Grande Mocha, Hold The Fairness

I stopped by a Starbucks earlier this week after pulling an all-nighter studying for a final and desperately needing a caffeine-boost to get me through the test. I haven't been to Starbucks for a while -- their prices are absurd, their coffee is too fancy for my plebian tastes, and I refuse to play their stupid little word games, and neither will Dave Barry:

We begin today with a disturbing escalation in the trend of coffee retailers giving stupid names to cup sizes. As you know, this trend began several years ago when Starbucks (motto: ''There's one opening right now in your basement'') decided to call its cup sizes ''Tall'' (meaning ''not tall,'' or ''small''), ''Grande'' (meaning ''medium'') and ''Venti'' (meaning, for all we know, ''weasel snot''). Unfortunately, we consumers, like moron sheep, started actually USING these names. Why? If Starbucks decided to call its toilets ''AquaSwooshies,'' would we go along with THAT? Yes! Baaa!

But it's getting worse. Recently, at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and Death March, Mister Language Person noticed that a Starbuck's competitor, Seattle's Best Coffee (which also uses ''Tall'' for small and ''Grande'' for medium) is calling ITS large cup size -- get ready -- ''Grande Supremo.'' Yes. And as Mister Language Person watched in horror, many customers -- seemingly intelligent, briefcase-toting adults -- actually used this term, as in, ''I'll take a Grande Supremo.''

Listen, people: You should never, ever have to utter the words ''Grande Supremo'' unless you are addressing a tribal warlord who is holding you captive and threatening to burn you at the stake. JUST SAY YOU WANT A LARGE COFFEE, PEOPLE. Because if we let the coffee people get away with this, they're not going to stop, and some day, just to get a lousy cup of coffee, you'll hear yourself saying, ''I'll have a Mega Grandissimaximo Giganto de Humongo-Rama-Lama-Ding-Dong decaf.'' And then you will ask for the key to the AquaSwooshie. And when THAT happens, people, the terrorists will have won.

So given that this was my first time in Starbucks in over a year, I was surprised to see that the daily blend was "Free Trade Coffee." [Edit: That should be "Fair Trade Coffee." Thanks to Jonathan Dingel for the heads up.]

I'm still not sure why this pissed me off so much. After all, it's just another case of a corporation catering to its customers' preferences in order to make a profit. But it's a shame it had to come to this. There's nothing fair about "fair trade coffee." If the rich yuppies who buy $4 cups of coffee every morning actually cared about their supposed objects of altruism rather than merely fueling their righteous indignation at the capitalist powers that be, they might stop spending $4 on coffee in the first place and do something more productive with the money.

Milton Friedman put his finger on this problem nearly 35 years ago:

Whether blameworthy or not, the use of the cloak of social responsibility, and the nonsense spoken in its name by influential and presti­gious businessmen, does clearly harm the foun­dations of a free society. I have been impressed time and again by the schizophrenic character of many businessmen. They are capable of being extremely farsighted and clearheaded in matters that are internal to their businesses. They are incredibly shortsighted and muddle­headed in matters that are outside their businesses but affect the possible survival of busi­ness in general. This shortsightedness is strikingly exemplified in the calls from many businessmen for wage and price guidelines or controls or income policies. There is nothing that could do more in a brief period to destroy a market system and replace it by a centrally con­trolled system than effective governmental con­trol of prices and wages.

The shortsightedness is also exemplified in speeches by businessmen on social respon­sibility. This may gain them kudos in the short run. But it helps to strengthen the already too prevalent view that the pursuit of profits is wicked and immoral and must be curbed and controlled by external forces. Once this view is adopted, the external forces that curb the market will not be the social consciences, however highly developed, of the pontificating executives; it will be the iron fist of Government bureaucrats. Here, as with price and wage controls, businessmen seem to me to reveal a suicidal impulse.

