Starbucks sued for underfilling its lattes

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Two Starbucks regulars in California claim Americans are getting screwed over by their favorite caffeine provider. In a class-action lawsuit filed Wednesday, Siera Strumlauf and Benjamin Robles accuse Starbucks of purposefully underfilling lattes by at least 25 percent — an intentional act of fraud, their suit claims, meant to cut costs by putting less milk into the supposed Tall (12-ounce), Grande (16-ounce), and Venti (20-ounce) sizes. Through this alleged ruse, 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," argues the pair, who say they used to visit Starbucks several times a week.

The duo alleges that this isn't just a couple of baristas being chintzy — they say it's a company-wide conspiracy. As proof, they point to a system Starbucks instituted in all its stores for preparing lattes in 2009. At the time, baristas got new milk pitchers with "fill lines" etched in so that drinks would get the same amount of milk. Unfortunately, these two say, that's the smoking gun they needed. According to Law360:

For instance, in making a "grande" 16-ounce latte, baristas are required to use 12 ounces of milk, plus two 1-ounce shots of espresso. Therefore, the maximum possible fluid ounce amount of latte a customer could possibly receive is 14 ounces, the pair alleged.

Perhaps most significantly, the pair contend that the cups Starbucks uses for its 12-, 16- and 20-ounce lattes can hold exactly those amounts if they are filled completely to the top brim. But as a rule, Starbucks employees are instructed to leave a quarter-inch of space from the top of the cup. From a logical standpoint, that means that no cup Starbucks uses could possibly contain the alleged serving size, and every drink is filled less than the amount advertised, the consumers said.

Neither can the foam count toward a drink's volume because, the lawsuit says, "the food science community measures foam by mass, not volume," though right now they argue Starbucks does. Obviously this reasoning could hit some snags when other drinks are factored in — a Grande cappuccino will by definition have less volume than a Grande latte, and in an attempt to bite into the third-wave trend, the coffee giant's espresso drink menu lately has exploded with all manner of milk-to-foam variations.

A Starbucks rep responded that the suit has no merit because their "handcrafted beverages" are inherently going to vary in size, and that they "inform customers of the likelihood of variations." A vague-sounding dismissal for now, but the coffee giant certainly isn't planning to roll over and rename the Venti size whatever the Italian word is for "18."

See photos of Starbucks cups through the years:

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Starbucks cups, different looks through the years
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Starbucks sued for underfilling its lattes
CHENGDU, SICHUAN PROVINCE, CHINA - 2015/09/13: Coffee cup on table in a Starbucks cafe. Starbucks is streamlining the ordering process so customers are able to get that cup of coffee faster than usual. (Photo by Zhang Peng/LightRocket via Getty Images)
A cappuccino coffee sits in a Starbucks Corp. Reserve cup, used for specialist coffee, on the counter at a Starbucks coffee shop in London, U.K., on Friday, Oct. 16, 2015. Coffee futures fell the most in seven months after Colombia announced measures that will increase exports, spurred by the plight of farmers in the country who are dealing with drought conditions linked to the El Nino weather pattern. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images
BEIJING, CHINA - 2014/12/24: A paper coffee cup and Starbucks logo. Starbucks will continue its expansion in China in 2015 and double its China store count to 3,000 by 2019. In its first-quarter fiscal report, the coffee giant shows optimistic expectation for its robust expansion plans in 2015. (Photo by Zhang Peng/LightRocket via Getty Images)
A Starbucks employee writes a message on a cup of freshly brewed coffee at a local store in Washington, DC on December 26, 2012. Starbucks stirred the political pot Wednesday by urging its baristas to write 'come together' on its cups as a way to pressure US lawmakers to compromise on a deal to avert a year-end fiscal crisis. Starbucks chief executive Howard Schultz said the American coffee giant was recommending its first-ever message on the side of tall, grande and venti (small, medium and large) drinks sold at its Washington stores as a way to help break the capital's gridlock on the so-called 'fiscal cliff.' Lawmakers and the White House have less than a week to work out a deal aimed at preventing tax hikes from hitting all Americans and a series of deep, mandated spending cuts from kicking in beginning January 1. AFP PHOTO/Eva HAMBACH (Photo credit should read EVA HAMBACH/AFP/Getty Images)
FILE - In this March 18, 2015 file photo, Larenda Myres holds an iced coffee drink with a "Race Together" sticker on it at a Starbucks store in Seattle. Starbucks baristas will no longer write "Race Together" on customers' cups starting Sunday, ending as planned a visible component of the company's diversity and racial inequality campaign that had sparked widespread criticism in the week since it took effect. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Justin McCartney of Hampton, Va., holds up a cup with the words "Come Together" written on it outside a Starbucks cafe in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 27, 2012. Starbucks is using its coffee cups to jump into the political fray in Washington. The world's biggest coffee chain is asking employees at cafes in the Washington area to scribble the words "Come Together" on cups for drink orders on Thursday and Friday. CEO Howard Schultz says the words are intended as a message to lawmakers about the damage being caused by the divisive negotiations over the "fiscal cliff." (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
A Starbucks coffee cup is seen in this photo taken August 12, 2009. AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
A customer holds their cup of coffee at the Starbucks in Chagrin Falls, Ohio on Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2006. Starbucks Corp. releases third-quarter earnings after the closing bell. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)
A cup of Starbucks tea is seen in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 16, 2006. Starbucks Corp., the largest specialty coffee retailer, will report its earnings for the fiscal fourth quarter on Thursday, Nov. 16, 2006. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)
MIAMI - JANUARY 18: In this photo illustration, the new Starbucks 31-ounce Trenta size ice coffee is seen on the right next to a tall cup of Starbucks coffee on January 18, 2011 in Miami, Florida. Starbucks rolled out the newest member of its lineup of drinks which is available only for Tazo shaken iced teas, iced tea lemonades and iced coffees. (Photo illustration by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - SEPTEMEBR 26: Starbucks Coffe Company's news product 'Starbucks Discoveries'(Espressso (L), Latte (R)) are seen during a preview party on September 26, 2005 in Tokyo, Japan. 'Starbucks Discoveries' is the company's first chilled cup coffee product which will be available at convenience stores on September 27 in Japan with the same coffee beans used at Starbucks stores. (Photo by Junko Kimura/Getty Images)
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