The Starbucks Lingo

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I read a really interesting article published by Lee Abbamonte (Hope you don’t mind me using your great work for inspiration!) some time ago that really inspired me to write this short article on Starbucks. This is all about the lingo that we are all accustomed to now whenever we visit Starbucks.

Have you ever wandered into a Starbucks and thought for a second “Why am I ordering a Venti Caramel Macchiato?” What on earth does that even mean? We are all trained to go into a Starbucks and immediately know the difference between Tall, Grande and Venti sized drinks. Is there a reason we cannot simply order a Small, Medium or Large. Would you ever consider going up to the Starbucks ‘barista’ and asking for a ‘Large Coffee’? Probably not right, and that is likely because you would feel out of place.

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Ok, so let’s say you get past the difficulties of understanding the size of beverage that you want! Next you have the complexities of the actual menu. I seriously think whenever you get through all of this, it would be easier ordering from a 15-page menu at The Cheesecake Factory than ordering a drink inside Starbucks.

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What is the difference between a macchiato and a latte? What is the difference between your stereotypical mocha and a regular coffee? Throw all of these into a menu and you may as well be reading a different language – wait a minute you are reading a different language! No one told you in advance that you needed to take advanced Italian lessons before wandering into your local Starbucks that now appear on every other street corner, even in smaller towns!

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I don’t want this article to seem like I am totally opposed to Starbucks, because I am not! I love Starbucks (when I have figured out what I would like to drink!) and love the environment that they provide with their distinct coffee-shop ambience and décor. But why they can’t make it just a little easier on the regular coffee drinker is beyond me. I keep thinking about what my dad would be like if he walked into Starbucks. There is no one that I know that loves hot tea or coffee than my dad but if he ventured into a Starbucks in England, there is no telling what he would end up getting!

Are you a fan of Starbucks?

What’s the best way to explain the Starbucks lingo to a novice?

8 COMMENTS

  1. As someone who grew up and went to college in Seattle, I’m a little over Starbucks. It’s a great place for studying but I was never a huge fan of their coffee. Plus there was a Starbucks on nearly every street on the Ave and there were so many more hidden coffee shops so much better! Not saying I hate them, I still go there sometimes but I just discovered there’s so much better coffee out there. OK end rant about Starbucks haha. Guess it’s just because I was surrounded by them so much!

    • Thanks for the response Samantha! I can certainly appreciate what you are saying about Starbucks because honestly it is everywhere you look. We went to New York City last year and it was insane that Starbucks literally appeared to have a location on every street corner. I enjoy the coffee there, don’t particularly enjoy the crazy prices, but I think you are paying for the atmosphere also that in mind is excellent.

  2. Very interesting post! I was actually in Starbucks about a month ago and someone ordered a medium – I swear everyone froze and turned to stare.

    Although I do love a good chai tea latte every now and then, the lingo at Starbucks is definitely intimidating, I think that’s why I’m not more adventurous and always order the same thing. My boyfriend won’t even grab me a Starbucks on his way home because he hates having to order. However, when traveling, I find it easier to order at Starbucks because of the lingo. It’s the same in every one I’ve visited, which makes language barriers much easier. (Also they always have clean bathrooms!)

    • Calli, thanks for sharing your comments! I agree with you that the standardization of Starbucks lingo certainly helps when you are traveling not only because they seem to be everywhere (though in England Costa Coffee is challenging them for superiority of the ‘chain coffee shop’) but because as you indicated, the language barriers make it simple to order.

      My problem (well not really a problem more of an inquisition) is that Starbucks originated in Pike Place Market, Seattle (USA) so why on earth would they decide to utilize such lingo (Italian)….most likely because the founder was so infatuated with Italian coffee shops, he wanted to bring those over to the States.

      I love the environment in Starbucks and despite my possibly apparent negative post here, I consistently go back and think that I may eventually have this ‘lingo’ down!!

      Here is some good history on Starbucks: http://www.starbucks.com/about-us/our-heritage

  3. Oh Starbucks, how you entertain us with the lingo. I love the goofiness. A small is a tall. Compared to a Short, which is extra-small, but not on the menu. Grande actually is Italian for Large…so it’s a medium? Venti means 20, which is how many ounces the cup holds. (So why aren’t they just Otto, Sedici and Venti? Makes too much sense.) At least most of the actual drinks have descriptions on the menu…makes it a bit easier. Why the odd vernacular? Well, who doesn’t want to be in a secret society with their own language and code? Yes, code…Because the words have to…HAVE to…come in a certain order. Try it. Order a nonfat iced venti mocha with three shots (of espresso…cuz they don’t carry Bailey’s…), then listen to the order of the words the barista repeats back to you. There actually is a method to the madness…but from our side of the counter, it’s just delicious madness. :9

  4. I’m a Dunkin’s girl and they keep trying to get me to call my extra large a “Great One”. Sort of pompous, if you ask me. ;P Just give me my extra large and leave the fancy names out, please! Fun post!

    • I think I have only ever had Dunkin Donuts once and that was in Philly last year. I have to say I enjoyed it but not as much as Starbucks coffee. Then again, that’s probably because your taste buds get accustomed to what you are used to right?

      Thanks for the comments Erin!

  5. Well, since you tweeted this post just few minutes ago, I wouldn’t mind commenting couple of years later, haha.

    As a strategic advertising graduate, I’m confident to tell you that this is exactly what Starbucks is after. To create a lingo that makes some uncomfortable, and some VERY comfortable, and build a brand in the process. My professor used to give us these insane assignments just to breakdown ads and brands to understand who their targets are. Once we find them, everything the brands says or does is just a language they are using to communicate and be heard by these people.

    Starbucks is my favorite coffee place (I’m 30). As a matter of a fact, I’m writing this comment in Starbucks right now. However, I do not wish for other smaller coffee houses to be eaten by the huge corporations, but hopefully they will be able to find their own niche market which can make them and us happy.

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