Starbucks Busted for Brewing with ‘Toilet’ Water in Hong Kong

Starbucks coffee, brewed with tap water from a bathroom, anyone?

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REUTERS / Joel Boh

A Starbucks coffee cup in Hong Kong

Okay, this is kind of gross. A Starbucks’ coffee shop in the heart of Hong Kong’s financial district was recently discovered to be brewing coffee with water from a parking garage bathroom faucet ever since it opened in October 2011. The unsavory revelation has sparked outrage and drawn criticism from clientele and other locals.

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AFP reports that local newspaper Apple Daily uncovered photos of the faucet just a few feet away from a urinal in a “dingy washroom” marked for Starbucks use. The shop itself is located in the heart of the city’s bustling financial Central district in the landmark Bank of China building.

The store has acknowledged it is using the faucet to brew coffee. “There is no direct water supply to that particular store, that’s why we need to obtain the drinking water from the nearest source in the building,” Starbucks spokeswoman Wendy Pang said. She added that the shop has now switched to distilled water.

“The initial decision by Starbucks to use water from toilet is a clear sign of your company’s vision and the level of (dis)respect your company has for the health and mind of your customers,” a Facebook user wrote on the Starbucks’ Hong Kong Facebook wall, reports the AFP.

Though tap water in Hong Kong is said to be filtered and conforms to World Health Organization standards, many local residents continue to distrust the water’s sanitation system, citing old buildings and poorly-maintained water-storage tanks as a common concern.

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But that’s not the real issue, others claim. “The issue that is more worrying is … the potential risk of transferring pathogens from the restroom environment into the Starbucks food preparation area,” Hong Kong University School of Public Health associate professor Benjamin Cowling told the AFP. “I wouldn’t go to the restaurant in the first place if I knew they were having potentially risky hygiene practices.”

81 comments
peterkostap
peterkostap

First of all, the water at starbucks (or any coffee shop) is never boiled past the boiling point , which is 100*C. So it's not technically "boiled water", just very heated.  

Also many, if not most, restaurants in the US, Canada and in Europe use "tap water". You can actually often taste the chlorine in it. Some places, if it's really bad, try to mask it with lemon or cucumber. So using tap water as drinking water is really not news...

However, a company that almost solely makes its profits from selling drinks, especially Starbucks with the prices they charge - I just had a SHORT Pike Place Roast coffee in San Juan for $2.40 USD - should not be using straight tap water. No matter where in the world it happens to be. At the very least the water should be filtered, and as a standard practice it should be distilled. I believe on their own products (like the french press they sell in their stores) Starbucks suggests distilled water for "maximum enjoyment". 

And finally the issue of the tap being next to a urinal or toilet bowl. I don't understand how they were allowed to open in the first place and which inspector passed them if they did not have so much as a water faucet at their location. Relocation of plumbing is not an unachievable task. Starbucks are not a franchise based operation, as far as i know, so the company would have been directly involved in the opening of the coffee shop; this is completely their responsibility. 

Oh, and here's a PS. We are all up in arms about Starbucks in Hong Kong using tap water with the potential of fecal matter in our overpriced coffee, but the fact that a McRib "meat" is processed with 70 different chemicals (including azodicarbonamide, a flour-bleaching agent often used in producing foamed plastics) is something we would rather not concern ourselves with... Just sayin'

shiatsubag
shiatsubag

What's the big deal, my dog has been drinking out of the toilet for years and still runs like a top!  I did have to stop giving him coffee tho, gave him the runs.

whlai1314
whlai1314

Title is very misleading. I believe the toilet water in HK is seawater. The water from faucet is freshwater. Obviously, they are not using seawater to brew coffee. I think the water from a faucet in the bathroom is the same as the water from a faucet in a kitchen. Most importantly, the water is boiled... 

rustybeee
rustybeee

Boiled water is boiled water....

Vranak
Vranak

Toilet water is not the same thing as water from a faucet located in a toilet. Sensationalist title Time.

valentine.godoflove
valentine.godoflove

FINALLY................NOW............I KNOW...............WHY STARBUCKS COFFEE TASTES SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

GOOOOOOOD........TOILET WATER !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

valentine, comedian........lol....................

JustLaughing
JustLaughing

Ewww StarBucks? Ha! They spent theirs BUCKS and now their seeing STARS for sure! 

Ms.Kay
Ms.Kay

Now this is just ridiculous...anything to make a buck. This Starbucks has been operating since 2011 and no one has noticed that the company was getting its water from a dingy restroom? This is not only a sanitary issue but a moral one as well and, its unfortunate that they had to be put on the front page in order for something to be done about it.

n7specops
n7specops

I have my Keurig and a billion k-cups of all different types of coffees, hot cocoas, lattes, and even apple cider. So I'm good LOL, I even have some Starbucks k-cups, so no need to go anywhere near one of their locations. Besides, when I lived out in WA, Seattle's Best is way better, went there all the time; even their lattes and such pack less calories than Starbucks has. 

