Jun 18, 2009

Starbucks Coffee Demystified...

As anyone who has been to Starbucks (so named after the first mate of the Pequod in Moby Dick but I digress) knows, the menu features three drink sizes: (in order from small to large) Tall, Grande, and Venti. A good question to ask then is "Why?" While I don't know for certain, but I'll take my best shot at explaining... or guessing... You pick.

While some criticize the nomenclature as being pretentious (perhaps rightfully so), it can also be viewed as exclusive and as an example of good branding. People know exactly where you order a "Tall," "Grande," and "Venti." It fits into Starbuck's selling itself as a lifestyle. It says, "You can order a small, medium, or large anywhere, but here you can get a Venti, etc." It's similar in that respect to a Lexus. A Lexus is a Toyota. A fancy Toyota and outside the U.S., it's called a Toyota. But here, it's a Lexus. Why? People like fancy and a Toyota is rarely considered fancy, so its marketing wonks came up with Lexus. "Ta da! Fancy!"

Naming caters to a sense of luxury, for some people ordering a "Grande Latte Half-Caf" or whatnot makes them feel sophisticated, like they're treating themselves. Other people don't care or are derisive of the nomenclature and just want a decent cup of coffee. Both kinds frequent Starbucks.

So why is a small called a "Tall," a medium called a "Grande," and a large, a "Venti" besides for the sake of sounding fancy and Italian? Beyond providing fodder for comedians jumping on an increasingly large bandwagon, the Internet tells me, back in olde Seattle before Starbucks was known the world round, it didn't have a Grande or a Venti, they had only two sizes, "Short" (8 ounces) and "Tall" (12 ounces).

So what happened to the Short? It hasn't gone the way of the dodo, but it has stuck its head in the sand. It's not on the menu, but you can still order it, you just have to ask. For your trouble, it is a little bit cheaper than a Tall while having the same shot of espresso to keep your bright and alert or shaking and quaking depending on how many you choose to imbibe.

As for the Grande (16 ounces) and the Venti (20 ounces), "grande" means large and Venti means "twenty" (ooooh, it rhymes!). And so I meet my quota of using "fancy" in a post, fancy, fancy, fancy.


  1. Starbucks was also the term for a frontier outpost.

    I never knew about the short size. And I'm so amused by this post. Fancy that! ;)

  2. discovered your site via WC...interesting observations indeed!


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