Starbucks Faces Latte Lawsuit

June 23, 2016

Starbucks has long reigned as the king of coffee shops, providing millions throughout the world with their caffeine fix every day. But according to a new lawsuit, those who prefer a latte for their morning pick-me-up may want to take their business elsewhere. The complaint alleges that Starbucks’ latte recipe skimps on steamed milk, ultimately leaving customers with a drink that is smaller than advertised. Although the Seattle-based chain denies these claims, this week a federal judge upheld the suit by allowing its two plaintiffs to seek damages.

The case centers on a preparation method that Starbucks adopted in 2009 in order to save money on milk. Along with lowering the “fill to” lines on its milk-steaming pitchers, the company also required baristas to leave a quarter inch of free space in all drink cups. Californians Siera Strumlauf and Benjamin Robles saw this as consumer deception and subsequently filed suit in federal court. “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,” reads the suit.

The plaintiffs drove their point home by highlighting the company’s advertised amounts versus what customers really receive. Each Starbucks location features a menu board listing the same sizes: tall (12 oz), grande (16 oz) and venti (20 oz). Order a latte and open up your cup, however, and what you received likely won’t match the volume advertised on the menu. “This is not a case where the alleged deception is simply implausible as a matter of law,” wrote U.S. district judge Thelton Henderson. “The court finds it probable that a significant portion of the latte-consuming public could believe that a ‘Grande’ contains 16 ounces of fluid.” Still, this legal saga is far from over. With Strumlauf and Robles clear to pursue damages, they must now build an even stronger case and endure more time in court if they are to win a settlement.



  1. How will this lawsuit affect Starbucks’ reputation?
  1. Should Starbucks pay damages for deceiving their customers?


Source: Jana Kasperkevic, “Judge Allows Starbucks Customers To Sue Over Underfilled Lattes,” The Guardian, June 20, 2016. Photo by Alim Mohammed.