Play The Subversive Game: Make Starbucks Say “Large”

I really do not mind Starbucks as an establishment. They are comfy places and serve my favorite drinks, yes at inflated prices, but I succumb. My own, silly pet peeve is that stupid language thing when you order a drink. I want a “big” drink, so I describe it as “large”, and they say, “Venti”.

That is just plain stupid. WTF is “venti”? “Tall” is “small”? C’mon, speak English will ya? So my new silly travel game is to try and make Starbucks Speak English.

It goes like this. Order your drink, using real descriptive terms, “Small”, “medium”, “Large”. When they respond, “Venti?”, respond with, “no ‘Large’. If you can get them to say the real size, then you win! And we subvert StarbuckSpeak one franchise at a time. So if you are successful, or heck, just of you try, then add a coffee cup pin to this Google Map at http://tinyurl.com/49z88p (if it is set up right, it is open for others to edit)

View Larger Map

Let’s light up the map at establishments where proper human language terms are used. Go out there and use your charms to make ’em speak in words people understand, not snobspeak.

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An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. This is too funny…I had a side conversation with a group of folks about a month ago during a presentation I was giving about this same idea of using the English language to describe the Starbucks coffee sizes. We were looking at the website “My Starbucks Idea” and I was trying to convince the gentleman who came up with the idea to submit his idea of using small, medium, and large before someone else does…and low and behold the mighty CogDog barks out the same idea. That-a-boy…

  2. Hahaha. I ALWAYS ask for small, medium or large. They used to correct me long time ago, but now I think enough people feel the same way as you and I do, and they just give me what I want without trying to teach me a whole new vocabulary required to be able to order a friggin cup of coffee.

  3. I never use Starbucks terminology. I always order “a medium sized regular coffee”. Because, of course, they make up size names. But they also make up coffee names. And when the staff ask whether I want “light or bold” coffee I inform them that there is no such thing as “bold” coffee, it’s “dark roast”, and that there’s nothing wrong with calling something dark. At this point the staff gets very uncomfortable and begins to question for themselves the motivations underlying the Starbucks terminology. Which is good, because it’s not benign.

  4. How about walking an extra block or two and favoring an alternative establishment? Preferably an independent, one that doesn’t burn its coffee.

    An objection I have to your strategy is that it takes out your legit frustration on a underpaid counter worker. If said worker indulges you and says a meaningful English word like “large” back to you, they’d better hope the assistant manager doesn’t hear them do it.

    Keep in mind those people probably don’t like that stupid shit any more than you do, and may not enjoy having their noses rubbed in their obligation to provide lip service to it. As an aside, people who say they “don’t speak Starbucks” is a major peeve of this rather intemperate but memorable rant (see item 10):


    If you enjoy the hyperbranded and hypermanaged Starbucks experience, but draw the line at the language… I suggest you write the Starbucks corporation and tell them you will not purchase any of their products until they allow their customers and employees to speak English.

    And then look for another coffee shop, because it is never going to happen.

  5. > How about walking an extra block or two and favoring an alternative establishment?

    Well, of course, I go to Tim’s. Or Second Cup.

    But you can’t discount the Starbuck’s strategy in some markets, to flood the market with stores, driving the competition out of business. Sometimes, as a result, there isn’t anything but Starbucks in walking distance.

  6. Ow! I got b*****slapped, but Brian’s points are taken. No, don’t take it out on the poor slob behind the counter. Dont be an a-hole with the game, smile, and let them know that you know that they are just helpless cogs in the machine.

    And like Stephen says, out in the burbs there are not often independent shops. And you see at some Sbucks cars lined up around the block for drive through.

    Heck, I was so sad to see the Coffee Plantation at the Arizona Biltmore all boarded up. Burned coffee? Sure why not. I aint picky. I’ll drink the hours old sludge at the quickie mart.

    Hmmm, there seems no winning. I’ll take my Venti elsewhere.

  7. As you may have guessed, I’ve spent a few years working behind a counter and don’t remember it fondly. Sorry to take it out on you.

    But I would add that the predatory nature of the chain’s expansion is all the more reason to support the dwindling range of options whenever at all possible. Unless that weird Disneyfied vibe actually appeals to you. As an side, check out this customer list for Envirosell: http://tinyurl.com/5oxaje There’s a certain je na ce quoi that these companies share, non? Whatever that is, I break out in hives whenever I encounter it.

    I’ve been wanting to take some public shots at Tim Horton’s for a few years now. But I am wary of Stephen’s polemical skills, and all too aware of TH’s iconic status in New Brunswick. So I’m keeping my instant coffee powder dry for the time being…

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