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Why the Trenta?

By Michelle Rafferty


So, why did we launch the Trenta? We listened to you,” says Starbucks. Really?

Looking for more answers, I asked my friend Gabe* for his thoughts on the matter. Gabe is a coffee trader, which means he imports coffee and collaborates with members of the New York commodities coffee trade. Oh and he gets to roast beans and cup all day (see picture below on right). Below is a conversation (via Gmail’s instant messaging service) we had about the Bucks’ latest creation.

*Note: Some g-chat names have been changed to protect the identity of those in the conversation below.

Me: So you work in coffee. What do you think of this whole Trenta thing?

Gabe: Honestly, this is about McDonald’s. They are very successful with their iced coffee and Sbucks is trying to compete.

Me: So the Trenta is really a response to McDs?

Gabe: Yes.

Me: They also appear to be warring over oatmeal…is Sbucks actually afraid they’ll lose their customers to golden M?

Gabe: Sbucks started off as a specialty coffee outfit but they moved away from that a long time ago. Now they are responding to the demand for iced coffee and larger beverages.

Me: Wait what does “specialty” mean? Better quality?

Gabe: There are many interpretations of specialty coffee, but for the most part it encompasses all Arabica/high grown single origin coffee.

Me: And what do they use now?

Gabe: Well, Sbucks does not use bad coffee, in fact it is still considered specialty because it is Arabica, meaning it is grown at high elevations, and it is from a single-origin. But, by no means does specialty signify “good coffee.” Sbucks has gotten sooo big that they are now buying coffee from cooperatives (many different farms with varying degrees of quality), whereas the majority of the other roasters prefer to buy single-estate coffees (aka single farm coffees where quality is consistent and exact origin is available for the end consumer).

Me: So they still get to say they’re “specialty,” but in reality they’ve lost some rights to this claim. They’ve just grown too big.

Gabe: Yeah. They have already lost a lot of customers to McDonalds/ McCafe due to quality and price. McDonalds has better coffee.

Me: Whoa, really?

Gabe: Yeah, McDs has won numerous blind tasting competitions and they have cheaper prices.

Me: In terms of the bean, what’s the diff? And have you participated in these competitions?**

Gabe: In my opinion the difference between the two is not so much the bean, but the way they roast. McDonalds has an outside company roast their beans for them that solely focuses on roasting whereas SBbucks roasts for themselves and I feel has become complacent and lacks innovation in terms of blending and adding new flavors.

Me: They are bad roasters?

Gabe: They are mechanized roasters, everything is consistent but not necessarily good. The issue I have is their roasting method, which as most of their detractors would agree on, is far too dark resulting in a burnt taste. Unfortunately many people prefer this approach.

Me: Can you explain this mechanized roaster?

Gabe: Mechanized means that computer or timed roasting is the only thing used whereas other roasters that we do business still roast by sight/sound/smell and therefore have more of an original product. The companies which McDonald’s have use a variety of methods, not only mechanized or computer roasting

Me: Ah.

Gabe: One more thing. McDonald’s uses smaller regional roasters, who roast it lighter, allowing the true flavors of many single-estate coffees to be experienced at affordable prices. I know this because we sell it to them. Starbucks is more consistent with roasting, but I don’t think this means better coffee.

Me: Ah ok. It’s funny, Sbucks is supposed to be the “classier” of the two, but this Trenta just makes me think “Super Size”…

Gabe: Yes good point. Sbucks started off as a “third place,” someplace where people could visit between home and work in a classy, European setting. Now it is competing with McDs and big gulps at gas stations. People grow to like what they are comfortable with regardless of price or quality. Starbucks still has fantastic marketing.

Me: Hmm so what do you think is going to happen? Any chance they’ll go back to their roots?

Gabe: I dont think Sbucks can go back to their roots because they have already expanded too much. Now they hope to maintain the advantages they have, which is quality product design with a devoted customer base and consistently average quality coffee.

Me: I’m only devoted first month of pumpkin spice latte.

Gabe: See this?

Me: Aha yes. So you’re saying this drink isn’t even physically possible…

Gabe: They claim that your stomach will stretch or naturally adapt to the liquids, so it is physically possible just not recommended in my opinion…maybe they can have in store challenges to see who can drink the most/fastest.

Me: Without puking?

Gabe: Yeah something like that.

