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:
Starbucks cups, different looks through the years
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)
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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)
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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)
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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)