music, technology & life in pasadena, california

Coffee Nomenclature

Being a coffee connoisseur is no easy avocation these days.

At Starbucks, the 900-lb gorilla of coffee stores, a Tall is really a small, a Grande is a medium and a Venti is a large. Hmmm, OK. I think I can remember that, but just down the street is Peet’s (from which begat Starbucks a long time ago in a roastery far, far away). Peet’s uses the small-medium-large labels and I can rest easy knowing that I won’t have to sign up for Berlitz classes in order to get my next fix. Another block down, at The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, they’re using the scientific (or French pastry) method of sizing, where you request all drinks in ounces. The independents, like Jones Coffee Roasters and Buster’s, in Pasadena and South Pasadena respectively, use more genuine terms to describe their fare, but are confusing nevertheless. Jones calls a small drink, short, and a large one, tall. Now, I always thought that when talking about coffee drinks, short meant a pull of espresso timed on the short side, not the size of the drink. A ristretto, in Italian. The opposite of that would be a long pull, or long, for short. But when the barista asked me if I wanted a double shot in my short drink, I was totally confused.

And then to my horror a thought crept into my mind. What would happen if you mistakenly ordered the wrong size at the wrong store? Would you be seen as a coffee traitor? Would it ruin your chances for ever being Customer of the Week at Peet’s? Would the customers in line behind you snicker at your obvious faux pas? It’s all too terrible to even imagine.

Maybe that’s why the Chai is on the menu.

- This piece was written in a caffeine-induced haze while listening to Boulez’s Le Marteau Sans Maitre

November 11, 2005 | Link to this entry


Paul Viapiano is a guitarist working in film, television and live performance based in sunny Pasadena, California.

You can email me here.

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