By Lenore Skenazy
Please pay attention. There will be a quiz.
Starbucks recently took out a two-page, fold-out, super-slick ad in the New Yorker to educate us benighted, Folgers-swilling plebes on “The Art of Espresso and Milk.”
Using a chart only slightly less complex than the Periodic Table of the Elements (for instance, it did not list Barium or Neptunium), it showed a sort of timeline of coffee concoctions, starting with:
Doppio: “Two shots of espresso. Straight.”
Latte Macchiato: “Foamed whole milk marked with shots of espresso.”
Flat White: “Sweet ristretto espresso shots finished with whole steamed milk.”
Cappuccino: “A shot of espresso topped with a deep layer of foamed milk”
And, but of course: Caffe Latte—“A shot of espresso in steamed milk lightly topped with foam.”
Got that? Okay, quick: Which drink dumps a shot of espresso into a cup of foamed barium?
Ah, just yankin’ your chain. That’s at Dunkin’ Donuts. As for the Starbucks chart, I didn’t even give you all the concoctions on the list to prevent your head from exploding like an overheated doppio ristretto machine. (Didn’t Ristretto start out by making a boy out of wood? Or am I confused?)
Anyway, after all this, the ad explained as if to a dim bulb: “Latte Macchiato: Foamed milk marked with espresso makes it intensely bold.” Okay. While, “Flat White,” which is—as you’ll immediately recall—sweet ristretto espresso finished with blah blah blah is “rich & velvety.”
Never mind that the pictures of these two ostensibly polar opposite drinks look about as unsimilar as those “Spot the difference!” puzzles you do while waiting for a Greyhound Bus.
Which perhaps explains why the ad is driving me to drink something stronger than a latte macchiato. (Or was it a caffe latte?) What I mean is: I’m drinking grain alcohol mixed with Yoo-hoo. You see, here’s a company that already asks us to fork over all our cash previously reserved for necessities like medicine and HBO just to drink some scorched caffeine in a pseudo-chatty place where everyone is actually on their phone, staring at their laptops, and hogging the seat across from them.
And now, for us not to sound like idiots there—“I’d like a coffee regular, please”—we have to study gradations between coffee drinks more subtle than the ones between flatworms and tapeworms. (Do not go look these up! Or at least, do not click on “images.”)
Starbucks has already amused itself by training us to say “tall,” when we mean “small”—tall being the littlest cup of coffee you can get without whittling yourself a mug on the spot. And some marketing exec earned her wings by convincing us that grande and venti are the two most sophisticated words in the world, even though these really mean, “I am a grand baboon,” and “Excuse me. My vent is open.”
Other Starbucks words that you might not realize have direct English translations are:
Caffee Espresso Frappucino. Translation: Milkshake
Vanilla Frappucino. Translation: Vanilla Milkshake
Caramel Flan Frappucino. Translation: Gloppy Milkshake
Caramel Ribbon Crunch Frappucino. Translation: Crunchy Milkshake
Double Chocolaty Chip Frappucino. Translation: Shameless Milkshake
Hazelnut Frappucino. Translation: Milkshake for High-Income Squirrels
Shaken Sweet Tea. Translation: Tea with sugar. Duh. And someone who isn’t you got paid (and healthcare, too!) to shake it.
Caffe Americano, by the way, simply means coffee. Like the stuff you get at the donut cart, for $1, without having to learn a new language, or inquire as to how artisinally the cart guy plans to dissolve your sugar.
And with the extra $4 you save, you can buy several hand twisted, cane-sugar dipped inzuppare ciambellas.
You know, glazed donuts.
Lenore Skenazy is a keynote speaker and the editor and founder of the book and blog Free-Range Kids.