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When you reflect on all the symbols, gestures, and phrases that bombard your everyday existence, you may find a panoply of simple words that are missing a definition. Case in point: How many times have you or a friend said “I’d like a Venti latte” without pausing to consider what Venti actually means?

The inspiration for this blog post is Starbuck’s introduction of the Trenta, a drink size larger than Venti that will soon be available for iced beverages. How much larger than a Venti, which is 24 ounces? Try seven more ounces, a total of 31. That’s a lot of iced coffee, sugar and milk.

(Who is the “Starbuck” that inspired the coffee chain’s name? We explore that here.)

First of all, here are the size options: Tall (12 ounces), Grande (16), Venti (24), and soon, Trenta (31).

Let’s briefly address “tall.” This designation by the coffee company is considered by many to be a classic instance of corporate language manipulation. “Tall” sounds like “small” but means something close to the opposite. The result arguably encourages a consumer to think a little less about the size of his or her beverage as well as the size of the bill.

“Grande” is Italian for “large,” “Venti” means “twenty,” and “Trenta” is “thirty.” Why isn’t the 16-ounce size “Sedici” (Italian for sixteen) instead? One could point out that “Grande” conjures up associations with the English “grand.” The word is also ubiquitous in general food marketing so that it may convey a sense of mystery that doesn’t seem foreign enough to become alienating to a consumer. Perhaps the as the names of drink sizes shift from the most familiar (“Tall”), to the most exotic (“Trenta”), consumers prefer the more obscure names so as not to remind themselves of the cost or calorie count of what they are about to drink.

To close, consider the poetic mystery of the origin of the word “coffee.” Follow the term across continents in search of its source, here.

Strauss, A. and Corbin, J., Basics of Qualitative Research: Grounded Theory, Procedures, and Techniques, Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, 1999.

Tough, A., The adult’s learning projects: A fresh approach to theory and practice in adult learning, 2nd edition, Toronto, Canada: Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, 1979. go to web site adult learning theory

Watts, J.C., Woods, D.D., Corban, J.M. & Patterson, E., “Voice loops as cooperative aids in space shuttle mission control”, in Proceedings ACM CSCW’96 Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work (New York), ACM Press, 1996, 48-56. go to website adult learning theory

Weick C. and Roberts, K., “Collective mind in organizations: heedful interrelating on flight decks”, Administrative Science Quarterly, 38, 1993, 357-381.

Sharyn D. Gardner, California State University Sacramento, Sacramento, CA USA

Seokhwa Yun, Seoul National University, Seoul, Korea

Dr. Sharyn Gardner is an assistant professor at the College of Business Administration at California State University Sacramento. Her research interests include team flexibility and coordination, impact of information technology, organizational change, distributed cognition, and collective personality.

Dr. Seokhwa Yun is an associate professor at the College of Business Administration at Seoul National University. His research interests include leadership, top management teams, employee’s extra-role behaviors, impression management, expatriation issues, and knowledge management.

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120 Comments

  1. asd -  March 19, 2014 - 6:00 am

    Spaniard here.

    What I find the strangest is that they use Italian words for quantities, then they use ounces instead of grams or litres…

    And why the sizes are so large? Just make more concentrated coffe.
    There’s a saying here, that American coffe tastes like dishwater (due to it being mostly water and little coffe).

    Reply
    • Uomo Senzanome -  April 2, 2014 - 1:42 am

      I agree, asd, I found it strange they use American measures with Italian numbers (

      If you want strong coffee in America, go to an Italian (or sometimes a French) cafe, or where they are located, Peets Coffee. If you want strong coffee at Starbucks, get a “depth charge” or a “coffee with a shot” [or several! two isn't much more expensive than 1] (coffee with a shot of espresso). Lots of Americans like that thin dishwater, I don’t know why they don’t just drink tea, I guess it’s a patriotic thing (see: Boston Tea Party).

      Reply
      • Jacqui -  April 4, 2014 - 5:38 pm

        Some of us think that dishwater tastes just like burnt dishwater and instead drink tea ;) Not all of us have taste buds that resemble poisoned berries.

        Reply
  2. June -  March 11, 2014 - 11:04 am

    I just started working at Sbx a few weeks ago and I’m not much of a coffee drinker so I’ve learned a lot from an outsider’s perspective. When someone orders a “medium,” well, there are four sizes so when we “reply in a foreign language” we are simply trying to make sure we are getting you the size you want! It’s company policy, not snobbishness. So don’t hate on us. We are simply doing our jobs.
    Also remember that “one shot” of espresso is ALWAYS TWO SHOTS. so without adding any extra shots a grande is FOUR shots! People ordering drinks with a quad shot (which is actually 8 shots of espresso)… I shake my head. If you need that much caffeine, get a tall drip! Drip coffee has much more caffeine than espresso and it costs $4 less.
    But I won’t judge your order I just make it. Venti triple 2 pump skinny mocha? coming right up ^_^

    Reply
  3. Fatties | Simon Rules! -  October 24, 2013 - 4:37 pm

    [...] another interesting post I found on Starbucks’ choice of naming. They say that the smallest size being called [...]

