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I dunno about your town, but here in Seattle people have pretty much invented their own language in regards to their espresso selections. It's like one of those native Indian languages where, instead of constructing sentences, they instead express complex thoughts by taking a base sound and then modifying it with a series of prefixes and suffixes, so the net result is a single, gargantuan word, spoken in single breath. Seattlites take a root like "mocha" and tack on a bunch of qualifiers to the point where, when asked for their order, they spit out some monstrosity like "triplesoyextrahotmochawithwhip."

My word is "singletalllatte." That's relatively new. Until a few weeks ago my word was "singletalldecaflatte." But I've fallen off the non-caffinated wagon, so the "decaf" prefixed has been dropped.

Well, it's supposed to be dropped. But that's the catch: now that I'm readdicted to caffeine, anything I do before my singletalllatte is done in a fog. And very once in a while I'll accidentally get my old word and my new word mixed up and unknowingly blurt out the wrong one.

It's basically a crapshoot which of the two words I mutter on any given morning. It's the worst of both worlds: since I'm again dependant on caffeine, accidentally ordering a decaf leaves me lethargic for the remainder of the morning; since I'm drinking decaf every third day, my caffeine tolerance isn't rising, and a singletalllatte therefore hits me like a jolt of electricity. And since the two drinks taste the same, I don't even know what I'm drinking as I stumble back to the office, nursing on my coffee lid teat.

In fact, on a typical day I pretty much have no clue as to what I've ingested until 40 minutes later, when, during a meeting with management, I either nod off or leap to my feet and cry "BRING ON THE ACTION ITEMS, BABY! BRING ... THEM ... ON!"

Posted on March 02, 2005 to Storytelling


Meanwhile, a few hours down the road here in Portland, the new game is to order only drinks that aren't on the menu. Dopio Capana, please. The barista knows what it means, you know what it means, but no one else in the store knows what it means. I hate this.

Posted by: Feaverish on March 3, 2005 11:10 PM

You’re a walking placebo experiment, Matt. Get forty or so more people just like you and we could whup us up a statistic.

Posted by: Lung the Younger on March 4, 2005 12:20 AM

Not to get all Linguistics 101 on your ass, but "decaf" in "singletalldecaflatte" is actually an infix. English isn't big on infixes-- the only one that I know of that gets used regularly is "fucking." As in "absofuckinglutely."

Posted by: Miss Weeze on March 4, 2005 4:59 AM

FYI...In Columbus, OH, we're prone to blow "doubleshotfrenchvanillacappucino" out of our noses when we read a phrase as funny as "nursing on my coffee lid teat." Thanks for forcing me to finally clean the screen on my work PC.

Posted by: Burdette on March 4, 2005 6:53 AM

I don't drink coffee. But your "nursing on my coffee lid teat" line merits an inclusion in the urban dictionary.

Posted by: Hoyt on March 4, 2005 7:24 AM

I'll have a ventedecafmochamochaextrawhipsoydoubleplusgoodlatte.

I enjoy StarbuckSpeak.

Posted by: Alan on March 4, 2005 7:24 AM

Yup. Because Starbuck's uses unsweetened whip cream (which is pointless and vile), my word is different when I'm there as to when I'm anywhere else.

Ordinarily, I say "quadventimocha." But at Starbuck's, I have to say "quadventinowhipmocha."

Posted by: Kirk on March 4, 2005 7:27 AM

Yeah, "coffee lid teat" is going to improve my Starbucks experiences from now on.

Miss Weeze, I'd never heard of infix. I thought it was called tmesis.

When in a coffee joint I usually say, "Smalltea, please."

Posted by: ken on March 4, 2005 7:55 AM

triplegrandemocha for me.

In Dallas you'll hear things like "grandesoynonfatlowcalhalfcaf-no,quartercaf-nowhipgranolalatte"

Posted by: David on March 4, 2005 8:14 AM

Starbuck's double speak drives me crazy. I still ask for a small. That drives them crazy.

Posted by: bob on March 4, 2005 8:22 AM

Right after someone asks for the run-on-sentence of a drink at Starbucks, it's almost like I cause a little wave of consternation and confusion by asking for a "Tall Coffee." The brows really furrow when I say no to "Room for cream?."

Here's the best description of a drink I've heard. It was at a little independent coffee shop.

