Words and Civilisation: Coffee Language (Part 2)

For Part 1, please click here.

It had been a long day and a late night awaited so, at about five, I ventured into a Central London Starbucks.

“Tall, half-shot, wet latte,” I ordered, using the company’s recognised terminology with confidence.  “For here.”

“What’s your name?”

The girl was holding a felt-tip pen over the label stuck to my mug.

“Excuse me?”

She repeated, “Your name?”

My brain froze.  This was a new one.  Over the years, I have become fluent in coffee shop language.  I can switch from Starbucks jargon to Prêt-à-Manger lingo, to Costa dialect, with ease, and even momentarily forget the fact that none of this terminology bears any authenticity to how coffee is described in Italy.  To quote Mark Twain, sometimes, all you need in this life, is ignorance and confidence.  The fact remained, that I did not have this particular access code.  “Why do you need my name?”

“We need to write it down on the mug.”

I could not believe it.  “I have to give you my name before I can have my coffee? Since when?”

It was politely explained to me that this policy has been in full swing in the U.S. for some time now (U.S. readers, please comment – is that true?) and is now being introduced in all U.K. Starbucks branches.  “Is that a problem for you?” asked the girl, her pen still in mid-air.

“Yes, it is.  I don’t want my name shouted across a crowded coffee shop! Why can’t you just shout ‘tall, half-shot, wet latte’, like you usually do?”

‘We’re trying to make it more personal…”


Surely, “personal” could only be achieved within the context of a privately owned – non-chain – café where, your being a regular customer, the staff get to know your preferences, and rush to make your coffee exactly as you like it, no sooner they see you come in through the door, before you have so much as the chance to voice your order – or am I wrong?

What will they require next – your passport? Your D.N.A.?

I wonder if the European Court of Human Rights has a provision which allows you to buy coffee and still maintain your privacy.

I did manage to get my tall, half-shot, wet latte, in the end, and had to divulge only the first letter of my name.  They made a kind allowance for me.  This time.

As for the future, who knows? Perhaps I could take on an interminable, unpronounceable name? It does seem unkind to make the job of staff members difficult.  After all, this is not their decision.  Any suggestions, anyone? I would love to hear them!

Scribe Doll

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6 Responses to Words and Civilisation: Coffee Language (Part 2)

  1. KiM says:

    I had exactly this problem at Disneyland. I went on a ride and was asked to give my name at the beginning of the ride and not told why. The name I gave was Clytemnestra. When I got to the end of the ride, there was ET saying goodbye to everyone using their name. ET had difficulty pronouncing my “name” so it came out something like “Goodbye Cl-nes-ita.” It was hilarious!
    If I am ever asked for my name in Starbucks – and I’d have to be dying of thirst before I went in there – I will reprise my role as Clytemnestra.
    May I suggest you consider a suitably grand (or should that be grande) name and use it with joy and pride!

  2. The husband and I eat supper so regularly at one of our local chains that every waiter knows which table to seat us at and the drinks regularly arrive by the time we’ve reached it. My part of the bargain is to know THEIR names!

  3. simon roberts says:

    Suggestion: boycott Starbucks. They are taking over the world with their bland, lukewarm excuse for coffee. If you must use a chain, use Caffe Nero – by far the friendliest ( the one just down from Blackfriars Station is a good example ). Go in search of good independents and never darken the doorstep of a Starbucks again!

    • scribedoll says:

      Trouble is, I actually find that I cannot drink Nero coffee. It may well be better – I don’t know – but it’s too strong for me. I don’t like like very dark roasted coffee.

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