Adar II 5771
by Rabbi Aaron Tendler
Dear Rabbi Tendler,
Can you please bring some clarity to a much talked about issue – COFFEE! Can you buy brewed coffee from machines in stores [7 /11 – Starbucks etc]? Is there a difference between flavored and unflavored? If you want to sit down in the store and drink it, can you use their utensils [cups, spoons], or do you need to always use disposable things? What about the brewed coffee on airplanes? Can you drink that? If the answer is no, does that include El Al as well? Are there other issues about coffee that we would need to know?
Please shed some light on this big issue!
Thank you for your important question. There are three primary Halachic issues that need to be addressed regarding the Shaaloh of drinking non-homemade coffee (e.g. from a coffee shop, vending machine, or on an airplane). The first is the actual Kashrus of the coffee itself. The second is the status of the utensils they are prepared and served in. The third is whether or not it might be prohibited because of Bishul Akum.
Kashrus of the Coffee
Unflavored coffees, whether caffeinated or decaffeinated, may be assumed to be Kosher. However, they would need to be certified Kosher L’Pesach for Pesach use. Flavored coffees should not be used without a Hechsher.
All creamers, dairy and non-dairy require a Hechsher. Sugar does not require a Hechsher.
Utensils the Coffee is Prepared and Served In
If there is reason to believe that the coffee was prepared using any utensils that may have been used for non Kosher food or coffee, it shouldn’t be considered Kosher. Cups and spoons that may have been used for non-Kosher hot drinks should not be used, either.
This would present a problem purchasing coffee from a vending machine, unless you know that it exclusively dispenses Kosher products. The vendor often changes the flavors dispensed through various nozzles, and it is possible that this nozzle was previously used for a hot flavored non-Kosher coffee.
Coffee shops generally use separate pots for the flavored and non-flavored coffees, so this should not be a concern. On airplanes as well, the pots are generally used exclusively for non-flavored coffees, so one can assume that the coffee itself is Kosher.
Even if you are certain the product is Kosher, and the pot is used exclusively for Kosher products, you must be certain that other utensils used in making this product are used exclusively for Kosher products as well. This includes mixing spoons and steam wands, in the case of fancier coffee drinks.
The Minhag is not to be concerned about the problem of the utensils being washed together with non-Kosher utensils, unless you know for a fact that they are washed together using very hot water, for a number of reasons.
Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (38:12) states that a “Shomer Nafsho,” one who wishes to guard their Nefesh, should be careful not to drink coffee, tea or hot chocolate that has been prepared by a non-Jew on a consistent basis because of Bishul Akum. Each person should decide for himself whether or not he or she qualifies as a Shomer Nafsho. If one feels that this is an appropriate description of one’s self, this would seem to preclude a person from going to coffee shops such as Starbuck’s on a consistent basis. This would not preclude someone from enjoying coffee prepared by a non-Jew occasionally, such as when traveling on an airplane (El Al or any other airline), or purchasing occasionally from a vending machine, when one knows the abovementioned problems are not a concern.
Other Halachic Issues Related to Drinking Coffee
The Halacha is that we only make a Beracha Achrona on a drink when a Revi’is (approx. 3.3 ozs. which is a bit less than 1/2 a cup) has been drunk within a short amount of time. Therefore, the Mishna Berura recommends that a person should leave over this amount when sipping a hot beverage until the end, when it has sufficiently cooled, and drink it at once, so that they could make a proper Beracha Achrona on the drink.
Rabbi Aaron Tendler