All I wanted, this morning, was coffee.
I sleepwalked towards the nearest authorised dealer and staggered into Starbucks. “Flat latte”, I mumbled through my somnolent haze.
The trademark cheerful foreign language student in the green apron didn’t react. I had entered the wrong combination. It was the flat that was wrong. That was Prêt-à-Manger terminology. I stammered, my pre-coffee brain searching for the correct pin. “I – I mean – A – a wet latte”.
There. I had managed it.
“What size?” – the Korean student, not missing a beat.
I began pointing at a stack of paper cups, unable to emit a human sentence. The student picked up the largest cup. “No – small!”
“Tall”, the student corrected me, patiently. He scribbled some obscure symbols with a black marker on the side of the cup, then passed it down the assembly line, shouting, “Tall wet latte!”
That was it. Tall wet latte. The access code for a small, milky coffee without the froth on top. As opposed to a dry latte, which has a fluffy head of milk froth on top (when I first heard another customer order that, I expected him to walk away with a sachet of ready-to-make beverage in powder form.)
Then, there are the size names. Tall. Grande. Venti. Tall – why can’t they just call it short? Is it politically correct to spare the feelings of the midget coffee? I am also puzzled by the reasoning behind mixing English and Italian. Tall. Grande. Venti. Translation – Tall, Large, Twenty. Twenty?! Twenty what? Twenty centimetres of coffee? Twenty grams of paper to make the cup? Twenty gulps to drink the stuff? Twenty reasons for taking your custom elsewhere?
In a spirit of rebellion, you try Costa, Nero and Coffee Republic, only to be offered the same choices with a completely different set of vocabulary to memorise – none of which is actually recognizable anywhere along the Italian Peninsula.
For a start, if you ordered latte there, you’d be served a glass of milk. That is what the word means.
Unless you meant a caffelatte.