Today we are talking about a little known coffee company called Starbucks. This has absolutely nothing to do with their coffee products however and everything to do with their confusing language. I find it amazing that a company can use actual words that have actual meanings to represent entirely different things. And nobody is saying anything about. In fact we all just go along with it and join in the confusion epidemic that is becoming commonplace in coffee shops.
I have always been on the receiving/explaining end of these confusing interactions because I have never worked in Starbucks, but instead at J&S Coffee Co. and Peet’s Coffee and Tea. The sizes at both of these coffee shops are small, medium, and large. Pretty standard, not-meant-to-trick-you names that are universally known as describing the smallest choice, the largest choice, and the choice in the middle. Starbucks, however, simply couldn’t just be happy with the fact that they were making gourmet coffee accessible and relatively affordable to the American consumer market. They needed to create their own language to describe not only their drink sizes but also their specialty drinks. I wonder how many Italians are rolling their eyes at this very instant at the American-born coffee company who uses their ancient language to represent things that make absolutely no sense.
Let me explain myself. I truly believe that ignorance is bliss in the world of coffee. I wish I could get my ignorance back on the subject because knowing what things actually mean only causes headaches for me when trying to explain things to a few hundred customers a day. Lately a long southern drawl has been accompanying these customers and if I have to hear “Ya’ll have macchiato here?” one more time I just might get violent. So for those of you who don’t know, here is the Starbucks language decoded.
For drink sizes:
“Short”: was originally the size of their smallest beverage.
“Tall”: was originally the size of their largest beverage.
These two drinks alone would not cause confusion. It appears that Starbucks was just getting creative and letting their two drink sizes be described as one might describe a person’s height. Perfectly acceptable. However, when Starbucks expanded or decided to create even more sizes, they should have just changed the names of their cup sizes to accommodate. Let’s look at the sizes they added later on.
“Grande”: was meant to represent the next size up. “Grande” means large is many languages but in Starbucks-land it represents the size greater than “Tall” but smaller than “Venti.” So “Grande” means large but they customer is actually getting the middle size (the short fell by the wayside for the most part and is not listed on the menu). People are still going to associate “Tall” as the biggest drink choice because tall literally means to be “high in stature” or of “considerable height” but in Starbucks-land it now represents a small size. Are you confused yet? Because I sure am. Moving on to the next size up.
“Venti”: means 20 in Italian. As in it represents the number “20.” The reason why this is so frustrating to me is because it was the fourth size option created and because nothing logical would directly follow “short”, “tall”, and “grande” Starbucks just added another ridiculous element to the list. You might argue that a large hot beverage cup holds 20 ounces of liquid so using the Italian word for 20 makes some sense. I would argue that their large cold beverage cup holds 24 ounces so their logic fails. I could continue with the fact that the number 20 alone does not represent liquid measurement but I think you get my point.
To recap, Starbucks originally had only two drink choices but once they realized they could capitalize on the American public’s need for everything to be gigantic and in excess they created more size options. They completely disregarded the fact that their language made no sense whatsoever anymore and apparently no one suggested that this might confuse thousands of people for years to come. But now it is 2011 and Starbucks has decided that America can take one more ridiculously large size added to their menu; because honestly, you can never have too much of a good thing, right? Enter the “Trenta.”
“Trenta”: means 30 in Italian. At least they decided to use the same language this time around and follow in the footsteps of the “Venti,” but the “Trenta” represents a 31 ounce drink cup. 31 ounces. Seriously. Who in their right mind needs 31 ounces of ANYTHING, unless it is water? Nobody does. 31 ounces of coffee should be called “heart attack in a cup” with the disclaimer “please don’t sue us because you are a greedy bastard.”
The last item of confusion that I would like to clarify is the “Macchiato.” Macchiato means “marked” or “stained” in Italian. In the coffee world it represents either espresso marked with steamed milk/foam (Caffe or Espresso Macchiato) or steamed milk marked with espresso (Latte Macchiato). It never in any land except for Starbucks land represents a vanilla latte with caramel drizzle all over the top. That doesn’t make sense, does it? Not even a little bit. The popular “Caramel Macchiato” as created by Starbucks is one of the most ridiculous drinks I have ever heard of. I didn’t know until a few months ago when I asked some ex-Starbucks workers, what was actually in the drink. When I discovered it was simply a vanilla latte (espresso, vanilla syrup, steamed milk) drizzled with caramel, my jaw dropped a little bit. The beautiful Italian word “Macchiato”, which is used in countless coffee shops to represent a drink that actually makes sense, is the name of a sugary imposter invented by Starbucks. Seriously.
Why do they get to use actual words to represent whatever they want? I just don’t get it. Perhaps one day when I am not behind an espresso machine “caffeinating the masses,” as I like to put it, this won’t bug me as much. But for now it does, so I am telling you about it. So you can be pissed off too.