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Why Don’t You Serve Decaf?

I order decaf everywhere I go. Sure the barista might be wearing a Death Before Decaf hat, but guess what? I’m risking death and asking anyway.

Lately I’ve run into a number of establishments that simply don’t serve decaf. On a recent hot day, I had a business meeting at the Georgian Hotel in Santa Monica, California. I tried to order a decaf iced latte. “Unfortunately, we don’t carry decaf,” was the response I received.

 When I learn that an establishment doesn’t serve decaf, I like to ask why if I can.  I’m usually met with blank stares. In this case, I was met with a suggestion to order mint tea instead. Fair enough, until I looked at my bill, and learned I was charged $14 for the privilege of drinking mint tea in a hotel that feels like a Wes Anderson movie. But I digress.

While visiting New York, I went to Joe and the Juice, a Danish coffee and juice shop. They try to deliver an “edgier” format with hand-picked individuals straight out of central casting as staff. Even the baristas are called “juicers”, who Fast Company compared to “hipster Chippendales”

I rolled-up ready for some edginess, and ordered a decaf cappuccino. The response? “Unfortunately, we don’t carry decaf.” When I asked why, I was again met with the blank stare. When a TripAdvisor user asked the same question at a different midtown location, they were inexplicably told that it’s because “Joe and the Juice is a Danish Company.” That’s a pretty strange explanation, especially because Joe carries decaf in its European locations. I’d think that a restaurant going for a healthier market would allow you to skip the caffeine, but maybe they just want you to order a more expensive juice.

I did, however, have one fully satisfying conversation with a barista who doesn’t carry decaf recently. I made the trek from Santa Monica to Downtown Los Angeles to try Endorffeine. I’d read an LA Times profile of the shop’s owner, Jack Benchakul, that explains how he uses his training as a lab scientist to rigorously chase perfect coffee. 

I found the shop in a maze of restaurants in Far East Plaza, and asked if I could get a decaf pour over. Once again, I got the answer: “Unfortunately we don’t cary decaf.”

Well, I was so keen to try Jack’s coffee, I guess I had to order a fully caffeinated brew and ju tkaest a few swigs – you know, just for the taste. While Jack was working away at his coffee lab set-up, I asked him why he didn’t carry decaf.

To paraphrase his response, he told me “It’s not a moral opposition. There’s just so many bad caffeinated coffees in the world, and I’m still spending my time working through those to find the perfect caffeinated beans. Someday maybe I’ll get to decaf.”  

Hey, fair enough. Jack’s a perfectionist and we all have to specialize. Just like we’re focused on the decaf experience at DecafLife, we can respect someone fully committed to their craft. 

Part of the DecafLife-style is being willing to question when and why decaf is and isn’t served. Most of the time, I’m disappointed with the answers. But sometimes I end up surprised.


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