Forget small, medium, and large. If you frequent the coffee mega-chain Starbucks, you know these sizes aren’t a menu option. When you’re ordering at Starbucks, you better know your tall, grande, or venti. So what’s the story behind this unconventional naming convention?
Well, it all started in Italy.
On a fateful trip to the coffee-loving country in 1983, Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks, became “captivated with Italian coffee bars and the romance of the coffee experience,” the Starbucks website says. So much so, in fact, he wanted to emulate that experience in the United States with his own coffee shop, Il Giornale.
You may have never heard of Il Giornale, but it was a mini-coffee chain Schulz started in 1986 — a year before he purchased a tiny Seattle brand called Starbucks and turned it into the coffee behemoth we visit today.
In her book, Grande Expectations, author Karen Blumenthal wrote that Schultz “wanted to convey a different image, something far more exotic than a simple cup of joe.” Since stores were inspired by the coffee scene in Italy, Schultz wanted to honor that heritage with “distinctive names” for the beverages, hence the Italian beverage names like macchiato, cappuccino, and latte, and Italian sizes terms like grande and venti.
Il Giornale eventually expanded into the Starbucks we know today and certain Italian aspects, like the names came along with it.
For many years, the Starbucks menu had only three sizes listed: short, tall, and grande. Short was considered a small (8 ounces), tall was a medium (16 ounces), and grande was a large (16 ounces). In fact, “grande” is Italian for “large.”
And then the “venti” size came along and changed everything. When venti was added to menus, the short was taken off to save space. Tall became a small, grande became a medium, and venti became the new large.
Another cause for confusion is the fact that the ounces in a venti differ between hot and cold drinks. Ordering a venti, which means “20” in Italian, will give you a 20-ounce hot beverage, but a 24-ounce cold beverage. Starbucks set this standard so consumers can enjoy the same amount of beverage without paying for the space the ice takes in the drink.
The short may have been taken off menus in favor of larger sizes, but almost any Starbucks will still have the 8 ounce cups available to order. They’re a great way to cut back your caffeine or your calories, while still getting to experience that morning coffee ritual.
These days, Starbucks has a fifth size called the trenta — mostly for its brewed iced teas and other cold drinks. It holds a whopping 31 ounces of any icy, refreshing beverage.
So now you know the ‘why’ behind the special ordering system at Starbucks. Now all you need to know is what it means when their aprons are different colors?
Starbucks sizes still not making sense?
Also see, How to cut calories and sugar from your Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte.