Debenhams says "ciao ciao" to cappuccino and espresso

New 'simple coffe' menu (from
As reported under the alarming (well: sort of) "too Italian" label by main Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, UK department store Debenhams has decided to change the names in its coffee menu at the store's Oxford Street location in London to describe coffee in simple terms, rather than using confusing names such as 'cappuccino' or 'espresso'. 
As explained in the store's press release,
"The new-look drinks menu which [has been launched on 29 October last and] describes coffee in simple terms has been created in direct response to customer feedback that revealed over 70% of coffee drinkers have experienced ‘coffee confusion’ in cafes, bars and restaurants.
The hot beverage warning
never discourages Merpel
Wishing to allow shoppers to spend less time playing coffee Cluedo (as stated by the Director of Food Services at Debenhams), "caffelatte is now described as ‘really really milky coffee’, cappuccino as ‘frothy coffee’ and caffe mocha as ‘chocolate flavoured coffee’. Black coffee is ‘simple coffee, with or without milk’ with espresso shot labelled as ‘a shot of strong coffee’. In addition, rather than offering confusing ‘tall’ (meaning small) ‘grande’ (meaning large) or ‘venti’ (meaning extra large) coffee sizes as found in other shops [eg Starbucks, suggests promptly caffeine-addict Merpel], the high street retailer has also scrapped different size options, instead offering thirsty shoppers simply a ‘cup’ or a ‘mug’ of their favourite drink."

The Plain English Campaign ("fighting for crystal-clear communication since 1979") has welcomed Debenhams' move. As declared to the Daily Mirror, "whether tea or coffee, it needs to be in plain English ... If customers can read the menu clearly, they’re more likely to try something new and they may come back." 

This Kat, while recalling Tom Hanks's explanation as to the effects of Starbucks onto human decision-making, is not 100% sure about Debenhams's move. She concedes that consumers may feel confused about the meaning of "tall" or "grande", but it is difficult to believe that a percentage of consumers as high as that reported in the survey are more likely to be confused by "espresso", "cappuccino" (by the way: do you know where this term comes from? You can learn it here) and "Americano", rather than descriptive terms such as "really really milky coffee" and "frothy coffee". It would be also interesting to know whether the consumers interviewed for the survey were just UK-based, or there were also people from abroad. For these, it might be hard to believe that 'a shot of strong coffee' would be clearer than ‘espresso’. Merpel adds that it might be even more difficult to believe (at least for those from Italy), that you can drink a mug of real espresso (which is usually 8 oz or 236 ml) in one shot and still be able to walk away as nothing happened ...
Debenhams says "ciao ciao" to cappuccino and espresso Debenhams says "ciao ciao" to cappuccino and espresso Reviewed by Eleonora Rosati on Friday, November 02, 2012 Rating: 5


  1. What must be remembered is the tremendous contribution modern names for coffee have made to our culture. The famous coffee ordering scene from Steve Martin's LA Story being a great example(

    I'm fascinated by the fact that cappuccinos and lattes taste very different in different stores. Mochas are even more diverse being anywhere between a coffee and a hot chocolate, and the world of mochaccinos and flavoured syrups opens up vast universes of exploration.

    One person's 'confusion' is another person's 'enigma' I suppose, and if the customers of Debenhams don't want to experience escapist fantasies of being in the cast of Friends through their coffees, then Debenhams should respond to that.

  2. Never mind cappuccino/frothy coffee, I regret the complexity of modern coffee shops not because it causes me confusion (either espresso or caffe lungo, thanks) but because I'm invariably stuck behind someone whose life will be ruined unless they've very carefully thought about their choice of beverage, animal or vegetable whitener, its fat content, flavourings, toppings, portability and don't get me started about the choice of muffins.

  3. UK customers get confused by exotic terms such as 'espresso', and 'cappucino'? My flabber is offically gasted.

    Why, yes, I am a coffee snob. Why does one ask?

  4. I'm reminded of a scene in A Hand-book of Volapük (a novel about inventors of artificial languages) in which two characters are delighting in mellifluous terms for wine bottles - jeroboams, etc. - whilst a third is bemoaning the haphazard irregularity of natural languages. Wherever there is colour in a language there will be someone urging its eradication.

  5. You're paying A$3.50 for a department store cappuccino (sorry… 'frothy coffee')?!

    I don't think the biggest issue here is what they choose to call it.

  6. I have to say that if I saw the sign, I'd assume that the reason for the wording was some sort of trademark difficulty. Whereas this time it seems that IP is, for once, entirely innocent!

    If the idea is simply to make it clear which drink is which, it seems a little odd not to have the "official" name there at all - if I were redesigning it I'd be tempted to include "cappucino" and the like after each name, in a smaller font and in brackets.


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