The STAR-K Hotline receives no end of calls from coffee heads who dote on their daily cup of joe, whether from a local Starbucks or a Dunkin’ on the road. Recent changes in Starbucks’ company policy vis-à-vis kosher have further elevated the confusion for the kosher coffee connoisseur. Let’s dive in to clear out some of the haze.
Unflavored roasted coffee beans, whole and ground, are considered kosher without a hechsher. Bearing this in mind, buying a cup of unflavored regular or decaf coffee should not present any kashrus issues. Some coffee vendors, however, sell kosher and non-kosher items, like bacon and ham-filled sandwiches. The keilim used for coffee and the treif items are at times washed together, causing blios (absorbed tastes) from the treif utensil to enter the coffee equipment.
For example, at Starbucks, it’s been established that the brew basket that holds the coffee grounds while the coffee is being made is sometimes washed with keilim that may have come into contact with treif. If we have a “perfect storm” situation in which the wash water is yad soledes, and no soap is added before the treif equipment is placed in the water, then the brew basket is considered treif and the coffee made afterwards is likewise treif.
We do not know the cleaning procedures used by all coffee vendors, but most of them sell treif items along with coffee, and the possibility exists that similar keilim issues may be present. Based on these facts and assumptions, the psak should be that one is permitted to buy hot coffee only from vendors who one knows do not sell treif, or whose cleaning procedures do not impact the kashrus of the coffee. This is, in fact, STAR-K’s opinion on purchasing coffee from stores that sell treif items.
There is a key exception: one who is traveling from home – whether by car, rail, plane, bus or stagecoach – may stop at any rest stop, gas station, Dunkin’ or Starbucks, and purchase a hot cup of their favorite brew. The reasoning behind this exception is a bit complex, but here goes.
Our concern centers on blios from treif in the keilim used to make the coffee and the drinkware used to serve it. The halacha is that tastes that are pagum (off-tasting) do not have an ability to impart a treif status to kosher foods or utensils. The halacha also states that tastes absorbed in a utensil that is not a ben yomo (i.e., has not been used within 24 hours) are considered pagum.
Furthermore, Shulchan Aruch paskens that if one is unsure whether the eating utensils or cooking equipment owned by non-Jews were used for non-kosher within the last 24 hours, one may assume that they were not. This concept is known as stam keilim ainon bnei yoman – or just stam keilim in halachic shorthand. With this in mind, the Mechaber paskens that if someone mistakenly used the pot of a non-Jew to heat up something, the food is permitted since it is assumed that the pot was not used within the past 24 hours. (This is a great din to keep handy when faced with a bedi’eved situation, like the one in the Shulchan Aruch.)
So the question is, does buying coffee in a non-kosher establishment while traveling have the status of a bedi’eved situation? If yes, we could apply the principle of stam keilim to the coffeemaking equipment and enjoy a guilt-free cup of Starbucks coffee. STAR-K Rabbinic Administrator Rabbi Moshe Heinemann shlit”a answered this question by marshalling a Yad Ephraim which references a Nodah b’Yehudah that discusses the propriety of Jews drinking coffee in the gentile-owned coffeehouses of 18th-century Prague.
The Nodeh B’Yehudah addresses the drinking of coffee from the coffeehouse’s mugs. It was assumed that the mugs had had non-kosher milk in them when the gentile patrons drank their coffee. In those days, there was no heter to drink non-cholov Yisroel milk (or cholov stam) and it was considered not kosher. Since disposables had yet to be developed, the only way to drink the coffee was by using mugs that had absorbed the taste of non-kosher milk. The Jews who drank from the non-kosher mugs had two possible halachos on which to rely:
- The mug was a kli sheni and therefore not hot enough to cause a transfer of treif milk taste into the coffee.
- The halacha of stam keilim, referenced above, made the assumption that the utensils were not used within 24 hours, and any blios were pagum.
