Thursday, January 28, 2010

Culture Lesson: Starbucks Sizes

Oh dear. On January 7, Larry King's Twitter account revealed that the news anchor doesn't understand the Starbucks sizing method. (King has said he doesn't enter the Tweet himself. This blogger assumes King has a lackey to take care of it.)

I'd like to take an opportunity to clarify the sizes at Starbucks.

A small is...a tall (12 ounces).
A medium is...a grande (16 ounces).
A large is...a venti (20 ounces hot); venti is Italian for twenty.
(Cold drinks are all slightly larger.)

There is also an eight ounce size, called a "short." (This is what you get when you ask for a children's size. Some stores—particularly rest stops or locations added to an existing business—will deny the sizes existence.) You should be able to order anything as a short, which Washington City Paper confirmed in September:
I went to my nearby Starbucks in Adams Morgan and asked the barista for the smallest cup of coffee I could get.

I was expecting one of those thimble-sized sample cups.

He wasn’t quite sure what I wanted, so he started showing me all the various cups available — the Tall, the Grande, the Venti, the Ubermassenhaft. (OK, I joke about the last one, but only because Starbucks deserves it for corrupting the language.) Among the cups he showed me was this petite white cone that holds a reasonable eight-ounce pour.

“That’s what I want,” I told the barista. “I’ve never seen those before.”

“We use them for espresso,” he said, noting that I could also use it for coffee.

“Why don’t you include those sizes on the menu?” I asked.

“They’re too small.”

(My sister has ordered shorts for years, but I thought you might want a better source than "my sister.")

The naming system has outraged consumers for years. This is just the company's way of being cute. (If you order a small, you'll get a tall, if you order a medium, you'll get a grande. So no matter what you say, you'll at least get your drink.)

I once made the mistake of saying "tall" at a coffee shop in my hometown and was berated by the local barista. (So don't do that yourself, dear Old Ones.)


Additional Resources:
Secret Fast-Food Menus: Truth or Myth?, Washington City Paper


Chrisitna Lee said...

Thanks for this lesson. Now that I'm working at my aunt's coffee shop again, I cannot tell you the number of times I've gotten dirty looks from people who order a tall coffee, then berate me for giving them the small cup that Starbucks would have doled out. Would they been as pissed off if they received that size at Starbucks? Doubtful.

So on that note, I agree with Katherine: Get to know the Starbucks lingo, but don't bring it to the smaller businesses. Otherwise, especially if you come across someone as snarky as myself, you probably won't get served.

Anonymous said...

I feel I should point out that the ice cups aren't all slightly larger. Tall cups, iced and hot, are 12 ounces. Grande cups, iced and hot, are 16 ounces. Venti hot cups are 20 ounces. Venti iced cups are 24 ounces. And of course the new Trena cups are uh...31 ounces. I don't really get why it's 31 and not 30, but I'm not Howard Schultz, just a lowly Starbucks barista.