Starbucks has been accused of deceiving customers with one of its coffee blends sold in grocery stores. Puroast Coffee, a small-batch roaster’s cafe in North Carolina, filed the complaint with the North Carolina Attorney General in late September.

According to Puroast Coffee, Starbucks describes its Dark French Roast Coffee as pure “100% Arabica coffee”, although it is not. The blend is in fact “adulterated” with a high and “abnormal” level of potassium, which alters the taste of the coffee and could be harmful to some people.

In a press release on 2 November, Puroast Coffee said that laboratory tests on Starbucks Dark French Roast Coffee conducted by Dr Salam A. Ibrahim, a research professor at North Carolina A&T State University, showed a higher potassium content than what is normally found in other coffee brands. The company discovered the potassium in Starbucks’ dark roast blend because it frequently monitors competing brands’ products.

The complaint includes lab results and alleges that the added ingredient could have “potentially adverse health consequences” in people at risk of hyperkalaemia – a high level of potassium in the blood.

The tests completed by labs at North Carolina A&T found Starbucks Dark French Roast had potassium levels that are more than 14 standard deviation points above the other national brands we tested.

This is a significant spike that suggests potassium was added to the coffee during processing.

Dr Salam A. Ibrahim, Research Professor, North Carolina A&T State University

It is well-known that adding buffers like potassium to coffee reduces acid and bitterness. Coffee companies are required to disclose additives. … It’s hard to understand why Starbucks is doing this without telling anyone.

Kerry Sachs, CEO, Puroast Coffee

Because of the undeclared potassium, Starbucks is selling “a coffee product with a lower level of acidity than otherwise would result from its normal roasting methods, thereby appealing to consumers seeking a less bitter, lower acid coffee beverage, while continuing to represent that its product is ‘100%’ coffee and lacking any other ingredient,” the complaint states.

In addition, the complaint alleges that Starbucks competes unfairly with other North Carolina coffee producers that do not use chemical additives in their products, such as Puroast Coffee.

A Starbucks spokesperson told McClatchy News on 2 November that the company is aware of the complaint and believes it is unfounded. They also stated that the company does not add potassium to its Dark French Roast Coffee and the element occurs naturally in coffee.

We are confident that the labeling for our Dark French Roast coffee is fully compliant with all U.S. Food and Drug Administration labeling requirements.

A Starbucks spokesperson

Brandon Herring, public information officer for the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, told McClatchy News on 4 November that the department had received the complaint and was investigating it.

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