ToshiNakai
ToshiNakai

oh my oh my! I drunk some coffee there lol 

narnar
narnar

This headline is super misleading. The water came from a bathroom faucet NOT a toilet. Still gross, but not as gross.

LuisAponte
LuisAponte

How are they not being sued or seriously fined by a governing health organization? For that matter; it has been two years and they would have never said anything if it wasn't revealed in the news. Shouldn't they be shut down?

anir
anir

Toilet in dictionary is synonymous to bathroom, lavatory. Lavatory is the most correct word since bathroom is a room to take shower. Word toilet is used in Europe and Asia in place of restroom or bathroom. Word restroom is used in USA even though nobody goes there to rest. 

cursesandcran
cursesandcran

Is this really news?  how many kids in Africa would love to drink water out of a bathroom faucet rather than a dirty puddle.  I mean "water in starbucks coffee not the highest level of purity" is not a big deal. 

BillK
BillK

The use of the water out of a faucet from a bathroom is disgusting, but maybe change the title of the article because at first sight, it is very misleading.  I initially thought it was coming straight out of a toilet.

Tinman
Tinman

The main definition is a large bowl to urinate in. Depending on where you are, words can take on a different meaning. Quit acting like you know it all. I did look it up. Toilet in America refers to the bowl!!!

straydog
straydog

China? Concerned about hygiene? Up in arms about coffee brewed with TAP water (NOT water from an actual toliet, as the title tries to mislead)

That's funny, everyone else in the world is up in arms about China using: lead in childrens' toys, melamine in pet food and infant formula, ground rats, fox, and mink as mutton, diseased meat and animals (SARs), carcinogenic chemicals in cooking oil and more.

MarkLarma
MarkLarma

Water?  Like from the toilet?  Best to use Brawndo as it has electrolytes.

AdamRussell
AdamRussell

good grief.  No one ever heard of the room referred to as "the toilet"?  I suppose you also think Eau de toilette comes out of the toilet?

sckurvee
sckurvee

 Such a misleading headline... It has no place on the front page of CNN.com or Time.

daddy2010
daddy2010

Erica Ho believes that if you use the single quotes, it is the same as using air quotes and a wink, so you don't have to be completely honest or accurate.

CindyBP
CindyBP

ah No, this was NOT toilet water is was unfiltered water from a bathroom tap......good grief.

MarkMondazzi
MarkMondazzi

Erica Ho @ericamho

Is it toilet water or just faucet water? This article could be found to be libel if you are not reporting accurately.

AWW
AWW

To those calling this story dumb, please note that the original report is from Apple Daily, a Hong Kong-based Chinese newspaper not known for high journalistic standards. Their "International News" are often from the Daily Mail (Apple Daily's popularity and circulation, like the Daily Mail, baffles me and makes me question the city's taste and intelligence). But let me remind you, Hong Kong people are paranoid about hygiene. That makes all already-overblown Apple Daily reports about food safety even bigger.

byrondelaney
byrondelaney

So did the employees ever wash their hands? And did they go to the bathroom and get water at the same time? So much for Starbucks. Just look at their logo anyway, a spread-legged mermaid. You can get some of that special stuff at the urinal! Then make coffee with it!

paulkr
paulkr

They used water from a bathroom faucet, not a toilet.   Very unprofessional, but its not likely to get you sick either since it is certified to drink.  Sounds like they deliver the water now lets move on with our lives....

rmh1262
rmh1262

if someone comes in and uses the urinal while the water is being drawn...pathogens spray all over the place, AND not everyone washes their hands! Just nasty.

ladydoodle101
ladydoodle101

Seattle's Best is owned by Starbucks, sorry to burst your bubble.

GaryChan
GaryChan

@narnar actually it is a faucet inside the toilet, and people are worries that virus will spray.

i'm Hongkonger and the newspaper put the photo in the headline

Illinoiskid
Illinoiskid

@imogen1975 Hong Kong is not China! I know this is disgusting, but this is the only exception that made it to the headlines unfortunately. Trust me on this, the food regulations in HK are way stricter than the ones in China. 

cleverlyc
cleverlyc

@AdamRussell No one I know refers to the bathroom as 'the toilet' nor do they wash their hands in, or drink water from the toilet, they use the sink in the bathroom for that.

presidentbalut
presidentbalut

@MarkMondazzi It's from a locked water spigot with a sign that says "Starbucks Only" next to a sink, in a restroom.

