While espresso drink purists deride Starbucks for its gargantuan sizes — including the larger-than-a-human-stomach Trenta — the chain actually offers a secret smaller size that is perfect for an Italian-style cappuccino.
The unlisted size is called a “short,” and every Starbucks is stocked with 8-ounce cups for the rare customer who orders it.
The history of this secret item dates back to the early days when Starbucks offered two sizes: an 8-ounce short and a 12-ounce tall. It was only as the Seattle brand expanded that it added larger sizes to accommodate customer demand: first the 16-ounce grande, then the 20-ounce venti. To simplify the menu at that point, the company stopped listing the short size, while keeping it around for old customers who liked it — no matter that calling the smallest listed size a tall struck many as annoying and confusing. And then came the 31-ounce Trenta, just one more step away from the “Italian coffeehouse tradition” to which the brand aspired.
You see, you can’t make a good cappuccino in a 30-ounce cup and it gets hard in anything larger than 8-ounces.
As noted by Slate’s Tim Harford, the World Barista Championship defines a traditional cappuccino as a “five- to six-ounce beverage.” And yes, while I, a former Starbucks barista, noted last summer that Starbucks makes better cappuccinos than most places in America, this is only true if you order the right size.
A classic Italian cappuccino is a shot of espresso and a small dose of finely foamy hot milk. There’s more milk than in a caffè macchiatto, which is just espresso plus foam, but less milk than in a caffè latte, which is espresso plus a bunch of hot milk plus a layer of foam.
It should look something like this:
It’s nearly impossible to get enough microfoam to fill a large cup, and anyway you won’t get a good ratio of espresso to milk. This should not be called a cappuccino:
The best option at Starbucks is the short:
It’s true that large cups comes at a cheaper cost per ounce and will provide a longer lasting drinking experience. But the short, which is cheaper than a tall, provides the brief, energizing, and delicious experience that makes a cappuccino such a nice way to start the morning.
You can also order a short size in other hot drinks. Don’t worry, the barista will know what you’re talking about.