Customer: I'd like a grandenonfatdecaflattewithequal

Register monkey: "That'll be on medium why-bother"

Posted by: Lost Poke on March 4, 2005 9:14 AM

As a non-coffee drinker, it is rare that I drift into the scary world of latte land. When I do, though, it's usually a small, raspberry Italian soda, please.

You're right, bob, it does make them nuts.

Posted by: Esther on March 4, 2005 9:24 AM

I don't know how anyone orders a "dopio" with a straight face.

Posted by: Dr. Johnny Fever on March 4, 2005 9:33 AM

In the Northern Kentucky/Cincinnati area (where I spent about 17 years), they have a custom where, if they didn't hear you or are unsure of what you said, they will say "Please?" instead of "Huh?" or "Excuse me?". I managed to pick up that little peculiarity in the time I lived there.

Then I moved to Seattle. I would stop at the Tully's in the lobby at work to get a grandechai (which evenutally evolved to grandenofatchai and then grandesoychai when I went vegetarian). After I'd been going there for a couple of weeks, the barrista got to the point where he recognized me but couldn't quite remember what my drink was. One morning I walked in and he said "You want the somethingunintelligible, right?" Not having heard him, I said "Please?", to which he replied "Coming right up!" and started fiddling around with all of that scary equipment back there. I managed to stop him before I got some sort of coffee thing and explained the strange speech patterns in other parts of the country. Since then I have disciplined myself to eliminate that particular one, so now I saw "Huh?" or "What?" like everyone else does.

Unfortunately, the "eh?" I tacked onto the end of my sentences when I was growing up in southern Michigan is creeping back in sometimes...

Posted by: C. on March 4, 2005 9:44 AM

Just after my sister moved to Seattle she was having a very rough day with two toddlers and a husband away for 6 months in the Persian Gulf. She pulled up to an espresso stand, was completely baffled by all the "lingo" and broke down crying.

"I'm just having a really, really bad day", she sobbed. "I don't know what any of this means, I just want something good".

The barista took sympathy and said, "Don't worry, I'll make you something you'll really like", and proceeded to make a doubletalllattewithanextrashotofcoffeesyrup.

One sip and the tears stopped, the sun came out, and the barista got a big fat tip.

Posted by: Duane on March 4, 2005 10:42 AM

There's a super-trendy coffee shop in my little town, and they refuse to comprehend English. The kids at the counter have no idea that I speak Italian, and every time I order a "double espresso," they say "you mean a doppio." I don't know why they insist on using mispronounced Italian, but I'm too stubborn to go along with it.

Posted by: Dusty on March 4, 2005 10:55 AM

Well, two things: singletalllatte is redundant.Talls have only one shot.
...and if you want decaf, say decaf tall latte. Decaf comes first.
Secondly, to make the whipped at Bucky's you pump 4 pumps of vanilla syrup in the whipping cream and then charge it in the dispenser. It is sweetened.

And for the record I drink: tripleventibrevetepidnofoamlatte.

Posted by: fredlet on March 4, 2005 11:09 AM

Duane, your story made my day.

Dusty, you need to tell those kids to "go to Naples."

Posted by: Carny Asada on March 4, 2005 11:11 AM

What is it about coffee sizes? Instead of small, medium, and large, you get tall, grande, and supergrande (are you supposed to pronounce it grand or gran-day?). "I'd like a small cup of organic coffee, please." "A tall?" "No, a small. A mug, if possible." Barista looks confused.

Posted by: AF on March 4, 2005 11:19 AM

Mine is "sixteenouncedarkroastnoroomforcream."

It doesn't work at Starbucks because the baristas there have no idea how many ounces equal their pretentiously named sizes. Perhaps I should switch to mL or bushels.

Posted by: Erin in MN on March 4, 2005 11:45 AM

Tmesis! I love it. This might be my new domain name.

Posted by: Miss Weeze on March 4, 2005 11:54 AM

Y'know, the last thing I want to do BEFORE I've had my morning coffee is learn a new language. Maybe that's why I have a nice, non-speaking relationship with Mr. Krups, right in my own kitchen. We nod, I turn his knob to "on", and he burbles to himself quietly, with a wistful sigh of steam when he's done. I nod in thanks, and it's on with my day. It comes to pennies a cup, but the savings to my sanity are priceless.

I don't know how y'all do it.

Posted by: Khate on March 4, 2005 12:19 PM

Awesome post. And, while the coffee speak is clever, and probably deserves most of the comments, I'd like to say that "BRING ON THE ACTION ITEMS..." was superbly devlivered. Well done.