Me: So, you are you officially not recommending we not drink the Trenta?

Gabe: Personally, I have never tasted ice coffee in my life, and that is the product we are talking about here, ICED COFFEE. I assume it will just be middle of the road, nothing great but nothing bad either. The thing in question is serving size and the tendency this country has for over-indulgence. And the fact an Italian word is used for the description of this mutated drink must be insulting for the Italians. Or maybe they find it funny.

Me: Hey can I quote you on this?

Gabe: On which part?

Me: All of it!

Gabe: Yeah sure why not.

Me: Great! Any other expert recommendations?

Gabe: Go big or go home. That should be the slogan for this new drink, sounds good right?

Me: Dude, so now you’re recommending people buy it?

Gabe: Yeah it kind of grew on me during this discussion we had……..Sbucks has FANTASTIC marketing lol.

Me: oh brother…

**Gabe later confirmed that he has never participated in a coffee tasting competition.

Gabe specializes in buying and selling unroasted green coffee from all over the world and loves discussing anything and everything related to coffee. His favorites comes from Colombia and Kenya.

For more on the history of coffee check out Buzz: The Science and Lore of Alcohol and Caffeine by Stephen Braun.

EDITOR’S UPDATE: Rob Cockerhan has discovered that the Trenta cup holds an entire bottle of wine. Thank you, Rob. There’s also a video.


Recent Comments

  1. Etyman

    So why the Trenta? Simple answer: Why not! My suggestion is to drop the fancy Italian naming and go for something more folksy – like “Bucket O’ Joe.” It’s certainly more descriptive of the size and saying “I’d like a bucket o’ Joe” has a more workaday, no-nonsense sound to it. And hey, it also lends itself to a spot of simplification to an “Ojoe.”

    I’m also reminded of the Mike Myers “Saturday Night Live” sketch where he says, in a wonderful Scottish accent, “We have three sizes. Wee, not so wee, and frickin’ huge!”

  2. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Les Étoiles and Coffee News, Lauren. Lauren said: Starbucks new 'Trenta' size, what's up with that? http://bit.ly/gBkxHF [...]

  3. Kelly

    Stomach size is irrelevant. That trenta cup will be 3/4 full of ICE. I buy iced tea from Starbucks, and the grande holds about 4 sips with all the ice in it. You guys are acting like it’s going to be filled with pure liquid. It’s a non-issue.

  4. Joe

    When they first tested the trenta in Boston, I laughed so hard just seeing the name on the menu board. But they really should have called it by the Italian word for “pitcher”, or maybe “wheelbarrow”.

  5. Andy Schaeffer

    So….first of all, you’re talking to a guy who sells coffee to McD’s about who has the better coffee? I’m shocked, SHOCKED I TELL YOU, to find that he comes down on the side of his wallet.

    Secondly, you, and a lot of other bloggers talk about Starbucks selling their coffee in the new Trenta–they don’t. That size is only for iced drinks, or as I call them, dessert-in-a-cup (and iced teas.) I feel the generalization is deliberately misleading, the same kind of blurring of the narrative as people saying “Starbuck charges six dollars a cup for coffee.” No, no they don’t–they charge a buck and a half to two and a half dollars for coffee–they charge six or seven dollars for dessert-in-a-cup, which happens to contain a small amount of coffee.

    Bill Maher did the same thing, referring generically to the Trenta as “coffee,” presumably the better to make fun of Starbucks. But when your premise, either for a joke or an article, relies on deliberately misstating the facts, you lose both the credibility and the humor.

  6. Gabe

    In response to Stomach size being irrevelant…. I have never had the iced coffee or iced tea but something strikes me as odd. This drink probably costs anywhere from $1.85 to $2.00 so doesnt that equate to 50 cents per sip? If so, that is quite a bit of money for 1 sip.

  7. Gabe

    Gabe holds no ill will toward Starbucks, it is an industry and growing consumer consensus that McDonald’s has better coffee. What makes it very interesting is the fact that McDonalds’s was never set up as a coffee company but is now turning to professional roasters to roast their coffee for them….. 5 to 6 regional roasters, all with different strengths will always come out on top verus Starbucks

  8. [...] kookiness about coffee sizes, take measure of the OUP Blog post on the trenta, the largest of the Starbuck’s large, and this post from the Language Log on latte lingo, coffee [...]

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