But what is "reasonably hot" in the case of tea? We called James Oestreich, the house manager at Teacup on Queen Anne, to find out. If SBUX is indeed putting its customers' sensitive palates at risk, is it for the sake of the beverage, or out of carelessness?
Starbucks was in the right, says Oestreich, if the tea Inanli purchased was black or herbal. His shop uses boiling water, at about 212 degrees Fahrenheit, to prepare cups of dark Darjeeling or chamomile, for instance. "I don't think you get the full strength if you brew it cooler," he explains.
But if Starbucks is using boiling water for its Tazo line of green and white teas, not only does the coffee giant run the risk of burning you, it puts the very flavor of the tea in jeopardy.
Over-brewing leads to bitterness. So for oolongs (slightly lighter than black tea, and used in Tazo's Joy) and heftier green teas, Oestreich says, stick to temperatures of about 180 degrees. And for the most delicate of teas, very light greens and white teas, the temperature of the water in which you steep should be closer to 160 degrees.
Starbucks HQ didn't respond to a message left earlier today asking for the company's official policy on water temperature. But at a store down the street from Weekly headquarters, an employee said all tea gets water at 200 degrees. A second employee filled our order--a cup of black and a cup of green--from the same steaming tap.
Reports of the suit don't say what kind of tea Inanli was drinking, but the lesson here is, if it was black tea, Starbucks may want to consider bringing Oestreich in as an expert witness. But if it was a sensitive green that the plaintiff received in a cup of scalding liquid--well the company just might deserve what it gets, if only for serving an inferior product.