Indeed, libelous.

shelly420
shelly420

HELLLOOOO, if they're touching the faucet handles in the bathroom, they are touching the pee of just about everyone that has come through there.  When they get back to Starbucks, they are using those pee hands to touch everything else.   You don't find that to be a problem?  Yikes!  I don't think I'd be eating at your house any time soon.

presidentbalut
presidentbalut

@rmh1262 In America we brush our teeth in the bathroom, and drink the water from it too. No one dies nor gets sick from any pathogens...

rustybeee
rustybeee

@ladydoodle101 LOL. Shhh.... don't tell [ n7specops ]. Might ruin his/her day. Not to mention that cafe lattes are made of espresso and milk (1%, 2% or whole), which suggests that it is impossible for one drink to pack more calories than the next assuming the same type of milk is used.... 

casper1504
casper1504

@Illinoiskid @imogen1975 I'm HK resident and thanks to your claim, but actually we're facing that "Chinese from mainland is dragging HK down in different areas". To earn more, restaurants use oil retrieved from sewers or using cheaper materials even poisoned....... these are heard in HK. You know covered crimes are times to reported, so HK residents are living under a food terror and seems it will be worse. And this is not only happened in this area. HK regulation is good, but materials are come from China; the scale is not just in a little cafe but the whole HK.


I'm pain to see HK people are running out of moral but only money. This will kill HK in a sudden.

AdamRussell
AdamRussell

Its common enough to be defined in the dictionary.  Look it up.  I suspect that it might be common usage in Hong Kong.

cleverlyc
cleverlyc

@AdamRussell @CindyBP Toilet != FAUCET

Watch the Mythbusters episode where they tried to contaminate all sorts of things in a BATHROOM by flushing the TOILET many times. Isn't as easy as people think.

This is a non-story, it was NOT from a toilet, it was from a FAUCET.

MarkMondazzi
MarkMondazzi

@presidentbalut Thanks for the clarification....couldn't figure why Time prints false information. Although...they aren't know for any journalistic integrity. Wonder if the President of Apple Daily works for Time Magazine?

cleverlyc
cleverlyc

@shelly420 Urine is actually sterile unless you are VERY ill. Seriously.

Ignorance is not becoming.

CindyBP
CindyBP

Oh, yea. Pee hands, I know when I relieve myself I do not pee on my hands, is that what you do and why you are worried about the issue.

CindyBP
CindyBP

@shelly420 Unless, the machines are different in Hong Kong, the water brewing temp is 190F (higher if requested), enough to kill most harmful germs.

You will not find this in the US, as the water is filtered before heating.

presidentbalut
presidentbalut

@shelly420  Why would anyone who comes in there touch the spigot? Even if they can't read the sign, how would they get the lock off? Then the water would be all over their feet. A lot of trouble to wash your hands. Wouldn't a customer just use the sink to wash their hands?

rmh1262
rmh1262

@presidentbalut @rmh1262 I was born and live in America, and I personally do not DRINK the water in any bathroom, not even my own. People do get sick and die.

larryM
larryM

I have lived in the east and in the west.  Only in the US we call it restrooms.  The rest of the world calls a place where u inload: toilet.  A place where you take a shower and unload: Bathroom.  Now, although this definition may not be in any dictionary..ACCEPT it cos thats reality.

Stay with the main issue..  Water was taken from a tap located in a public toilet.

presidentbalut
presidentbalut

@MarkMondazzi @presidentbalut Trying really hard to be fair at something that sounds intentionally sensationalist.... the story is from Hong Kong. British English is the common strain there. When I lived in the UK they often used "toilet"(as well as 'loo') to mean "restroom" or "bathroom". In American English, the toilet is strictly the sitting device you defecate in.

Possible unintentional confusion. Though I read this on an American webpage. The word toilet is in an ungrammatically sound internet emphasis quote as well, as " 'Toilet' ". Perhaps a legal disclaimer that they are not being literal in American English?

rmh1262
rmh1262

@presidentbalut @rmh1262 Why are you attacking me? I have the right to feel that preparing drinks, and/or food in any bathroom is nasty, ESPECIALLY a public facility where countless people with God knows what uses them. That is my opinion, and I stand on it, you can go elsewhere. I am neither a troll or mentally ill. Name calling is childish and ignorant in any PUBLIC forum.

presidentbalut
presidentbalut

@rmh1262 @presidentbalut Then how do you even breathe the air in a bathroom then, if it' so deadly in there? lol

Everyone I know in the USA bathes in the bathroom, brushes their teeth, rinses their mouth, drinks water, etc. 

You are either a troll or mentally ill. 


Bacteria does not have the ability to travel from feces to toilet, to air, to water, to cup, to mouth. As I said, if it did, then you could not even breathe the air!