3 Oct
Posted in: Food
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Learning How to Order a Coffee, Part I

It seems like this should be a no-brainer, right? Outside of the coffee boutique world, the universal sign for “I want to buy something” is for the buyer to simply open their wallet. The person at the cash register is normally more than happy to do the rest and is incredibly likely to make the buyer feel like a genius for thinking of it. But with “café” buying, things can get complicated fast. And, the hipster behind the counter may or may not be capable of making you feel like the biggest idiot alive while you try to cobble together your order from the wall-to-wall options over their eye-rolling head. Not to mention the people in line behind you, who are wanting. you. DEAD. for keeping them from their grande, quad, ristretto, nonfat, dry cappuccino.

As I am really a tea drinker by nature, and only switch to coffee if it’s in a concoction where it’s the last ingredient on the list, I usually resort to whatever the first thing my eyes alight on that is listed in the “other” category, knowing it’s not just straight up coffee. My next step is normally to curse at myself inwardly for making a poor choice and then ambling dejectedly over to the coffee fixins’ bar to remedy the situation with whatever shakers full of stuff they have available.

What follows is a list of coffee terms that I have gradually absorbed, mostly from Starbucks. My indie coffee friends will probably be seizuring on the floor at this point so they will miss part where I add that I *also* have learned a few things from those shops, as well. But I find that each and every shop seems to have its own lingo, so learning the Starbucks-style terminology, like learning the American version of English (though not the proper Queen’s English) probably will serve most people well.

So, here we go…Ordering Coffee (or a Coffee-Style Beverage), Part 1:

What size?

This is where the Starbucks lingo will give you the most trouble when you attempt to apply it elsewhere.

Starbucks sizes. As I am a shortie myself, I normally prefer to order tall. Good for the ego.
Starbucks sizes. As I am a shortie myself, I normally prefer to order tall. Good for the ego.

There are four sizes you’ll need to be concerned with: short, tall, grande and venti. Short is 8 oz., tall is 12 oz. (their default standard), grande—which is Italian for large, is 16 oz., twice the size of the short, and finally venti—which is Italian for 20, and is, inexplicably, NOT always 20 oz. It’s actually 20 oz. for hot drinks, and 24 oz. for cold drinks. Got it? I normally try to stick to 8-12 oz. sizes unless it’s a drink I already know I love and I am going to be working on it all morning (for example, if we pick one up before yard saling). The short size isn’t always listed on the menu, but trust me, you can get one if you ask for one. And, really, 8 oz. of coffee is probably either the same size or maybe even bigger than the average person’s coffee cup size, so don’t upsize (and pay more) unless you really want to.

I would say score one for the indie crowd on sizes; they normally have blessedly limited themselves to just two and normally have set out sample cup sizes by the register so you can quickly see what the options are. A or B? So much easier than A, B, C or D.

For Here or To Go?

Trust me, even if you are looking forward to sipping it “en place”, get it to go. Even better, bring your own to-go-style mug. That way, when the person with the crazy eyes plops down next to you and starts muttering under their breath as they type obscenely loudly on their laptop, you will be able to make a fast getaway. (We all know this guy. He LOVES coffee spots and will always sit next to you, even when all the other tables are empty. He is probably wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with a message that alarms you in some way, if he’s wearing a shirt at all.)

Do You Want a Buzz? Perhaps for the Rest of the Day?

If you like a caffeine rush, you are going to want to go with espresso in some amount as part of your drink. The “in some amount”, is the part that may end up keeping you awake at nights…and I mean that. Worth putting thought into!

Your basic choices are:
Regular espresso shot…this is the default. This is enough for me if I want to keep awake, even when mixed with a lot of other things.
Decaf espresso shot…did you know this was available? It’s for people who want the flavor but not the full effect. This is what you are getting in your drink when you ask for a decaf latte.
Extra shots. What is wrong with you? At any rate, a drink with two espresso shots is called a double, three is a triple, four a quad…as in, you should be living in a fraternity quad ordering a drink like that. Are you being hazed? Or just in law/med school?
Half-caf. This is a double shot…one with caffeine, one decaf.

This is all I can type at this point, since I have not had coffee before beginning this. I’ll have to continue in Part II with the exciting follow-up: drinks, milks and fixins. What’s your favorite coffee/coffee-house drink?


  • Tall non-fat caramel macchiato.


    Iced tall light ice upside down non-fat caramel macchiato (in the summer)

    If you show up in Seattle not knowing how to order cofee in order (temperature-size-specials-drink type), you get looked at funny. Trust me – being away from the city for 10 years made for some awkward moments upon my move back in 2007. The harshest critic? Erin, the old pro that she is.

    And if you want a smile, try out the Starbucks Oracle (http://www.buttafly.com/starbucks/index.php). I am either clueless or high maintenance, depending on which of the two above orders I put in.

  • Elayne you’re too funny; love your writing. Hey… since you’re a tea lover have you ever tried tea from Harney & Sons { http://www.harney.com/ }? They also have a plethora of yummy goodies! How could I have no clue Starbucks offers a short, 8oz cup. I better beef up my coffee ordering skills if we end up on our way to WA soon.

So, what do you think?