Living in the 21st century is not without difficulties, from the economic and glacial meltdowns to getting a live human being on the telephone. To ease our human suffering I offer this guide to help others through the bewildering experience of ordering a drink at Starbucks.
Let me explain my qualifications. I work at Starbucks as a barista. So what I offer you is inside information – useful for Starbucks virgins.
Try to think of Starbucks as a large vaguely Italian club – for many of the words we use there sound Italian. A filtering system keeps the uninitiated away while giving insiders – those who speak Starbuckian – a feeling of belonging. Knowing that you say “venti” when you mean large, or “tall” when you mean small, indicates that you are a member.
Here’s what you don’t want to have happen:
Barista: How can I help you?
You: I’d like a large coffee.
Barista: I don’t understand.
So, let’s get started. Tall is small. This Orwellian turn did not occur maliciously. Starbucks still does sell “Short” size drinks of 6 ounces (what used to be known as “a cup of coffee”), and Short and Tall were the original two sizes. But as the world became more caffeinated, “Short” disappeared except for those really in the know, and our addicted clientele upped their doses to “Grande” (16 ounces) and “Venti” (20 ounces – “venti” is Italian for twenty – except when it’s not: an iced Venti drink is 24 ounces). So, to summarize: “Tall” means small, unless you want smaller; “Venti” means 20 ounces – some of the time; and “Grande,” though it means “large” everywhere but in Starbucks, connotes wonderfulness.
Barista: How can I help you?
You: I’d like a Venti cup of coffee. That’s the large one, right?
Barista: Do you come here often?
Moving on: Let’s say you are one of those old fashioned people who goes into a Starbucks because you want to drink coffee. Not a Frappuccino. Not an upside down caramel macchiato. Just coffee. And let’s say you have mastered the size business and you confidently order “a Tall coffee.”
The amiable barista taking your order might ask you if you’d like “bold” or “mild.” Most people can’t tell the difference, so you might as well choose the adjective you’d prefer to be. I like being thought of as bold, so that’s what I order.
You: I’d like a Venti coffee.
Barista: Bold or mild?
Barista: Would you like room?
This apparently existential question has been known to throw thoughtful people into a trance: Room for what? Arm-swinging? Won’t I spill my coffee? Do I look like I want to be alone? Why did I come to Starbucks? But no – the barista is only asking if he should fill the cup to the top or leave “room” for you to add cream.
Speaking of which: If you order a latte´ or a cappuccino – more on the distinction later – then you can have it with a variety of steamed milks. In most stores this means whole milk, 2%, non-fat, half-and-half – which we call “breve,” which is Italian for something – soy, or in the winter, eggnog. Caution: If you are in Italy, ignore this paragraph and just be grateful that you are in Italy.
Most Starbucks drinks can be made with different flavors created by squirting syrup into the drink – vanilla, hazelnut, caramel and the like. Be careful, though, not to ask what “flavor” coffee they are brewing today! Starbucks does not brew flavored coffees. Ask what “coffees” they are brewing (e.g., French Roast or Sumatra), and then add flavor if you want. Or not. Be sure to pause as if you were considering the taste differences among the various coffees. And by the way – if you want more or less intense flavor in your Starbucks drink, request more or fewer “pumps” (of vanilla, hazelnut or whatever) not “shots.” Espresso comes in shots, syrups in pumps. Got it?
You: I’d like a Grande 3-shot vanilla latte´.
Barista: Do you want 3 shots of espresso?
You: No, I want 3 shots of vanilla.
Barista: Vanilla doesn’t come in shots – it comes in pumps.
Speaking of shots of espresso: They are typically ordered without using the word “shot” or “espresso.” If you want three shots of espresso in your Grande latte´ instead of the standard two, then you say, “triple Grande latte´.” Or for two shots of espresso in your tall cappuccino, say, “double tall cappuccino.” Never order a “double Grande cappuccino” because the Grande drinks all come with two shots, as do the Venti drinks except for the iced ones, which have three. Unless you ask for more or fewer.
The difference between a latte´ and a cappuccino is simple: the depth of milk-foam at the top of the cup. The steaming process actually suffuses foam-bubbles through the drink in a properly made cappuccino, but that is more than you need to know. You can also order your cappuccino “wet” or “dry” which, surprisingly, has nothing to do with the amount of Vermouth.
All of your drinks may be ordered “to go” or “for here.” The former means “paper cup with a lid,” while the latter means “ceramic cup with no lid.” In reality, 95% of those camping out in a Starbucks (“here”) enjoy their drinks in paper cups, and nobody says, “for here but in a paper cup” except for Ernie at my store. It’s best to order your cappuccino “for here” if you intend to drink it there (“here”). Aside from the status boost, you will better take in the aroma and possibly discern the face of the Virgin or Howard Schultz, or perhaps a map of Turkey, in the swirl of foam your barista artfully created.
Now to the I’m-not-kidding “upside down caramel macchiato.” Almost all Starbucks espresso drinks require putting the espresso in the cup before adding steamed milk. The exception is the caramel macchiato (along with “afogato style” Frappuccinos – but don’t get me started!), where the espresso is added on top of the steamed milk – marking it with brown coffee stain (“macchiato” means “marked”). So when you order your caramel macchiato “upside down,” you are requesting that the shots be added before the steamed milk, as it is in every other espresso drink. So, to clarify: by “upside down” we really mean “rightside up.” If you understand why our small-ish drink is called “tall,” this will make perfect sense to you.