugar in these hot drinks, improve their labelling and stop selling the extra-large serving sizes.
“These hot flavoured drinks should be an occasional treat, not an ‘everyday’ drink. They are laden with an unbelievable amount sugar and calories and are often accompanied by a high sugar and fat snack. It is not surprising that we have the highest rate of obesity in Europe. Our advice to consumers is to have a plain hot drink or ask for your drink to contain a minimal amount of syrup, preferably sugar free, in the smallest serving size available.”

Nicola Close, Chief Executive of the Association of Directors of Public Health says, “These results highlight the need for more transparency on sugar content and compulsory labelling of sugar content. Drinkers deserve to know how much sugar they are consuming.”

Starbucks spokesperson says, “Earlier this year we committed to reduce added sugar in our indulgent drinks by 25% by the end of 2020.  We also offer a wide variety of lighter options, sugar-free syrups and sugar-free natural sweetener and we display all nutritional information in-store and online."

Pret’s Orange Spiced Hot Chocolate and Orange Spiced Latte were delisted at the beginning of January as they were seasonal specials.


“Cameron’s comprehensive plan"

Cameron has promised a robust and evidence-based plan for the UK to prevent childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes.

To do this:

  • He must set up an independent agency for nutrition not controlled by the food industry (i.e. the opposite of the failed ‘Responsibility Deal’).
  • This agency would be responsible for reformulating with a 50% reduction in sugar and a 20% reduction in fat in all unhealthy drinks and foods within 5 years.
  • The agency would be responsible for banning of all forms of advertising/marketing/promotion of unhealthy foods and drinks to children and adolescents.
  • The agency with the Treasury would be responsible for a hypothecated 20% duty on all sugar-sweetened drinks.
  • The agency would also be responsible for uniform colour-coded labelling on all foods and drinks, both bought in supermarkets and out-of-home.

For more information contact: 

National PR – David Clarke @ Rock PR
E: M: 07773 225516

Tweet #LessSugar

Notes to Editors:

[1] Everyone wants a taste of booming UK coffee market. Financial Times 2015

[2] Free sugars – includes sugars that are added to food and drink, as well as sugars that are naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit concentrates, not sugars in milk products and whole fruit & vegetables.  Some of the sugars will be from the milk in the majority of these products but there is no way of differentiating between the amount of free sugars verses the amount of lactose naturally occurring in the milk.

[3] Survey details – full survey sorted by highest sugars per serving attached with this release.

  • For this survey  ‘flavoured hot drinks’ refers to drinks that are usually served hot and include the variations on coffee, hot chocolate, matcha latte and chai latte.
  • Total number of 131 hot drinks surveyed from UK coffee chains and fast food outlets – Caffe Nero, Starbucks, Costa, KFC, Greggs, McDonalds, EAT, Leon and Pret a Manger.
  • Serving size ranged from 97 – 667ml.
  • Where possible, data was collected in store or online via the coffee chain’s website.
  • The survey was carried out during January and February 2016 and products checked week commencing 8th February 2016.
  • Many out-of-home outlets do not provide nutritional information for their customers online (Paul, Patisserie Valerie, AMT, Ben’s Cookies, Millie’s, Caffè Ritazza, Camden Food Co, Delice de France, Burger King).
  • All nutrition information is either for full fat milk or semi-skimmed. Where full fat and skimmed are provided, full fat was selected. All hot chocolates included were with whipped cream.
  • Colour coding based on new front of pack colour-coded nutrition labelling criteria (Sugars - Red >13.5g/portion or >11.25g/100ml, Amber >2.5≤11.25/100ml, Green ≤2.25g/100ml)

[4] A 330ml can of Coca Cola contains 35g/330ml and 10.6g/100ml of sugar.

[5] Mcvities Milk Chocolate Digestives contains 4.9g sugar per biscuit

[6] Tesco Chocolate Chip Muffins contains 20.7g sugars per muffin

[7]Christmas coffees that will give you a waistline like Santa's

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