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May 25, 2007 05:45 PM

The weight of McDonald's coffee - eerily light?

So when we drove out from Indiana to California, we stopped by McDonalds a few times to get some coffee. It always struck me how eerily lightweight the cup full of coffee was; each time it was much lighter than I had expected, such that I would even check to make sure that the cup was full of coffee. At first I thought I was just crazy, until my fiance made the same observation, independent of my even mentioning it. Has anyone else noticed that a cup of McDonalds coffee seems lighter than coffee elsewhere, or are we just crazy?

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  1. i have noticed that it is really light too whenever i get coffee for my mom. but she loves the coffee much more now then the old one.

    1. Let me see if I understand this. Are you saying that a cup of McDonald's coffee is lighter in weight than an equal quantity of another clear, non-viscous liquid?

      Since coffee is made with water, and since water constitutes the vast majority of the volume of a cup of coffee, a cup of coffee (without the addition of cream and sugar, for instance) should essentially weigh the same number of ounces as an equal quantity of water. I would suggest that you weigh a cup of McDonald's coffee, and then later weigh the same cup after filling it with water. The weight should be the same. Otherwise I believe that this would defy the laws of physics.

      My best guess is that McDonald's is using a new type of plastic cup that is lighter in weight than others.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Ted in Central NJ

        Well yes, I understand that scientifically it would be impossible for McDonalds coffee, if it were made as other coffee is made, to weigh less than other coffee. Nonetheless, my observation is still that McDonalds coffee still seems to weigh less to me, and was simply wondering if anyone else had the same experience. I don't think that the cup is the issue either.

        1. re: kcchan

          You've stumbled upon McD's darkest secret. In order to manipulate the flavor of their products to the furthest, the Oak Brook corporation has been tinkering with quantum flavorings. The downside of this is that the molecular weights of their products are slightly off----coffee weighing less; conversely their egg products weigh as much as 33% more than un-quantum-modified eggs.

          Don't tell anyone.

      2. Here's my experiment with the unbearable lightness of beans ...

        I had a road trip this morning before my morning pot of coffee so I did a comparison between the medium-sized cup of McDonald's ($1.41), Jack in the Box ($.89) and Starbucks ($1.71)

        McDonald's was first and my reaction was ... "damn, it IS a light cup of coffee".

        Jack in the Box was next ($.89). It felt light like McDonald's.

        Starbucks ... aha ... heft ... this was a heavier cup of coffee.

        So I bring the empty cups home and weigh them empty ... all equal ... 5/8 oz. I was thinking maybe the cup itself mattered. Nope

        Then I fill up with water:

        - McDonald's - 13 oz
        - Jack in the Box - 12 1/8 oz
        - Starbucks - 15 oz

        So there you go. There is a slight descrepancy in the volume the cups hold.

        Perhaps in the past, McDonalds medium cup of coffee held more volume. Maybe it might be a bit more tapered now with a tad less circumfrance so it is not really noticable ... except for the lighter weight.

        Taste wise I preferred McDonalds. It was an inoffensive smooth cup of coffee. Jack In the Box was next though a little weaker. Starbucks was one of those strong burnt-tasting cups that I didn't like. However, after the other two the flavor nuances in Starbucks were more pronounced. It wasn't a one-dimensional cup. I just didn't like the dimensions in that cup.

        On a budget ... go for Jack in the Box. Similar in flavor to McDonald's and the 7/8th oz less coffee was a difference of 52 cents. Also, Jack in the Box clearly marks their sugar packets as 'cane sugar'. McDonalds and Starbucks are mystery unidentified sugar. Could be beet sugar.

        8 Replies
        1. re: rworange

          Thanks for the experimentation! Glad to know that I'm not crazy in thinking a cup of McDonald's coffee really is lighter.

          1. re: kcchan

            Yes, but since the capacity of the cup is such an obvious cause, I assumed that you had already ruled out this factor. Most likely, the others who responded also assumed that you had ruled out this very obvious factor.

            So, I guess that the lesson here for everyone is to state the obvious, even if it is obvious. Sometimes the ultimate solution to a problem is a very easy one to figure out.

            1. re: Ted in Central NJ

              I don't know. I don't think it is so obvious. Companies go out of the way to do slight modifications to packaging to give the consumer less for the same price.

              Ice cream is no longer in half-gallon packages, but a few ounces smaller. The same with coffee cans which have been reduced to 12 oz. Hellman's Mayonaise 'quart' is now 30 ounces. The examples go on and on.

              In those cases the packaging is clearly labelled. So even though the manufacturer is counting on tricking the eye, if you read the fine print, so to speak, you know you are getting less for your money.

              Not so with a coffee cup.

              McDonald's changed the material the cup is made from. It LOOKS like a lighter weight cup but isn't. My immediate assumption, probably the first time the cup seemed lighter to me, would be a different cup.

              In addiiton to slight tapering and perhaps circumfrance modifications, the height of the cup might be reduced by some small amount like say 1/8 th of an inch. So the cup appears the same but holds less volume.

              It is bad enough we have to read the fine print on the food we buy. Do we have to check volumes of our coffee cups? Measure the diameter of hamburger buns. Count french fries?

