How Hot Is Starbucks Coffee?

Last week we wrote about how you shouldn’t drink very hot coffee and mentioned the famous McDonald’s lawsuit over third degree burns from a spill. Now it appears that Starbucks may be in the same boat as McDonald’s by first trying to ignore the injury and now facing a lawsuit. The ABA Journal (Journal of the American Bar Association) reports that a Houston lawyer sues Starbucks for alleged burns from spilled coffee.

A Houston lawyer says in a lawsuit that a barista spilled hot coffee on her, causing burns to her lap and such excruciating pain that she had to remain on her hands and knees while a colleague rushed her to the hospital.

The lawyer, Katherine Mize, claims in the suit that the coffee was so hot that it was unreasonably dangerous, report Texas Lawyer (sub. req.), the SE Texas Record, Click2Houston and the Houston Press.

Mize is seeking up to $1 million in damages. Her lawyer, Brian Humphrey, told Texas Lawyer that Mize had to be treated for lost skin in her lap area. The injury “was pretty serious” and resulted in scarring, he said.

This report has echoes of the McDonald’s suit in that the company apparently ignored complaints from the plaintiff and now must deal with the issue in court. McDonald’s made their franchises serve coffee at 180-190 degrees which can cause third degree burns of the skin within 7 seconds. How hot is Starbucks coffee? That will probably come out in court. It turns out that coffee does not need to be 180 degrees to cause a 3rd degree burn.

Hot Liquids and Burns

The Burn Foundation discusses hot liquid burns.

Coffee, tea, soup and hot tap water can be hot enough to cause serious burn injury.

Scald and steam burns are often associated with microwave oven use.

When tap water reaches 140º F, it can cause a third degree (full thickness) burn in just five seconds.

Hot Water Causes Third Degree Burns…

  • in 1 second at 156º
  • in 2 seconds at 149º
  • in 5 seconds at 140º
  • in 15 seconds at 133º.

How hot is Starbucks coffee? If the lady actually suffered 3rd degree burns the coffee was probably at least 140 degrees and more likely 150 or above.

And this brings us back to drinking hot liquids in general. As the WHO declared, drinking very hot beverages is associated with a higher incidence of esophageal cancer.

“Very hot” beverages “probably” cause cancer. This is mostly based on studies related to the consumption of a traditional drink called mate or cimarrón in South America where the tea can be taken at temperatures around 158 degrees Fahrenheit (or 70 degrees Celsius). That’s significantly hotter than people in North America or Europe usually consume their drinks.

Whether your concern is getting burned by spilled coffee or increasing your risk of esophageal cancer it is best to let your coffee cool into the sub 130 degree range before drinking.  And make sure the lid is on tight before you handle that takeout coffee!


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