Starbucks’ cowardly kowtow

After the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami, several apparently educated people I know stopped eating fish. Their logic was as follows: hundreds of residents of areas like Sendai had been swept out to sea and drowned; fish live in the sea and somehow or other consume bits of dead animal matter; therefore if you ate fish at that time, you would be eating dead Japanese people.

I told them (guessing) our seafood doesn’t come from anywhere near those Northwest Pacific waters. I told them all the oceans at times must have human remains in them (Osama Bin Laden would become some soon after). I told them we are all carbon-based life-forms, living off the food chain that starts with carcasses, bacteria and worms, and statistically we all probably contain a few atoms of what used to be, say, Shakespeare and/or Confucius, not to mention long-extinct giant slugs and carnivorous ferns. I even ventured to suggest something like, “What’s wrong with eating a little bit of Japanese person now and then?” All to no avail.

Perhaps it is simply more fun to freak out about mysticism and nonsense than to calmly accept basic science. Certainly, the international media seem to think so, happily picking up on Apple Daily’s expose about a Hong Kong branch of Starbucks making its coffee out of… ‘toilet water’.

The very phrase conveys disgusting images. Ricky the trainee barista crouches down by the porcelain bowl, scooping God-knows-what out of the pan – and what’s the betting he didn’t even flush it first. Doubly revolting (actually, impracticable) when you recall than many areas in Hong Kong have a separate flushing-water supply piped in from the sea, so it would be salty, not to say full of bits of tsunami victims.

So, obviously, that is not what was happening. The Bank of China branch of Starbucks was drawing plain potable water from a regular tap in a restroom. Yes, there is a urinal nearby. No, the two are not connected by any plumbing. If you would be too squeamish to fill a water bottle here, you have led an overprotected life and could use a bit of therapy. After trundling the stuff back to the serving area, Starbucks filtered it. And, needless to say, they would have boiled it – because that’s how you make coffee. It’s safe.

The South China Morning Post quotes a Hong Kong University expert who points out that there is a risk of pathogens being transferred from the restroom to the food preparation area. Which is true. But, being carbon-based life-forms that excrete waste products, Starbucks staff, like the customers, will inevitably go to restrooms several times a day anyway, and – on pain of being fired – will no doubt wash their hands, etc, each time, right?

Predictably, the company’s managers instantly turn into complete wimps and start groveling to the press and public about being sorry and how from now on they will use only special, hyper-expensive, pure, distilled water specially flown in by Boeing 747 from an exotic, endangered glacier in Hawaii. It is a pathetic sight: a vast global brand letting itself be pushed around by a scientifically illiterate, panic-prone commentariat.

The big boss of Starbucks could have been photographed drinking from the infamous tap and letting his infant children sip from the same cup. He would then declare that his company targeted only educated and rational customers, not riffraff who wet themselves about nothing. “If you’re so stupid that you think this water is dangerous,” he would say, “you’re uncool, and we don’t want you as a customer. Go to Pacific Whatsit where all the losers hang out.” What a wasted opportunity to have some real, manly, forthright PR that enables a company to manage events rather than vice-versa.


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19 Responses to Starbucks’ cowardly kowtow

  1. PCC says:

    And those uncool idiots best stay away from Abercrombie & Fitch, too.

  2. dubber rucky says:

    Jimmy Lai can do better than that. Apple Daily should stick to more helpful content, like reviews of prostitutes.

  3. Local Tax Payer says:

    Throw some mud, some will always stick. It’s a seething, if not weevil-ridden, nexus of the usual HK neuroses:

    petty revenge — for the notice reserving the water for the Starbuck staff

    racism — Japanese devils and Starbuck are not Chinese, selling a foreign product, and we all know the poor hygiene of the unpeople

    mistrust tending to paranoia — the tap water, if it’s lingered too long in an illegal rooftop water-tank or even bodged pipes is sometimes rusty; in any cases the neighbours may have slipped a substance in

    unrealistic perfectionism/snobbery and negativity, based on the persons criticising having servants to deal with that sort of thing

    raising innuendo to an art form.

    If only our co-citizens could devote a hundredth of their energy to promoting the public good eg in the political arena or by creating great artistic works or by adding to the sum of human knowledge…

  4. I thought people went there for the toilet water. So much tastier than the coffee, surely.

    Do they pay any tax in Hong Kong? They’re probably a charity!

  5. Sojourner says:

    I agree with Bela.

