Jews like coffee. The practice of Jews drinking coffee dates back well over a thousand years, since its exportation from the Arab city of Kefa. Its appearance in the responsa oeuvres of the Rishonim and Acharonim attests to the fact that it is a drink of Jews.1 The practice of coffee consumption continues until today with many Jews drinking coffee at that “cool” and “hip” number one coffee chain in America—Starbucks.
Enter the halachic component, however. Is every coffee in this store permitted? The stores are under no hashgachah. “But, it’s only coffee!” some protest. “What could be wrong with coffee?”
Starbucks, of course, is the king of marketing. Through the injection of a hefty dose of super-charged caffeine and some incredible marketing (over 87,000 possible combinations of ingredients, for example), this chain has managed to seemingly take over all of Manhattan, have a branch on Central Avenue, and now Rockaway Turnpike. It seems that it has become the mover and shaker of contemporary culture.
Starbucks logos have become ubiquitous. They have over 10,000 stores across the nation, and according to Kiplinger’s they are about to double in size this year. Starbucks has clearly taken over. More significantly, however, Starbucks has taken over the minds of people who would normally have never even entered a store lacking supervision.
In fact, there are numerous halachic problems. Flavored coffees require kashrus supervision, plain and simple. Why? Because these flavors are added artificially to the bean after it is roasted. These flavors—hazelnut, vanilla bean, or chocolate—are not pure pieces of the same, but come from flavorings that need supervision. Non-kosher ingredients are often placed in these flavorings and are not halachically considered batel—annulled—because they are avida l’timah—done for the purpose of flavoring. When this is done, even if there is less than 1/60th, the laws of bitul do not apply.
Can one order just a Tazo latte, or a buttery caramel macchiato? The short answer is no. The reason is that these coffees are mixed while they are piping hot in containers and machinery that are washed in a hot dishwasher with tarfus, non-kosher. When something is used only cold, there are few halachic complications that can arise. When something is used hot, however, we have to look at when and with what the item has been used before. If the item was used for hot non-kosher within the past 24 hours, then there is a problem. (If it was used over 24 hours previously, then b’dieved—ex post facto—one can assume that the non-kosher taste infusion has become putrid.) One can also assume that in commercial stores, vessels are used hot and certainly have been washed in the dishwasher within the past 24 hours.3
A major problem arises with dishwashers. Notwithstanding the presence of soaps that may make pagum (make distasteful) the taste of non-kosher food in a dishwasher, there are many times when non-kosher food is present when these dishes are there, without the soap. In other words, after the soap has been washed away, the non-kosher food is still there when these dishes are being cleaned.
Some may argue that the dishwasher is not considered a kli rishon (literally, a first vessel, which receives heat directly from a heat source). They would further argue that non-kosher taste infusions can only occur in an item that receives its heat directly from a heat source. It should be noted, however, that both of these assumptions are highly questionable.
We will start with the first assumption. Most dishwashers have an internal heating mechanism or booster where the water is directly heated. The water stream is still connected to the water heating source and thus renders the dishwasher into a kli rishon according to all opinions.4
The next assumption is argued among the Acharonim. Many Acharonim hold that with solid matters, taste can be infused when the items are piping hot—even if there is no direct heat source at play. This is the normative halachic view that is followed.
So what can be ordered at Starbucks? While there are no guarantees here, it has been told to this author that the regular coffee and the espresso (even the triple one) are generally washed separately and therefore would not present a problem of kashrus. It seems that the mixing vessels used for even the pumpkin spice specialty coffees, however, are washed in the general dishwashers.
Some people bring up the issue of maras ayin (the appearance of wrong-doing) in going into an establishment that serves non-kosher. Rav Heinemann is of the view that if the establishment is known to regularly serve items that are also kosher, there is no problem of maris ayin. Thus Rav Heinemann would forbid entering a regular McDonalds, but would permit entering a coffee house, based on this. In previous times, of course, travelers would always enter into such establishments, because there were no alternatives. We therefore do not find any responsa forbidding entering such an establishment based upon maras ayin grounds. Nowadays, the situation seems to have changed and maras ayin would exist when one enters a diner that is noted for serving non-kosher.
1. Shailos and Teshuvos range from if there is a problem of bishul akum. (The Arizal said yes, the Pri Chadash ruled that there is not on account of it mostly being water.) May one drink coffee before davening? Yes, but without sugar—until recent times when sugar consumption became universal. Is there a problem of moshav leitzim? Once, see Chochmas Odom 66:14, but not anymore for most coffee shops.
2. See article by Chana Gila Ovits in the current issue of the YU newspaper.
3. In other words, the assumptive heter of stam kailim of a gentile (see YD 122:6), that it may be assumed that they are more than 24 hours old, does not apply to commercial establishments, according to numerous poskim with which this author has consulted.
4. There is a responsum from Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l concerning dishwasher racks where he writes that dishwashers do not have internal heating mechanisms, and are therefore considered a kli sheini (secondary vessel) and not a kli rishon. However, this was based upon technical information provided to him by others that proved to be incorrect. Even though he later repeated this assumption in a letter to Rabbi Noach Yitzchok Oelbaum, now in Kew Gardens Hills, this author spoke to Rabbi Feinstein’s original source and determined that the ruling was based upon the information the source had provided him.