N. Joseph Potts has more on the "Fair Trade Coffee" scam:

At my neighborhood supermarket the other day, I was at first puzzled, then a bit amused at the sight on the shelf of "Fair Trade Coffee." No, this isn't a catchy brand name like "Morning Call." This is, I found on inspecting the unusually wordy label in detail, coffee whose supplier claims to have overpaid the producers for it. By this is not meant, of course, having paid the producer whatever he asked, but rather, some (undisclosed) minimum price notionally above whatever the market price for beans at the time and place of sale is supposed to have been.

...It seems, incidentally, that where the grower was collecting no more than a few extra cents a pound (or kilo—this is Europe, now), the retailer was found to be piling a dollar or more onto its already-ample profit. This, of course, is nothing more than the usual "charitable skim," as I call it—no different from a firefighter dipping into the boot he just shook at you while you waited for the traffic light—but it was found to dismay the gullible, er, I mean, faithful who bought the fair-trade coffee and soothed their overmonied consciences with its fragrant aroma in their kitchens.

...[T]his is yet another Newspeak-style hijacking of the word, "fair," coupled here with "trade" that bothers me. Á la Bastiat, it's what is not seen that troubles me worst. Picture the buyer for fair-trade coffee traveling the cool uplands of Colombia or Brazil, ready to pay more than the going price for coffee. How does he choose which grower deserves our largesse? Well, a carefully crafted set of hints at the ugly truth may be found at, the Web site of TransFair USA, the US affiliate of the global FLO (Fair Labeling Organization).

For a more complete rendition, consult the Christian Science Monitor's article describing a grower (actually, a cooperative) in Nicaragua that can't gain even consideration from FLO for fair-trade certification because . . . they're too small! Not too small to sell their product at the lower, global, unfair price of about 55 cents a pound. Just too small to get the chance to pay the $2,431 it costs to join the club, and the $.02 per pound volume charge. That's right—you have to pay to get paid more. Where's the fairness in this trade? The answer, of course, is that it isn't trade; at best, it's charity, and more-realistically, it's the bureaucratic apparatus behind a marketing gimmick that's much, much less than it appears to be.

Perhaps, you might surmise, the matter would be improved if everyone bought only fair-trade coffee. Then, the whole crop would shower our beneficence on the coffee growers of the world, and there'd be none of this tawdry pick-and-choose. But then, the dismal economist in me realizes, there'd be outsize profits to be had in growing coffee, and more people and more land would enter the lucrative coffee business, and sooner or later, there'd again be more coffee even than all the coffee buyers in the world wanted to buy at the inflated prices they're all paying.

...On my next visit to the supermarket, I gravitated with my typical masochism to the aisle in which fair trade reigns supreme and there, to my irresistible wonderment, I noted a demonstrator offering little paper demitasses of this virtuous brew with, no doubt, Fair Trade cream and Fair Trade sugar for those desiring. With neither the slightest intention to purchase nor the least pang of conscience, I lifted the noble liquid to my unworthy lips.

I found it rather bitter.

I'll drink to that.

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I refuse to play their

I refuse to play their stupid little word games

My thoughts on the matter:

Roving Latte Reviewer NZC informs us that at Starbucks he persists in refusing to use the Starbucks-copyrighted-Italian-word "Venti", meaning "twenty", and instead asks for a "20 ounce coffee". He further informs us that when he does this, he is sometimes lectured by the employees on the meaning of "venti" (see preceding sentence).

I suggest that, if placed in this position, one should ask "20 what?" and upon being told "ounces" one should then say "...But Italians don't use English fluid ounces. They use the metric system. So that's 591 milliliters. Do you know to say '591' in Italian? Because I'll meet you half way. I am, after all, a reasonable man".

I acknowledge, of course, that only unreasonable men explain to others that they are reasonable men.

Micha, you got a typo - "So

Micha, you got a typo - "So given that this was my first time in Starbucks in over a year, I was surprised to see that the daily blend was 'Free Trade Coffee.'"