    Starbuck’s are the devil’s spawn, and anything that makes them look bad if fine by me.

  6. Sojourner says:

    But indeed, what’s the fuss about?

    When I drank (unboiled) water from my tap in Nottingham it was in full cognizance that it had been recycled through the urinary tracts of Brummies at least 8 times before it ever reached my lips.

  7. Joe Blow says:

    So nobody reads HK Magazine anymore ? Just as I thought.

    If you must know, and are curious enough, you can read an interview with Christine Loh-loving blogger Hemlock h-e-r-e:

  8. pcatbar says:

    Agree 100% on the water source over reaction. Not intending to be pedantic but can the east coast waters of Japan be correctly described as the ‘north west pacific’? It may get a bit tricky with the international date line passing through the middle (roughly) of the ocean from north to south but would it not be right to describe the Pacific to the left of that line as East and to the right (where it is the day before) as West?
    After all it would sound at least as wrong to call the waters of Vancouver/Seattle, the north east pacific! Now I look even more pedantic but I’m genuinely curious.

  9. Real Tax Payer says:

    My company recently ran samples of bottled water and samples of tap water through a … [call it THE most sophisticated and sensitive type of chemical anaysis system in the world : the HK govt laboraties have these kind of instruments by the dozen] they came out the same on dissolved ‘impurities’ – in fact in anything the bottled water came out worse because of chemicals leached from the plastic bottle

    For the ultimate expose on the myth of bottled water ( not to mention a really good laugh ! ) go to you Youtube

    Or search Youtube for “Penn and Teller / Bullhit / bottled water”

    PS : I forget the exact statistic but most the molecules that make us up have been recycled from dead human bodies ( not to mention through the stomachs of over 26 earth worms ( not to mention fish, gutter journalists and gutless starbucks managers)

  10. Real Tax Payer says:

    Sorry – that was meant to be Penn and Teller bullShit

  11. Sojourner says:


    The bottled water industry plays one long running joke on the human population whilst further eroding the planet’s sustainability.

  12. Probably says:

    I prefer my water mixed with hops and barley which is proven to kill all known pathogens and enables a clarity of thought not normally available from the vanilla “Starbucks” water.

    This preferred imbibement is also environmentally friendly as it frequently gets recycled for a second life and sold under the name of “Carlsberg”.

  13. Frank Zapper says:


    another multinational American corporation that:

    sells and plunders all over the world, like Apple and Amazon,

    gives back nothing to host communities,

    pays no local taxes and practically nothing at home;

    and siphons off its profits to keep retired hedge fund managers in Florida in:


    Mexican gardeners and pool skimmers;


    buxom Latina nurses;

    Jim Beam

    and trust funds for their coke-sniffing kids.

  14. Chopped Onions says:

    It would seem that toilet water isn’t to bad compared to the ice….

  15. maugrim says:

    I wonder what seafood quaffing friends would think observing the boats trawling off the Ap Lei Chau sewage works, right where the outfall pipe is. Read the HK mag post. Does that mean Hemlock is the new Johannes Pong? Given that expat members of our police force read this blog, I wonder if that includes ‘Cuddles’?

  16. pcatbar says:

    No, you were right (I might have known). Japan is in the western pacific.
    The directions being confined to relative positions within the ocean as a whole and not to the parts of the globe it covers. My geography lesson is now done for the day!

  17. JM Hatch says:

    Cowardice, or just recognition that the average consumer’s 10 second memory is even shorter in Hong Kong, if they can just get this issue off the page by grovelling as fast as possible.

    After all that’s what the newspaper editors and reporters want, someone to grovel. They then don’t feel bad that they can’t ask a decent question, get dazzled by any answer containing more that 10 words, and can’t follow up/investigate anything past the lint in their navel.

  18. Whether the tap is in the washroom or not seems pretty irrelevant when you consider that a large proportion of Hong Kong’s water comes from a river in China where it’s probably passed through numerous Chinese kidneys already before reaching us.

    Why is it that, no matter what twaddle someone comes up with, they can always find a “university expert” to back them up? Rather like the “experts” the cigarette companies found a few decades ago to assure us that smoking wasn’t really harmful, until the weight of evidence to the contrary became so overwhelming they could no longer fool even the most dedicated nicotine addict.

  19. Oneleggoalie says:

    Whoa…Christine Loh reads this…she’s hot…she should be C.E.
    Good one Bela…are you a chick or a tranny…

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