Uri Ort knows more about Starbucks than just about anyone else alive, but he will not name a favorite Starbucks. He will not say where he first had his favorite Starbucks drink, the tall one-pump Breve Vanilla Latte, nor where in summertime he prefers to pick up his favorite Starbucks cold drink, the orange mango banana Vivanno.
“I have relationships with many Starbucks stores,” said Ort, a 26-year-old Orthodox Jew, “... in Texas, in Chicago, in Baltimore, and in the New York and New Jersey area.” Ort, who lives in Manhattan, also runs kosherstarbucks.com. He is the leading amateur in the world of coffee kosherology (that’s what we’re calling it): the science of figuring out what is kosher, what traditional religious Jews may consume, at Starbucks.
Like nearly everyone else who is not Mormon, religious Jews need their coffee. On many blocks, in many cities, in the airport, from the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters, from San Francisco to Ashtabula, coffee very often means Starbucks coffee.
Coffee beans and hot water are kosher: They do not run afoul of prohibitions against foods like pork and shellfish. But Starbucks does offer such items, for instance, breakfast sandwiches with ham. And the carafes, knives and other implements can commingle in Starbucks sinks and washing machines, which means particles from, say, a nonkosher smoothie mix can contaminate a spoon used to skim the foam off a latte.
Answers on the Web
The rules for what ingredients are kosher, and what keeps utensils kosher, are many and complicated. To help sort matters out, Ort and his younger brother, Teddy, started a website that they say hundreds of thousands have consulted, to see what is permissible to eat and drink at America’s favorite coffee house.
“We started the website in 2007,” Ort said, “because I’m a little bit obsessed with Starbucks, and I also have a strong interest in kosher. It started as a personal endeavor, to figure out what was kosher and what wasn’t. Eventually I had friends asking me, and I figured I would put it up on the Web. It started small, and just grew.”
He began to stop into Starbucks, and became friends with some baristas around Lakewood. Eventually, his barista network grew — “A bunch of my Facebook friends are Starbucks baristas,” he said — and now that network helps his website stay current.
Ort answers questions emailed from around the world. And he marks all Starbucks products with either a green light or a red light. The Frappuccinos all get red lights. All Tazo teas get green lights. Hot chocolate, green light — but white hot chocolate, red light. The Vivanno smoothie? Depends on the flavor. Mocha drizzle on top — yes! Caramel drizzle, no. But yes to whipped cream.