Posted by: Tom on March 4, 2005 12:35 PM

My word is tripleventiwhitemocha. Or if I vary the amount of syrup it turns into tripleventifourpumpwhitemocha.

Starbucks does sweeten their whipped cream, at least where I live...they just use vanilla syrup to do it. But their stupid bait-and-switch two shots in the large size crap is really annoying. Small, Medium, Large = 1,2,3. How hard is that?

Posted by: spygeek on March 4, 2005 12:47 PM

I'm amazed that you can't taste the difference between regular and decaf!

When I lived in Seattle, my morning suckle came from Caffe Vivace (just off Broadway), where they serve up a double shot of the sweetest short pull I've ever had... to this day I remember it fondly. Hardly needs sugar, the bean itself is so yummy.

Anyway, I ordered a decaf from there once, in a half-hearted attempt to wean myself before the natural age of 100. The flavor was exactly the same, just... not as good. At all. It was kind of like looking at a picture of a cup of coffee.

I ask you, if a flavor falls on your palate, but there's no brain there to enjoy it, does it have a taste?

Posted by: Cassidy on March 4, 2005 12:51 PM

I'd cut down an index card to the size of a business card, write "single tall latte" on it, stick in in my wallet, and just show it to the barista. That, of course, assumes that i don't hold it upside down. Or backwards.

Posted by: cat on March 4, 2005 1:32 PM

Excellent post! The sort which left me both laughing ... and cursing as I wiped tea out of the keyboard crevices after I hit the "coffee lid teat" line.
When I was last in Portland, it seemed I couldn't get a small damn cup of unadulterated COFFEE anywhere! (still love the city though) Don't know how ya'll do it.

(I know I'll sound like a real supergrandetriplepainintheass, but when they put a Starbucks in our local grocery store out East here, I started ostentatiously putting five bucks in the jar at the end of the check-out lane designated for feeding the homeless while loudly proclaiming it was better spent that way than on a (market researched, branded, over-massaged) cup of coffee)

Posted by: Smac40 on March 4, 2005 1:58 PM

Hopelessly unhip.
My word? Just "coffee," thank you.
Maybe "Largecoffeeplease."

Posted by: ganncamp on March 4, 2005 2:19 PM


Kudos to fredlet (whom I suspect is a current or former Starbuckian) for knowing that decaf comes first - unless the drink is iced, in which case iced comes first.

Posted by: Lisa on March 4, 2005 2:23 PM

They really need to offer classes, because living in Seattle sure doesn't guarantee mastery of the espresso language. I will never get into coffee, because I will always be too intimidated. I'll just stick at home with my PG Tips. much safer that way.

Posted by: Rebecca on March 4, 2005 2:41 PM

What I don't understand is why, when my success rate in ordering nothing more complicated than a "grande latte" hovers around 85%, anyone would persist with their 6-qualifier specifications for beverages. It's basic information theory that the more complex the specification the less likely it is to be delivered either on time or as ordered so the more complex utterances should result in disappointment more than half the time. Or do the baristas relish the challenge and take perverse pleasure in handing the poor saps who can't or wont speak their special language the apparent default of a grande mocha frappachino?

Posted by: Bozo Z Clown on March 4, 2005 3:58 PM

My word: doubleventihazelnutlatte2percent

I like this new language...it's like club speak and something outsiders don't get.

Posted by: Karan on March 4, 2005 5:26 PM

What is it about coffee sizes? Instead of small, medium, and large, you get tall, grande, and supergrande (are you supposed to pronounce it grand or gran-day?).

My favorite is "venti." It used to make some sense, because venti is Italian for "twenty." Then Starbucks decided to enlarge the cups to 24 ounces. I guess "venti quattro" doesn't have the same ring to it.

And AF, it's "gran-day," but it's more fun to say "medium" and watch them get flustered.

Posted by: Dusty on March 4, 2005 6:11 PM

On the rare occasion I wish to plunk down my $6 for coffee, I simply wait my turn in line and quitely ask for a: tall half-caf raspberry mocha with no whipped cream please. They glaringly ask me if I want wholeskimortwopercent. LOL two percent is fine, thanks.

Posted by: Grommie on March 4, 2005 6:13 PM

Confessions of an ex-coffee nazi.
At Starbucks there is a prescribed order to the infixes. Try this experiment: switch up some of the words when you order and your barista will make a point of correcting you (unless they are new.) Mixing up the words drives the average Starbucks barista crazy. I mix it up it all the time, probably because at one time, I was one of those terribly crazy baristas. I'm just evil that way.

