SEATTLE -- Alcee James, age six, practically grew up in Starbucks. His mother, Rose James, has been a barrista for the popular coffee chain for a decade, and Starbucks became the de facto child care center when her husband left them two years ago.
Alcee has been adopted by the Starbucks regulars and he will often inform new Starbucks workers what drink they should start preparing as soon as they walk in the door. "For here, Venti Americano," he would chirp, when a grandfatherly figure entered, clad in a plaid cardigan. Or "To go, grande sugar-free, vanilla soy, decaf, no foam, mocha latte," for a harried looking woman talking on her phone while scrolling through e-mails on her blackberry.
But Alcee's mastery of the Starbucks lexicon has caused trouble for him at school, where he just started first grade. Alcee is just 3'1" tall, a good half foot shorter than the average boy in his class and shorter than all but one other girl. But when his teacher, Ms. Wetherington, lined them up by height in order to teach them rudimentary statistics, Alcee balked when she called him "short."
"I'm tall!" Alcee insisted indignantly.
Recounting the incident later, Alcee said, eyes wide, "Mommy always says that 'short' is a bad word."
In Starbucks speak, the smallest published size is "Tall," followed by "Grande" and "Venti." Although "Short" drinks are sold, they must be specifically requested and cost less.
Alcee caused further commotion when he pointed at a girl of average height, Elsa Garcia, and said that she was "grande." (Grande corresponds to a medium Starbucks drink.) Elsa, a slightly chubby girl whose first language is Spanish, took offense at his description, which can mean "tall" or "big" in her mother tongue, and slapped Alcee, who slapped her back.
Alcee's behavior landed him in the principal's office, where he continued to insist that his teacher had called him a bad word. It was not until the principal returned to his office after telling his secretary to call Rose James and caught Alcee gulping down some coffee that the Starbucks association was made.
An embarrassed Rose James has since initiated a reeducation campaign for her son, aided by other Starbucks workers and regulars, and they now use "small," "medium," and "large" to describe their drink sizes. Although some of the customers have been confused by the change, the shop has gained a growing cult following for its unpretentious nomenclature. "Our business among the sixty and older crowd has doubled in the last few weeks," James said. "We're a huge hit with the caffeine-seeking geriatric crowd."