There is much discussion as to whether coffee is subject to the restrictions of bishul akum. Since coffee is a drink made by cooking water, one might think it is forbidden to drink coffee prepared by a non-Jew. However, foods that are routinely eaten raw, or that are only being cooked because one wishes to enjoy them warm or soft, are not subject to any bishul akum restrictions.1
There may, however, be a different bishul akum concern regarding coffee. Although coffee generally consists of only two ingredients, coffee and water, coffee is never consumed raw. Indeed, it is not possible to properly enjoy coffee beans without first roasting them. Since coffee is a food that is not eaten raw, perhaps it is subject to bishul akum and should, therefore, not be prepared by a non-Jew.
Nevertheless, many halachic authorities argue that since coffee is not a mainstay of a meal, nor is it used as a condiment with bread, it is not subject to any bishul akum restrictions.2 It is also noted that the primary ingredient of coffee (water) is regularly consumed “raw.” It is argued, therefore, that since coffee is a drink that is primarily water – a food item that is not subject to any bishul akum restrictions – it is permissible to drink coffee prepared by a non-Jew.3 Furthermore, coffee grounds lose their identity within the water they are mixed into, which further mitigates any bishul akum concerns.4
There are additional grounds for leniency if one personally adds sugar and/or milk to one’s coffee. This is because, for most people, coffee is considered to be “incomplete” and unfit for drinking until these condiments are added. When one personally adds condiments to one’s coffee, it is as if the non-Jew merely began the coffee-making process, while it is a Jew, by adding the needed condiments, who actually completes it. Indeed, there are generally no concerns for bishul akum if a Jew even just completes the cooking process of a food item.5 Based on these considerations most halachic authorities permit one to drink coffee that was prepared by a non-Jew.6 It goes without saying that all the ingredients and additives to coffee must be kosher.
Even though it is technically permitted to drink coffee prepared by a non-Jew, one should not use coffee as a medium for frequent socializing with non-Jews, as it could lead to intermarriage.7 In fact, there was once a decree in certain communities that anyone who used “kosher coffee” as a pretext for socializing with non-Jews in their cafes was ineligible to become a rabbi.8 Nevertheless, one should always be civil and cordial with one’s non-Jewish neighbors, and periodic socializing is sometimes in order.9 One should certainly never come across as arrogant or exclusionary over this issue.10
One is permitted to drink coffee in the morning before praying.11 So too, it is permitted to drink coffee while wearing tefillin.12 According to some authorities, a cup of coffee in the morning fulfills the halachic obligation to eat breakfast.13 Common custom is not to recite a blessing when drinking coffee during a meal, even when it is served with dessert – when separate blessings are often recited.14 Similarly, a beracha acharona is usually not recited on coffee, as it is a beverage that is generally only sipped at spaced intervals.15 When faced with no other choice, one may recite Kiddush or Havdala over coffee.16 So too, under extenuating circumstances, coffee may be used in place of wine for the four cups at the Pesach Seder.17 There is some discussion as to whether a blessing should be recited when smelling coffee18 though common custom is not to.
It is noted that coffee is not mentioned in the Shulchan Aruch, which has led scholars to believe that it was only introduced into Jewish communities after the Shulchan Aruch had been completed. There is even a compelling theory that the custom of staying up all night on Shavuot only became widespread after the discovery and circulation of coffee, which made it easier to do so!19
When making instant coffee on Shabbat, one should not pour hot water directly from an urn or kettle onto instant coffee powder. There is also the debate whether instant coffee powder has the status of a liquid or a solid.20 As such, one should first fill a cup with hot water from the urn or kettle, and then put the instant coffee into the cup. In this way, the instant coffee is being put into a kli sheini (a “second vessel”), which is unable to cook a previously cooked liquid.21 If one wants to comply with the more stringent view, one should pour the water from the first cup into another cup, and put the instant coffee into this second cup. Doing so turns the second cup into a kli shlishi (a “third vessel”) which allows one to heat up or even cook almost anything on Shabbat.22
Rav Hershel Schachter rules that there is no issue of marit ayin to purchase coffee at a McDonald’s, or similar food outlet, when traveling. However, one should not sit down at the restaurant tables, which might lead onlookers to believe that one purchased more than just coffee. He also adds that even one who is ordinarily stringent in such matters should not hesitate to be lenient if one is feeling tired and needs a coffee in order to refresh and “wake up.” This is because driving while tired is a biblical violation of v’nishmartem me’od l’nafshoteichem and is certainly much worse than any marit ayin concerns that may arise from drinking a cup of coffee at McDonald’s.23
- Avoda Zara 38a.
- Pri Chadash, YD 114:6.
- Chochmat Adam 66:14.
- Ben Ish Chai, Chukat 16; Aruch Hashulchan, YD 113:22.
- Teshuvot V’hanhagot 4:193.
- Aruch Hashulchan, YD 113:22; Meishiv Milchama 2:146; Yechave Daat 4:44; Rivevot Ephraim 6:79.
- Radbaz 3:637; Maharikash, YD 114; Chochmat Adam 66:14; Ben Ish Chai, Chukat 2:16.
- Bein Yisrael L’nochri, Y.D 11:7 note 21.
- Pischei Teshuva, YD 114:1; Kaf Hachaim, YD 114:12.
- Kaf Hachaim, YD 114:14.
- Yabia Omer 3:19:4, 4:11; Halichot Shlomo 2:2; Az Nidberu 11:46; Shearim Metzuyanim B’halacha 8:2; Avnei Yashfei 5:14:4; Teshuvot V’hanhagot 1:73.
- Tzitz Eliezer 7:27:1; Rivevot Ephraim 2:27:20, 2:48:9.
- Kaf Hachaim, OC 155:23; Minhag Yisrael Torah, OC 155:16.
- Mishna Berura 174:39; Rivevot Ephraim 8:72.
- Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 51:6; Mishna Berura 210:1; Aruch Hashulchan, OC 202:7, Kaf Hachaim, OC 204:40; Rivevot Ephraim 1:131, 4:53.
- OC 296:2; Aruch Hashulchan, OC 272:14.
- Mishna Berura 472:37.
- See Maharam Shik, OC 85; Yaskil Avdi 8:14; V’zot Habracha p. 174; Mishna Berura 216:16.
- Elliot Horowitz, Coffee, Coffeehouses and the Nocturnal Rituals of Early Modern Jewry, AJS Review, 1989, pp.17-46.
- See for example, Mishna Berura 318:39, 71. See also Igrot Moshe, OC 4:74:1.
- Minchat Yitzchak 1:55; 9:27; Chelkat Yaakov 2:116; Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata 1 note 135; Yechaveh Da’at 2:44.
- Meor Hashabbat 1:5:25; Shevet Halevi 8:63; Igrot Moshe, OC 4:74:16.
- Cited at: http://hirhurim.blogspot.com/2010/02/coffee-on-road.html. See also Igrot Moshe, OC 1:96.