Great post, btw.

Posted by: krixfort on March 4, 2005 8:44 PM

>I dunno about your town, but here in Seattle people have pretty much invented their own language in regards to their espresso selections.

Has there ever been an opening sentence that better exemplifies the redstate/bluestate divide?

I think not.

Posted by: The Man From Guam on March 5, 2005 4:33 PM

Its a breve macchiato for me - which at any of the coffeeshops I would consent to enter gets me a double ristretto shot of espresso with enough steamed half and half to fill the small demitasse.

The language stuff is annoying at places where all the coffee is burnt, stale, or improperly extracted anyway. But when you find yourself drinking coffee that actually tastes good its very easy to overcome the jargon hurdle. Starbucks (and a thousand indiebucks copycats) have prejudiced alot of people against what in a proper establishment can be a divine experience.

Posted by: tonx on March 5, 2005 7:05 PM

I forget where I heard this, perhaps it is a sniglet, but the term for your bizzar Seatlite language is "Starbucks Esperanto."

Posted by: jason on March 5, 2005 8:03 PM

I live in Seattle and have been making coffees for four years in a small bakery/coffee shop. I really don't care what order people say things in. Starbucks is just crazy.

Posted by: Megan on March 5, 2005 11:50 PM

So, Seattle has finally gone Southern.

As far as jargon goes and sizing, it isn't universal. Sometimes a tall does indeed have two shots in it! This is disconcerting to some of us. So my husband is considering running for office with a plank he calls "Caffe Standards." While you can never regulate quality, you can regulate quantity. He thinks a tall should be the same size and have the same coffee to milk ratio in every state in the union. I've suggested that this might not be of utmost importance to people since most Americans are actually OK with drinking Starbucks (blech). He, however, intends to launch his campaign by staging his own "Boston Tea Party" in Elliot Bay. I'm guessing after dumping his ten pounds of Starbucks into the bay, Starbucks won't be endorsing him.

Posted by: Wende on March 6, 2005 12:34 AM

I'm okay with drinking what tastes good to me...most of the time that tends to be coffee sweetened and milked out the wazoo, and Starbucks does that reliably enough for me. I have this thing were I want my drink made the same way every time, and I know that my drink will be basically the same at any Starbucks, anywhere - even Berlin (long story). But I don't delude myself into thinking it's terribly good coffee, nor that I'm special for going there - it's about as pretentious as Wal-Mart.

Posted by: spygeek on March 6, 2005 9:05 PM

The only coffe shorthand I created was when I had good friends (and former housemates) behind the counter of the well-known local javahouse. I was one of those "special needs" customers; the House blend too weak, the French roast too strong. So, I began ordering a "LargeHalfFrenchHalfHouse", which became known as a "Chateau" among my crew. (Get it? A "large French house". Aaah, nevermind...)

Posted by: xlt on March 7, 2005 4:21 AM

I don't know how these Starbuckians can consider themselves hip when Steve Martin was making fun of their lingo before they even "invented" it.

I'll have a half double decaffeinated half-caf, with a twist of lemon.

Posted by: Skane on March 7, 2005 8:12 AM


And I usually have to repeat it twice in the winter because nobody ever believes I really want it iced year-round.

Heathen hot beverage drinkers!

Posted by: meg on March 7, 2005 12:24 PM

I was following a customer at a starbucks a couple of years ago that was having a language barrier problem with the barista, when he delivered her drink, she blurted, "Oh, this comes this way, I wanted it THAT way." to some fancy odd notreallycoffee drink.
After dealing with her, I ordered my typical grandedripwithroom. To this he smiled and said, "at least some people still drink real coffee."

Posted by: Micah on March 7, 2005 2:29 PM

I was behind a woman at Starbucks ordering an incredibly long and detailed drink. After finishing she apologized to the counterperson for having such a complicated order. The counterperson who looked like a sasquatch with a shaved head, piercings and tattoos bellows out for the entire room to hear, 'NEVER apologize for your drink. You are your drink.'

Posted by: Sam on March 7, 2005 3:44 PM

I remember fondly the day I cracked the Starbucks order:

[iced, if necessary] + [size] + [flavor] + [milk type] + [drink name]

It has to do with the way the cups and ingredients are laid out & categorized for the barista.

