Drinking Coffee on the Road
Considering the long days that mashgichim put in and the hundreds of miles that they drive daily, it is no surprise to hear that most mashgichim rely on coffee to keep them going. While caffeine is a plus for those who work in an office, for those out on the roads those 10-minute coffee stops are quite literally life savers. Let us take a moment to understand if there are any kashrus concerns with picking up a coffee while traveling on the road. This question was presented to the OU poskim Rav Schachter and Rav Belsky.
The primary ingredients in plain black coffee (water, sugar and unflavored coffee) are all acceptable from any source (what we in the industry call Group 1).
The Pri Chadash Y.D. 114:6 says that although coffee cannot be eaten raw and is served at the tables of kings, there is no issue of bishul akum. He explains that since coffee is essentially a water-based drink, since water can be drunk uncooked, coffee too is permitted.
The Gemara (Avoda Zara 31b) says that one may not drink beer in a non-Jewish establishment, since this can lead to intermarriage. One must take the beer back to their house before drinking. The Rambam says that cider may be drunk at a non-Jewish establishment since it is not as common a drink as beer. What about coffee? Rabbi Belsky said that although one may not drink coffee socially at a non-Jew’s home (see Chachmas Adam) there is no issue of drinking coffee in a store. Rabbi Schachter said that it is preferable that one wait to drink the coffee until one goes back to their car. He understood that the leniency of the Rambam was specifically on cider because it is not a common drink, but coffee today is as common as beer.
Rav Belsky said, in general there is no concern that the utensils that cooked the coffee were used with non-kosher. The coffee pot is usually rinsed out and reused, and is not sent through the dishwasher. Rabbi Schachter added that there would be reasons to be lenient even if the coffee pot was sent through the dishwasher.
Rabbi Schachter said that there is no issue of marris ayin for one to purchase coffee at a McDonalds rest stop. Rav Belsky agreed that this was permitted, but indicated that in such a case one should not sit down at the restaurant tables, which would give the appearance that one was intending to eat a meal, but rather should sit at one of the public rest stop seats. As we mentioned earlier, Rav Schachter recommended waiting to drink the coffee until one returned to their car.
Rav Belsky and Rav Schachter paskened that it is permissible to purchase coffee at a rest stop or convenience store. Rav Schachter added that even if one ordinarily would be machmir about these issues, they should not do so if they feel they are getting tired. Driving when tired, in violation of ונשמרתם מאד לנפשתיכם, is much worse than drinking a cup of coffee which is מותר על פי דין.