    Reply
  4. Cold Bruer: A Cold Brew Coffee System -  September 24, 2013 - 7:00 am

    [...] about taking matters into your hands for a more patient approach? And, ya know, not saying silly Italian words in public? The Cold Bruer ($50) offers a simple, do-it-yourself solution for cold java at home. The [...]

    Reply
  5. Nina -  August 24, 2013 - 2:03 pm

    If I’m gonna pay $5 a day for a triple grande nonfat latte, I deserve that free, trenta filtered ice water! Now, that’s what trenta is good for. ;)

    Reply
  6. [...] That thing up there is what happens when you and your friend grab a bite from Starbucks and wind up accidentally ordering the largest-sized drink. CAFFEINE OVERLOAD. (By the way, if anyone–like me–was curious about what the Starbucks drink sizes mean, here’s a brief explanation.) [...]

    Reply
  7. Lisa -  July 30, 2013 - 8:47 am

    One does not have to include cream and/or sugar in their tall, grande, venti or trenta coffee. Starbucks has the best iced coffee and I like it with fat-free milk, no sweetener, just as I drink all of my coffee, approximately a quart a day, Starbucks or not.

    Reply
  8. Gumby2104 -  July 29, 2013 - 8:30 am

    “coffee” and “too much” do not coexist!

    Reply
  9. Myrddin -  July 8, 2013 - 1:22 am

    Okay, everyone always says stuff like “why would you want that much coffee?” but you should really consider the fact that when you get a 31 ounce cup of iced coffee, they fill the cup 3/4 with ice. So you’re not REALLY getting 31 ounces of coffee, sugar and milk, are you? (especially if you’re like me and drink it pretty quick so it’s not even getting 31 ounces of watered down coffee and milk as I don’t do sugar)

    Although, honestly, even if it WASNT for the ice and I was getting 31 ounces of coffee…what business is it of yours if I’m drinking that much coffee?

    Reply
  10. JW -  March 11, 2013 - 10:58 am

    Lets not get all excited about anti-American/Texan comments. Anyone who was stationed in Europe knows that while the cups are smaller, Brits drink 8oz cups of tea continually (8+8+8+8+8+8…) and the Italians/Turks/Saudis do the same with coffee and the Germans same with pils. The difference is that Americans are all about convenience and we’d rather just get it once in a giant Jim Miller mug (and refill for free) than pay for the same amount in 15 tiny cups.

    Also of note, Euros pay money for nearly every toilet so as Americans who hold “access to the gas station/restaurant toilet” as a civil rights issue…Euros will not allow you to pee off a Buck-ee’s bucket of coffee for free.

    Don’t act like they don’t do it they just get taxed for doing it so only the wealthy GET to do it. It only looks like a better system because of “grass is greener” and you’ve never lived there and of course you have been told to envy them since college.

    Reply
  11. Bob -  October 23, 2012 - 6:25 am

    Why use Venti for 20 ounces when Italians do not even use ounces? The use metric. This is an attempt by Starbucks to sound cool using Italian words.

    Reply
  12. TheMechanicalGirl999 -  June 14, 2012 - 6:39 am

    @Nicola @Ms.Karma

    She posted them in Spanish. I believe that since they both have similar origins from Latin and thus share similar words that she must have thought that they had the same spellings for numbers without doing any research to prove to the contrary.

    Reply
  13. better than a milkshake -  April 10, 2012 - 10:51 am

    Coffee shops use the bizarre size names so that pre-existing sizes don’t have to be renamed when new sizes are introduced. Albeit, Starbucks did start out with short and tall rather than small and large. But the main point is that if they had started out with small and large rather than short and tall, then added three sizes larger than the large (which is the case if you include the treinta), and stopped offering the small, they’d have ended up with coffees sized large, extra large, extra extra large and extra extra extra large. Either that, or customers would need to figure out the new names of the sizes they want each time a new size is introduced.

    That having been said, when I don’t know what sizes equal what amounts in a coffee shop, I generally ask how big their smalls and mediums are and then select the one I want. This has always worked.

    Reply
  14. TheNewFword -  March 8, 2012 - 2:43 pm

    WHY name a 31oz drink TRENTA, when really, 31 in Italian is TRENTUNO?

    Reply
  15. J A -  January 27, 2012 - 7:29 am

    pretentious b s

    Reply
  16. paige -  November 10, 2011 - 12:30 pm

    I believe Starbucks mentioned that the trenta was introduced more for their lemonades and cold teas.

    Reply
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