Posted by: jill on March 7, 2005 4:44 PM

Here in Arkansas, there's a huge cultural divide betwixt the Folgers and Maxwell House camps. There's a few Cain's drinkers, but they're mainly Communists who teach creative writing at the vo-tech. The main thing you gotta watch for in the South is when the waitress pours from the orange decaf pot cuz she's too lazy to make a fresh round of leaded. That can pretty near ruin a man's morning constitutional, if'n ya know what I mean.

Posted by: JP on March 7, 2005 8:01 PM

If you read down the boxes on the side of a starbucks cup they're pretty much in the order that you would call them. relatively.

nobody get a "talllatte" anymore, apperantly it's passe- the new drink of the week is a "triplegrandebrevenofoamlatte" or possibly an "icedventihazelnutnowaterristrettoamericanowithtwoinchesofheavycream".

Posted by: cat on March 7, 2005 8:26 PM

I know what a dopio capana is, geezzzz and unfortunately everything else on here. I guess I didn't realize we DO have a dialect here (well the NW - I'm from Portland, and yes, love it!)
The person who orders a talllatte or a large coffee doesn't know how to play the game, you know? Make me a doubletalltwopumptoffenutlatteplease. thanks.

Posted by: Jasper on March 7, 2005 11:07 PM

Wende, re: coffee to milk ratio, even within the U.S., Coca-Cola now changes its recipe for regional tastes. Or so I have heard from an Atlanta native.

What I cannot believe is that nobody has mentioned this from L.A. Story:

Guy with neck-support: I'll have a decaf coffee.
Trudi: I'll have a decaf espresso.
Movie critic: I'll have a double decaf cappuccino.
Policeman: Give me decaffeinated coffee ice cream.
Harris (Steve Martin): I'll have a half double decaffeinated half-caf, with a twist of lemon.
Trudi: I'll have a twist of lemon.
Guy with neck-support: I'll have a twist of lemon.
Movie critic: I'll have a twist of lemon.
Cynthia: I'll have a twist of lemon.

(Thanks to Seattle-based Amazon for keeping imdb.com alive.)

Bingo "triplecrankypantsespresso" Pajama

P.S. That's no infix, if anything it's a run-on adjective string. Even from the given example of an infix, if 'decaf' were an infix, then the order would be something like "singletalllatdecafte" or, hey, even "latsingletalldecafte". :)

Posted by: bingo pajama on March 8, 2005 9:56 AM

Personally, I enjoy being "that girl" who asks for 1%. Used to be nonfatwithasplashofwhole (I found that most places only have whole milk or non-fat, they have to "make" the 2%), but I grew weary of the effort and have shortened to onepercentplease. A little fat makes suckling the coffee lid teat that much sweeter.

Posted by: H. on March 8, 2005 12:35 PM

When I go to Starbucks, I order the "largecaramelapplecider" or the "largehotchoclate".

I hate coffee and I hate their pretention for not saying small medium or large. I should order an extramedium next time. You know, a medium with a little bit more mediocrity.

Posted by: Cameron on March 8, 2005 1:21 PM

LOL, I love your writing. When ever I'm in Seattle I go to Seattle's Best and order a tallsoymochanowip. In fact the only time I go to a coffee shop is when I'm in Seattle, what's with your town? :)

Posted by: battlemaiden on March 9, 2005 10:12 AM

Starbucks can bite me--I have enough trouble with English before I've had my coffee. I let Mr. Coffee do the work.
If I'm really jonesing for a good latte, I make my own courtesy of Krups, in my kitchen, with unburnt coffee beans and good honest Ghiradelli chocolate.

Posted by: Serra on March 9, 2005 10:14 AM

I walked up to Starbuck's at lunch, mainly just to get out and enjoy the sunshine. Since I don't like coffee, I ordered my usual grandesoychai, except that I asked for it iced, easy on the ice. The barrista decided that she had put too much ice in the first one, so she said she'd make me another one with less ice. True to her word, she handed me another one a few minutes later. I stopped at a table to put the straw in it, and took a big pull. I almost wound up spitting it out, and exclaimed "Yuck!! Ugghh!! Oh my God, this is coffee!!"

Why were all those people staring at me?

The third time was the charm, and they gave me a coupon for a freebie since they had screwed up my drink. Apparently this differentiates Starbuck's from Tully's.

Posted by: C. on March 15, 2005 8:49 AM