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Starbucks Shortchanges Venti Drinkers on Caffeine, Suit Says (1)

Feb. 5, 2020, 3:13 PMUpdated: Feb. 5, 2020, 10:15 PM

Starbucks Corp. cheats consumers on caffeine in the largest size of some of its espresso drinks, including Pumpkin Spice Latte and Cappuccino, a new lawsuit filed in a California federal court alleges.

Starbucks offers three sizes of espresso beverages: tall (smallest size), grande (medium Size), and venti (largest size).

Consumers expect that as the drinks increase in size, so too does the amount of coffee or espresso, and correspondingly, the caffeine, Teresa Adams alleges in her proposed class suit in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

But while the grande-sized drinks have more caffeine than the smaller tall-sized drinks, many venti-sized espresso beverages don’t contain more espresso, Adams alleges. They are equal in caffeine content to their cheaper, grande-sized equivalents, according to the suit.

For example, grande caffe latte, which is made of just milk and brewed espresso, contains 150 mg of caffeine, the suit says. The caffeine content is exactly the same for the larger venti size, meaning the venti customer “is unknowingly paying more money for 4 additional ounces of milk,” the suit says.

Starbucks’s in-store and drive-thru menus don’t inform customers of the accurate espresso or caffeine content for any of the affected products, the suit says. The information can only be found on Starbucks’ website.

The company has defeated consumer suits alleging it tricked buyers of cold drinks by including ice in the stated volume, and systematically underfilled hot latte and mocha drinks by counting the milk foam toward the volume.

Causes of Action: California Unfair Competition Law; California False Advertising Law; California Consumer Legal Remedies Act.

Relief: Monetary damages; punitive damages; restitution; declaratory and injunctive relief; corrective advertising campaign; costs and attorneys’ fees.

Potential Class Size: Unknown number of Californians who bought venti-sized espresso beverages with the same caffeine content as their Grande counterparts.

Response: “These claims are without merit,” Jory Mendes, Starbucks Senior Manager of Corporate Communications said. “Further, our customers have the freedom to customize any beverage in order to meet their taste and dietary preferences,” he said.

Attorneys: Carlson Lynch LLP represents the plaintiffs.

The case is Adams v. Starbucks Corp., C.D. Cal., No. 8:20-cv-00225, complaint 2/4/20.

(Updates Feb. 5 story with response from Starbucks.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Julie Steinberg in Washington at jsteinberg@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Steven Patrick at spatrick@bloomberglaw.com

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