Just a cup of coffee
When doing long distant traveling in Israel or overseas, one of the first things on my mind is where I can get a cup of coffee. If I’m really busy, I can cope without it for a long time, but if I didn’t get my cup in the morning, it’ll be on my mind all day. It has to be resolved, even if it means drinking it at 1 o’clock in the morning before brushing my teeth for bed.
You can serve me a 5 course dinner, with Coke, tea, chocolate mousse and Belgian chocolate for dessert, but all the caffeine in these products don’t “hit the spot” like real coffee. I even know a few Israelis who whenever they do Reserve Duty in the IDF, take with a “Coffee Kit” including a little Primus Stove to cook it. Just in case…
Which brings us to the million dollar question, may one buy a cup of coffee at a McDonald’s or any other non-Kosher restaurant or coffee shop?
To answer the question, these are the issues which need to be addressed:
- The ingredients
- Chalav Stam (non-supervised milk)
- The coffee pot
- The coffee cup
- Bishul Akum (Cooking by a non-Jew)
- Maris Ayin (what will people think)
Coffee and sugar are considered ingredients that do not need special Kosher supervision and you may get them anywhere. The only emphasis is that the coffee must be non flavored. Extra flavorings can contain non-Kosher components.
Chalav Stam (non-supervised milk)
During Talmudic times the Rabbi’s decreed that milk must be supervised by a Jew during the milking process to make sure that only cow’s milk (or milk from any other Kosher species) was in the container and not the milk from a non-Kosher mammal (like a pig, camel etc.). During the modern age when there is governmental supervision on the dairy farms, there are some senior Rabbi’s (including the late Rabbi Moshe Feinstein) who permitted using non-supervised milk, since there was a government seal of approval that the milk was only cow’s.
Not all Rabbi’s agree with this leniency, and in particular in Israel, where one can buy supervised milk with great ease.
If your tradition is to follow the lenient opinion about non-supervised milk (like Rabbi Feinstein’s), then you can have milk with your coffee. If your tradition is to be more strict about milk, then enjoy it black…
The Coffee Pot
Coffee is usually cooked in a specific pot or percolator which isn’t used for anything else except for coffee. The exception to this rule are some vending machines which use common pipes for many liquid products including those which aren’t Kosher (soups, for example). One should get the coffee where it was prepared in a coffee pot and not in a vending machine (unless the vending machine serves coffee only).
The Coffee Cup
It is best to ask for a disposable Styrofoam cup to avoid any issues of drinking from a cup which was washed in a dishwasher with non-Kosher food.
In case there are no disposable cups (a 5-star restaurant???), then ask for glass and not ceramic. There are some traditions which give a Halachic ruling that glass doesn’t absorb flavors and as such remains Parve, so in case of emergencies or on the road (a cup of coffee is nearly an emergency, isn’t it?), you may use glass.
Bishul Akum (cooking by a non-Jew) was forbidden in Talmudic times to prevent socializing with non-Jews which might lead to intermarriage.
There are two exceptions to this decree:
- A food that can be eaten raw may be cooked by a non-Jew (because the cooking does not really improve the food and because it isn’t considered an important food and one would not invite someone to his home to eat such foods)
- The prohibition is limited to foods which are served on a king’s table (oleh al shulchan melachim) and go with bread or as an appetizer. Only these types of foods are served at social gatherings and only then is there the concern for intermarriage.
There are many details involved in these two rules, so I advice discussing them with a competent Rabbi when the issue comes up. I prefer to keep it simple here, because we are involved only with a cup of coffee…
Bottom line, there is some discussion among the Rabbi’s whether coffee comes under the category of Bishul Akum or not. The custom is to permit coffee, since the majority of the liquid is just water (and water is drunk “raw”).
Maris Ayin means “What will people think when they see me in a non-Kosher restaurant?”. The concern is that another person might mistakenly think that I’m ordering a non-Kosher product or meal.
One should completely avoid sitting down at all in a regular non-Kosher restaurant, as it looks like you are eating there. On the other hand ordering coffee at a rest stop, coffee-house or convenience store is permissible as long as you take the coffee outside of the premises to drink.
Last but not least for devotees of Starbucks coffee, while doing research for this post I discovered an entire website devoted to the Kosher status of Starbucks. I do not take any responsibility for the contents of that site, but you can find everything you want to know there. Kosher Starbucks
For those interested in more information about the Kosher status of coffee, I suggest the following links:
Enjoy your coffee !!