Archive for October, 2010

Eggs and Coffee

October 10, 2010

Eggs and coffee, along with some home fries and toast, are what I’m probably going to have for breakfast this morning. But I don’t mean to write about my breakfast. I mean to write about sizes.

When products are commonly available for sale in two sizes, these sizes are likely to be called Small and Large. If they come in three sizes, these are usually Small, Medium and Large.

Eggs in supermarkets typically come in three sizes. But they are called Large, Extra Large and Jumbo. Yes, eggs in a carton marked Large are actually small.

I am old enough to remember eggs sold as Medium, but I’m not sure about Small, though they must have existed at one time. But chickens of the egg-producing variety have been bred to lay ever larger eggs, and the ones that laid Small and Medium eggs have been bred out of existence, except perhaps on some organic farms that market “heirloom” eggs. But the USDA standard for eggs in the United States doesn’t seem to have changed, and so we live in a world where, as regards relative egg sizes, Large means small.

Now, when it comes to cups of coffee in coffeehouses, just the opposite has happened.

For me, a normal cup of non-espresso coffee is 6 to 8 fluid ounces (US). I would call the 6-oz. cup a small cup “small” and the 8-oz. cup (usually a mug) “big.” Also, coffee in coffeeshops (that is, casual restaurants, as distinct from coffeehouses), when served with meals or without them, typically comes in 8-oz. cups, and if customers want more coffee, they get free refills.

But in American coffeehouses that are not Starbucks — at least on the West Coast — the cup sizes that are designated Small, Medium and Large are typically 12, 16 and 20 ounces respectively. (Starbucks, famously, has invented a special language for these sizes, but they seamlessly translate orders from English into this language, so that, for example, Small = Tall.) For my coffee-drinking habits, these would be Large, Extra Large and Jumbo — exactly the terminology of egg sizes!

I have come across a few coffeehouses that offer an 8-oz, cup called Mini (or something like that). But they are the exception. (At Starbucks this size is called Short, and is available despite not being listed on the menu board.)

I suspect that the reason for this development is that in American coffeehouses takeout has become the default. I would guess, from my long experience of hanging out in these places, that by now the ratio between “to go” and “for here” is at least 2:1. Now, Americans like to drink their coffee (traditionally weak) in large amounts, and if they are limited to one cup without refills, they might as well make it big. And so Small is actually large.