Saying customers were complaining about its cups being too full, Starbucks Japan started reducing the amount of java in each pour of drip coffee this month. According to the company, feedback pointed out their full-to-the-brim cups left no room for adding milk and were too easy to spill. Some customers, however, are voicing displeasure about the unannounced reduction to their caffeine fix.

Starbuck Japan spokesperson Norio Adachi said the company redrew its guidelines and began informing employees from December 5 to fill short-sized cups of drip coffee (US$3.55) to 15 millimeters from the top, a decrease of 9 millimeters from the previous regulation requiring a pour that left the brew just 6 millimeters shy of overflowing. Adachi says the change was implemented without public announcement and there was no plan to inform customers.

A customer questioned at a branch in Tokyo’s Akasaka Mitsuke district on December 18 showed irritation with the change, saying, “I like Starbucks coffee but I think it’s a little expensive. If I have to pay the same price I’d prefer a fuller cup.”

Due to steep rises in the cost of coffee beans and other factors, Starbucks Japan increased prices of some of its offerings in 2006, 2008 and again in 2011. The company recorded its highest sales, 57.7 billion yen, and highest net profit, 3.2 billion yen, in the first half of the fiscal year ending March 31, 2001. Its share price has risen about 18% year-to-date and it currently operates 965 stores in the country. The revised guidelines on coffee amounts are limited to stores in Japan only.

The price of the Arabica coffee Starbucks uses is now cheap having plunged more than 50% from a 14-year high of $3.09 a pound set in May of 2011.

Adachi said, “Customers complained the cups were too full and they were spilling their coffee and burning themselves as a result.” He added the company responded by slightly reducing the amounts served in cups of drip coffee, tea, and Café Americano, drinks which make use of extremely hot water. He further explained the decreased amounts were not part of any “cost-cutting measures.”

We decided to see for ourselves how the new standards were measuring up. A short size cup of drip coffee we purchased at a store in Tokyo’s Marunouchi district on Dec. 18 was only filled to 20 millimeters below the brim, well below the company’s new 15 millimeter standard, a potentially unforgiveable sin for some java junkies.

Others, though, are more welcoming to the change. After buying a cup to go, Shuhei Sano, a 32-year-old Tokyo businessman, said, “I didn’t notice right away (that the amount had decreased). Certainly to date I have felt a little uneasy about the very full cups. It’s difficult to drink when the cup is filled to the brim. I’m always cautious, especially when taking the first sip.”

Starbucks doesn’t offer the short size on its menu in the U.S. where the smallest serving is the tall size. An off-menu order of coffee equivalent to the short size offered in Japan retails for US$1.70 in Seattle, half what it costs in Tokyo.
For company employee Yumiko Sakaue, 36, coffee is a must in her daily life. Regarding the decreased amount she said, “If I’m paying the same price I want the same amount I was getting before.” She further expressed dissatisfaction by saying she thought the company should have informed customers of the change.

Starbucks’ Adachi said, “We will respond to any dissatisfaction going forward.” He also said if customers directly requested their cups filled to the brim the barista would be happy to comply.

We can probably expect to hear calls of “Fill er up!” at Starbucks across the country in the near future.

Source: Bloomberg