I did the math of the certification process in a post at and discussed how the "fair trade" price inflation helps rich Mexicans at the expense of poorer nations at

Yeah, Starbuck's doesn't

Yeah, Starbuck's doesn't even have good coffee...

The locally owned coffee shops in my area have far better products than Starbuck's, and at far better prices.

And they don't make me order a "Venti" or "Grande"


Dear Micha,


- Josh

Jonathan, Thanks, that's a


Thanks, that's a huge typo.


Fuck, how the hell did you know? Are you spying on me? :???:

LOL, Micha, I was thinking

LOL, Micha, I was thinking 'Doesn't he have finals?' as I read your post!

There is a video up at AlbinoBlackSheep about Starbucks, but alas, the audio on my puter has gone kaput -- so, I don't know if it's funny or not.

There was an ad along with the video for a 'free' Starbucks coffee if you completed a survey, and being a sucker for their latte -- I thought wtf.
Apparently, the 'survey' cannot be completed unless you agree to send your name and phone # to every Tom, Dick and Harry in the ad. *Sigh*

Kick butt on those exams! Also, if I screw up and delete THIS post too, I give up!


Re the thing about the size

Re the thing about the size names: what, don't you people like to have fun? :roll: For me, and for a lot of people, going into Starbucks and getting a fancy coffee is a packaged experience (that's why I'm willing to pay four bucks for it), and part of the experience is using a lot of fancy-shmancy words to order my special coffee. To shallow people like me, that makes it even more special, in fact! It's supposed to be a more involved experience than trudging through a fast-food line and muttering, "Combo number five, large Sprite." It's something we dolts value and are willing to pay a (small) premium for - it's fancy-restaurant atmosphere writ small and convenient. And as for renaming the toilets, I say, "Bring it on!" Only, do you think you could make it sound a bit more Italian-y? :beatnik:

As for the fair-trade/corporate-ethics thing, Starbucks is far from alone. Hell, Caribou Coffee supposedly has ties to extremists in Saudi Arabia, and coffee growing and buying is a nasty business in general. But hey, the instant a more-ethical and equally-convenient competitor comes up with a peppermint mocha that stands up to Starbucks's's's, I'm there.

I am in complete agreement

I am in complete agreement with Alex; there must be something to the goofy Starbucks' names, or else they wouldn't be using them. Consumers, apparently, prefer to use crazy Italianate names.

It's fantastic coffee anyway, a great environment--and has anybody tried the eggnog latte? Magnificent.

I lost all appreciation for

I lost all appreciation for coffee taste during grad school, where I stretched a can of Kroger House Blend out for 2.5 years. That stuff was bitter sludge, and oh how I loved it so.

So now if coffee doesn't taste like battery acid, it just doesn't work. You could say I'm a gustatory coffee masochist. If gustatory is a word.

Fuck, how the hell did you

Fuck, how the hell did you know? Are you spying on me?

You're a student; it's December. This isn't genius-level deduction or anything.

- Josh

Brian, This Christmas


This Christmas season, my act of charity will be to contribute to an organization devoted to seeking a cure for the tragic condition of people like you. :cry2:

UGH! I hate Starbucks.

UGH! I hate Starbucks. Their coffee is bitter and the environment sterile. The only nice thing is that everyone goes there, so you are in company, rather than sitting alone, depressed drinking bitter, overpriced coffee. I love charming, local coffee shops. The Frederick Coffee Company, here in Frederick, Maryland (birthplace and final resting place of Francis Scott Key), serves the world's greatest coffee for a buck! Plus, they have lots of music and artsy-fartsy stuff going on all of the time. In addition, they brew their own coffee in house, so the place smells divine! There is a huge diversity of people who visit the coffee shop including yuppies, early morning commuters, stay-at-home moms, hippies and freaks, lesbians, college students, homeless musicians, professors, grandmothers, artists, writers, people talking on cell phones, bums, motorcyclists, and me. It is a great place!!

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