Why do we order a tall, grande, or venti coffee instead of the typical small, medium, or large? This common coffee conundrum probably falls among the many “unexplained Starbucks quirks,” along with why Starbucks’ tables are round and the surprising origin of its name. Seriously, what’s the deal with these unusual sizes?
Legend has it that Starbucks chairman and CEO Howard Schultz took a trip to Italy in 1983, where he was “captivated by the romance of the Italian coffee bar,” according to the Starbucks website. So much so, in fact, that he decided to emulate it in the U.S. with his own coffee shop, called Il Giornale.
With his shop, Schultz “wanted to convey a different image, something far more exotic than a simple cup of joe,” author Karen Blumenthal wrote in her book Grande Expectations. And “since the stores were designed around the concept of Italian coffee bars, [Schultz] wanted distinctive names” for the beverages to honor that heritage. Hence the unconventional (and often Italian!) terms like macchiato, latte and grande.
Il Giornale eventually expanded into the Starbucks franchise as we know it today. But the story doesn’t end there. In the ‘90s, its menu listed three sizes: short, tall, and grande. A short essentially correlated with a small, a tall was a medium, and a grande was a large. The introduction of the venti size demoted the tall—making it the new short—and removed the short size altogether. However, you can still order a “short” at most Starbucks locations today. (Surprised? Don’t miss more secrets your barista won’t tell you.)
Now that we’ve solved the mystery behind Starbucks’ coffee sizes, here’s another one: Why can’t the baristas spell anyone’s name right? Our guess: You might be guilty of committing one of their biggest pet peeves.