              Companies do what they can not to make reductions in quantity obvious.

              Has anyone checked to see if Starbucks Venti still holds 20 ounces?

              I refuse ot go along with Starbucks cuteness and only order small, medium or large cups. I hope medium isn't what they call venti ... because that just holds 15 oz.

              1. re: Ted in Central NJ

                I still think that the evil Oak Brook Empire is messin' with the very laws of physics. They probably have a wormhole through which they are importing slightly cheaper beef from the far side of the galaxy. ;)

                1. re: Ted in Central NJ

                  Oh come on... it's not like I was expecting the average McDonald's cup of coffee to weigh the same as a large cup of coffee. Most coffee drinkers know intuitively how much a cup of coffee of a certain size is supposed to weigh. And yes, the McDonalds cup looks about the same size as cups of coffee from other establishments. The point is that the McDonalds cup, as rworange so thoughtfully pointed out, is tailored to look the same size as other cups from other restaurants but in fact is more tapered or whatever, which accounts for the discrepancy. The size of the cup was certainly not at all obvious - I'm pretty sure most people think that coffee sizes are pretty standard, and when that is no longer the case, then we do have something that is out of the ordinary and not "obvious".

                  1. re: kcchan

                    Not to be snarky, but the last thing I expect from chains is uniformity across brands. Are the burgers all the same size?? Hardly. Is TGI Friday's coke the same size as Apple O'Tuesday's?? I doubt it. I'd be shocked if the 'small' fries at McD's and Wendy's and BK's were all the same size, why would the coffee be that way??

                    Really, does anyone feel ripped of by having 2 oz less of coffee anyway?

                    1. re: chris in illinois

                      That isn't the point ... yeah ... I feel ripped off when I learn that I get 2 oz less of ice cream, mayo, coffee (ground and liquid) etc when the manufacturer seems to make a effort to package it to look like a larger size. It doesn't leave me with a warm and fuzzy feeling about that company. I hate a big bottle of asperin which is half full. Yeah, I don't like someone trying to decieve me.

                      The point isn't that the serving size is consistant across companies. When I decided to order medium coffee I expected the coffee cup and prices to be different.

                      But when the 13 oz cup of McDonald's looks like the 15 oz cup of Starbucks, that strikes me as corporate game playing. At least with Jack in the Box the weight / volume was appropriate for the cup size.

                      The OP asked a question that was quite valid and has gotten some, as you said, snarky responses. There was a logical answer ... no voodoo ... no defying the laws of physics ... no worm holes ... just wormy executives.

                      1. re: rworange

                        Well, the op did say 'eerily light', suggesting some sort of industrial tinkering on McD's part. Which is why the second poster seemd astonished that someone was suggesting that somehow McD's had changed the molecular weight of H2O.

                        For what it's worth, I worked at McD's for six-seven years a decade ago and the small coffee then was 10 oz and the large was 15 oz. A pot of coffee at my location was 60 oz, the size of the small and large were what they were to boost the odds that you'd use the entire pot instead of tossing pot after pot with 4-8 ounces of coffee left over away all day (60oz= six small or 3 small and two large, etc). I imagine the sizes of the cups of coffee at McD's are determined largely in the same manner today-----trying to reduce waste---rather than trying to deceive the occasional Starbucks customer.

                        Additionally, regarding the size of aspirin bottles: some elderly have a difficult enough time opening the current size of bottle, making it smaller to match the amount of aspirin would create considerable hardship for lots of consumers. These companies have lots of reasons for doing things they way they do, usually it's an effort to meet the needs of a group of consumers that most people never consider, not trying to deceive through packaging another group of customers.

                        When a company includes a packet of dessicant in its product and places a warning on it "Do Not Eat", do you think that they are trying to insult the intelligence of their customers?? Or is it more likely that a small slice of their customers actually need that warning to not eat the poison?

            2. BREAKING NEWS - a small cup of coffee is lighter than a large cup of coffee

              5 Replies
              1. re: Gosh

                The point is for that size cup, it is noticbly lighter. If you ever buy a cup of McDonald's coffee check that out next time. I think this was a really valuable post in terms of learning that you might be getting less for you buck these days in terms of coffee ... probably the only way it would have otherwise been noticed.

                1. re: rworange

                  It all still depends on how much coffee the server pours into your cup, regardless of the size of the cup.

                  1. re: Infomaniac

                    Yeah, but these were all filled up. That was the first thing I checked. And when they were filled with equal parts of water, two of the cups were lighter. Those extra 2-3 ouces make a difference. The cup sizes weren't noticably different. The Jack in the Box cup was the smallest looking but it also was more squat and not as tapered.

                    1. re: rworange

                      I'd be thrilled if they always filled the cup. Most of the time I just give them my travel mug, which in the old Dunkin Donuts medium cups would over fill my travel mug. Now with the current DD medium cups it doesn't come close to filling my travel mug.

                      1. re: Infomaniac

                        McDonald's Iced coffee starts tomorrow! yummy :)

              2. It's also the cheapest in price.

                1 Reply
                1. re: ipsedixit

                  Nope. Jack in the Box was the least expensive of the three I bought.