The Nodeh B’Yehudah dismisses the kli sheni heter by referencing the Taz and Rashal, who pasken that this only helps in a bedi’eved situation. The Shach writes that we need to be strict in applying the heter of kli sheni regarding earthenware utensils, such as the mugs that were used. The heter of stam keilim also doesn’t work here since he says that these mugs were certainly used daily. Therefore, the Nodeh B’Yehudah paskens that these mugs should not be used l’chatchila, and that whoever has it within their power to protest the practice of Jews drinking in gentile coffeehouses should do so.
Let’s return to the present. With the prevalence of disposable cups, we no longer have the issue of non-kosher mugs in gentile-owned coffeehouses. But our issue is not mugs – it’s the washing procedures that may mix treif dishes with the coffeemaking equipment. And the heter of stam keilim applies to bedi’eved situations only, as previously mentioned.
Rabbi Heinemann has ridden to our rescue using ten words in the Nodeh B’Yehudah which say, “When someone is traveling and is in a place where no kosher utensils are available, he is considered to be in a bedie’ved situation and he may use the gentile-owned mug.” The Nodeh B’Yehudah allows the use of the mugs based on the heter of kli sheni, because traveling is a bedi’eved situation.
Rabbi Heinemann applies the same thinking to our modern coffeehouse issue. He says when someone is on the road traveling, he is considered to be in a bedi’eved situation. Based on STAR-K investigations, we also know that the treif dishes at Starbucks are not always washed with the coffee equipment. Therefore, we can use the heter of stam keilim since we are in a bedi’eved situation.
Just remember, that as soon as you get home, you are no longer considered to be in a bedi’eved situation; you are back in “L’chatchila Land,” and non-kosher coffee places should be avoided unless you are absolutely certain that no treif utensils are washed with the coffee equipment.
Bear in mind that even while traveling, you may only order regular or decaf coffee, or a latte made with cholov stam (if you don’t keep cholov Yisroel). Frappuccinos and other flavored coffee creations contain additional ingredients which need to be reviewed before they can be recommended.
 Literally, the temperature at which someone will quickly remove his hand to avoid being burned. The food must be at least this hot before its taste is considered to have been transferred into a utensil. Rabbi Moshe Heinemann holds yad soledes is 120°F.
 Shulchan Aruch 103.
 Y.D. 122:6.
 A scenario in which the halacha allows a lenient approach to be applied.
 סתם כלים אינן בני יומן is based on ספק ספיקה: maybe this pot was not used within 24 hours, rendering any absorbed taste pagum (off tasting). Even if it was used within 24 hours, maybe the absorbed non-kosher taste is pagum in this particular food that was cooked, הובא בטור סי’ קכ”ב בשם הרא”ש.
 Rabbi Ephraim Zalman Margolis, see in Y.D. 122: 6.
 נודע ביהודה יו”ד שאלה ל”ו.
 The mug or bowl into which food from a pot on a fire is poured is called a kli sheni, a second-level vessel. The walls of this vessel are considered to have sufficiently cooled the temperature of the food to such an extent that it is no longer hot enough to transfer its taste into the vessel’s walls.
 The words of the Nodeh B’Yehudah are illustrative of how serious he felt this issue: ומה שהשיב לו המשיב שבפראג שותין בני תורה בבתים של אינו יהודי, ידע רום מעלתו, אם הם בני תורה אינם בני יראה והמה קלי דעת…
 The ten critical words from the Nodeh B’Yehudah are: ולהלכה למעשה בדרך באושפיזא שאין שם כלים אחרים מיחשב דיעבד וכו.
 The fact that the treif dishes are not washed with the coffee equipment every day allows us to avoid the issue the Shach mentioned earlier, that the mugs could not be allowed based on stam keilim, when they were used daily with non-kosher milk.
 A scenario in which the strict halacha must be applied.
 Visit the Starbucks page at https://www.star-k.org/articles/kosher-lists/1709/starbucks/ on the STAR-K website for up-to-date information about both hot and cold Starbucks beverages and which are approved for consumption, both l’hatchila and bedi’eved only while traveling.