Ordering coffee isn't what it used to be. Today you need to be proficient in a new language: "Starbucks." Just the other day, I had a most unfortunate encounter with the barista (Starbucks clerk) who didn't understand what I was talking about.

Me: "I'd like a small regular coffee, please."

Barista (confirming my order): "One tall espresso."

Me: "No, a small coffee," I repeated. "Not tall."

Barista: "Tall is small," she said. "And, we don't say `coffee.'"

I must have looked confused because she rolled her eyes realizing she was dealing with a complete Starbucks deviant, who didn't know what she wanted, or worse, knew what she wanted but didn't know how to say it.

I have since learned that small is tall, medium is grande and large is venti. And it doesn't stop there: a short is extra-small for those who feel that tall is just too large.

Deciding to further complicate my life, the Barista continued.

"Espresso by itself or something on it?" she asked.

"On it?"

"Foam," she shouted. "You want foam, whipped cream or au natural?"

Afraid to venture into foreign territory, and to show her I knew my stuff, I asked for a latte.

"Now you're in an entirely new coffee category," the barista instructed. "Latte is a different experience. It includes steamed milk with your espresso, and foam on the top. You want your latte unsweetened?"

"I prefer sugar."

" You're in charge of the sweetener," she said. "What I'm asking is, do you want additions.

"Additions?"

"You can personalize your latte by adding a flavor. If you add vanilla, you've got a vanilla latte. If you add chocolate, you have café mocha and if you blend the two you get a vanilla mocha latte."

"Oh," I said, "That sounds like fun."

"What sounds like fun? The vanilla, café mocha or the blend?"

"Whatever," I said, becoming frustrated.

"Sorry, we don't do `whatever." You need to be latte-specific."

I looked up at the board and saw I had an out: Frappuccino. I was relieved and ordered one.

The barista looked stunned. "An iced Frappucccino in January? Are you kidding me? It's freezing outside. That's our warm weather beverage of choice."

"I want a Frappuccino," I stood firm refusing to be intimidated.

"Fine. How do you want it?"

"How does it come?"

"Any way you prefer: topped with whipped cream, chocolate or caramel sauce?"

"Maybe I should get a cappuccino," I said. "It's less confrontational."

"Personally speaking, the cappuccino is kind of wimpy. It's not as trendy as the latte."

"I'll stick with the latte," I said trying to be politically correct.

"Will you be adding a flavored syrup of choice?" She rattled off a list of syrups including vanilla, caramel, cinnamon dolce, hazelnut, toffee nut, peppermint, gingerbread and pumpkin."

"The toffee nut sounds intriguing."

"Sorry, we had a rush on toffee nut. We just ran out."

"Moving in an entirely different direction," I mused. "I think I'll order a tea."

"Tazo tea, Tazo African Red Bush tea, black tea, passion fruit, passion fruit with green tea and no-caf hibiscus, and you can add lemonade. We also have tea latte or a chai tea latte, which is the same as tea latte except for the chai."

"Do I need the chai?"

"It adds an energy boost."

"I am feeling a bit sluggish. Chai sounds like the perfect remedy for a drop in my blood sugar, don't you think?"

"This is Starbucks. I don't administer medical advice. I just do beverages."

A man, standing behind me added his two cents. "Lady, is this going to take all day or what?"

"She's having a moment," the barista told him. "Whatdayawant?" she asked him.

"An unsweetened double-decaf no whip white mocha blend grande latte, make it a skinny," he belted out.

"How did you do that?" I asked the guy.

"Years of practice," he told me.

"Made up your mind yet?" The barista interrogated me again.

"This is a big decision," the man jumped in. "Go easy on her."

"Can't I just have a regular cup of coffee like a normal person?" I asked.

"This is Starbucks. We don't do normal."

I left empty-handed, went home, dropped a decaf Lipton tea bag into my venti mug with a tall slice of lemon, a packet of Splenda and called it a day. According to my standards, it was quite "grande."

Westporter Judith Marks-White shares her humorous views every Wednesday in the Westport News. She can be reached via e-mail at joodth@snet.net or at www.judithmarks-white.com.