When you reflect on all the symbols, gestures, and phrases that bombard your everyday existence, you may find a panoply of simple words that are missing a definition. Case in point: how many times have you or a friend said “I’d like a venti latte” without pausing to consider what venti actually means?
Why is a tall … so small?
First of all, here are the size options: tall (12 ounces), grande (16), venti (24), and trenta (31).
Let’s briefly address tall. This designation by the coffee company is considered by many to be a classic instance of corporate language manipulation. Tall sounds like small but means something close to the opposite. The result arguably encourages a consumer to think a little less about the size of his or her beverage as well as the size of the bill.
Interestingly, the tall was not always the smallest drink size—and customers, who requested ever-larger drinks, may be partially responsible for its name.
At his first coffeehouse, Il Giornale, Starbucks founder Howard Schultz offered three sizes: short (8 ounces), tall, and grande. When venti came along (to meet popular demand), Schultz dropped the short so as not to crowd the menu boards. Little-known fact: the size is still available. But let’s face it, “I’d like a short” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it as the sizes based in Italian do. Or so Schultz thought.
What do the Italian names mean?
Schultz traveled to Italy for the first time in 1983 and fell in love with the “the romance and theater of coffee,” according to the Starbucks website.
Grande is Italian for “large,” venti means “twenty,” and trenta is “thirty.” Why isn’t the 16-ounce size sedici (Italian for sixteen) instead? Perhaps because grande conjures associations with the English “grand.” Why not follow this logic and apply names that are evocative of English terms to the remaining two sizes? The less-familiar venti and trenta may help consumers forget the cost or calorie count of what they are about to drink.
Schultz returned to Milan in 2018 to open the first Starbucks in Italy. Wonder what they think of the names?
Want to learn more about the lexicon of your morning cup of joe?Unlock the poetic mystery of the origin of the word coffee here.