Starbucks Wins 'Underfilled' Lattes Lawsuit

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on January 16, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Starbucks customers are pretty fussy when it comes to their daily fix. That much was evidenced by fans of their lattes filing a class action lawsuit claiming the coffee chain was shorting them on their steamed milk. "Starbucks lattes are uniformly underfilled pursuant to a standardized recipe," the suit alleged. "By underfilling its lattes, thereby shortchanging its customers, Starbucks has saved countless millions of dollars in the cost of goods sold and was unjustly enriched by taking payment for more product than it delivers."

But a federal judge disagreed, ruling that the lawsuit "fail[ed] to show that lattes contain less than the promised beverage volume represented on Starbucks' menu boards," and dismissing the suit.

Malicious Milk Mis-Measurement

The claims all came down to how Starbucks poured its lattes:

To create a Latte, the standardized recipe requires Starbucks baristas to fill a pitcher with steamed milk up to an etched "fill to" line that corresponds to the size of the customer's order, pour shots of espresso into a separate serving cup, pour the steamed milk from the pitcher into the serving cup, and top with ¼" of milk foam, leaving ¼" of free space in the cup. However, Starbucks' standardized recipes for Lattes result in beverages that are plainly underfilled. Stated otherwise, the etched "fill to" lines in the pitchers are too low, by several ounces.

Alleging that Starbucks cut corners to save money on milk by using too little steamed milk and too much milk foam, the company allegedly "cheats purchasers by providing less fluid ounces in their Lattes than represented."

Legally Promised Beverage Volume

But U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers rejected the claim that milk foam shouldn't count towards the advertised volumes of lattes and mochas, noting that the plaintiffs conceded that foam is an essential ingredient in their drinks and finding that reasonable customers expect foam to take up some of that volume.

"No reasonable consumer would be deceived into believing that lattes which are made up of espresso, steamed milk and milk foam contain the promised beverage volume excluding milk foam," Rogers wrote, dismissing the lawsuit.

Starbucks also recently dodged another class action regarding the size of its iced beverages, this one claiming the space the ice took up in the beverage cup shortchanged consumers up to 10 ounces of fluid caffeine.

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