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CONSUMER AFFAIRS / DENISE GELLENE

A Hot Tip for Coffee Lovers: Most Retailers Prefer to Make It Scalding

September 16, 1994|DENISE GELLENE

How hot is your coffee? Probably hotter than you think.

Last month, an Albuquerque, N.M., jury awarded $2.7 million to a woman scalded by McDonald's coffee--an amount reduced this week to $480,000 by the trial judge.

The jury blamed McDonald's for continuing to sell coffee at a temperature the company knew could cause burns. Evidence showed McDonald's coffee was hotter than that served at other restaurants.

Perhaps in Albuquerque. According to our admittedly unscientific survey, at least one Burger King and one Starbucks outlet serve coffee hotter than McDonald's. We found temperatures ranging from a low of 157 degrees at Primo's, a small chain of coffee shops, to a high of 182 degrees at one Downtown Los Angeles Burger King.

In the Albuquerque case, it was disclosed that McDonald's brews coffee at 195 to 205 degrees and holds it at 180 to 190 degrees.

If you conduct this temperature test at home, you may find similar results with your own coffee. According to the Assn. of Home Appliances Manufacturers, brewing temperatures for coffee makers range from 170 to 205 degrees.

The coffee industry is loath to turn down the heat, despite potential liability for burns. The Specialty Coffee Assn., whose members include coffee roasters, retailers and restaurants, says coffee tastes best if brewed at 195 to 205 degrees.

Ted Lingel, executive director of the association, said members are discussing other safety measures, such as printing warnings on cups--already a practice at McDonald's--and using spill-proof lids.

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Getting exercised: Bally's decision to reduce operating hours at many of its 47 health clubs in the Los Angeles area a few weeks ago touched off a revolt among hundreds of members.

Colin Abrahamson, who led a petition drive at a Rosemead gym owned by Bally's Health & Tennis Corp., complained that opening the club half an hour later in the morning left him too little time to exercise before work. He said the opening time at his club was moved to 5:30 a.m. from 5 a.m.

"I try to work out a couple body parts every day," he said. "Now I can't do that."

Bally's has been accused of trampling on club members in the past. In April, it paid $120,000 to settle federal allegations of deceptive billing, membership cancellation and refund practices. Two months earlier, it paid the Los Angeles district attorney's office $138,062 to settle false-advertising charges in connection with a membership promotion.

Bally's did not admit wrongdoing in either case.

The company said it has the right to change operating times--a move it is taking to standardize operations nationwide. In Los Angeles, no club had hours shortened by more than 60 minutes, a spokeswoman for Bally's said. The actual hours vary according to club size. While all the company's clubs now open at 5:30 a.m., the larger clubs close later in the evening, it said.

The spokeswoman said Bally's received 559 complaints about the changes.

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Call them mini-billboards: More and more advertisers looking for ways to reach children are splashing their names on milk caps--cardboard disks commonly called POGs.

Sara Lee Corp. includes a free milk cap bearing the company name in boxes of English muffins. Nordstrom gave away 70,000 caps to promote its junior clothing department last year. Del Taco, Burger King and Disneyland ran similar milk cap giveaways.

In the last year or so, the milk caps have become wildly popular among school-age children. They have even been banned from some elementary schools as distractions. Kids stack POGs and knock them over in a game that is a cross between tiddlywinks and baseball card flipping.

A spokesman for a leading POG manufacturer makes no apologies for turning milk caps into ads.

"This way, when a kid is at home, they always see in front of them the Nordstrom name" or whatever name is on the cap, said Brian Theriot, spokesman for the Costa Mesa-based World POG Federation.

Theriot said his company has set certain standards for advertising, but he said he couldn't be specific: "Let's just say that we won't put anything on a cap that Mom or Dad or Grandma doesn't approve of."

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Waste not the not wanted: Fenton Communications, a Washington public relations firm, provides a self-addressed envelope for people to return unwanted mailings. "We'll be able to send them to someone else and avoid the environmental impact of additional paper, printing and production costs," a note says. No word on what they'll do if all mailings are returned.

Some Like It Hot

A random survey shows McDonald's isn't the only chain offering hot coffee.

Temperature Chain Location (degrees) Starbucks Arcadia 176 Burger King Downtown Los Angeles 182 McDonald's Downtown Los Angeles 170 Primo's Downtown Los Angeles 157 Pasqua Downtown Los Angeles 168 Winchell's Pasadena 166

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