Got a Gripe? Get it off your chest, girl!

Diary of a Mad Decaf Drinker

One rush hour morning in my local bustling coffee house, I asked for a non-fat decaf latte. The order-taker shouted to the barista over his shoulder, for all to hear, “ONE SKINNY WHY-BOTHER!” Lots of laughs ensued, but not from me. I was too embarrassed to be amused at that kind of disrespect, and definitely not likely to return to such a charming scenario! (Oh Mr. Coffeehouse Manager Retailer… Does this jokey practice at the expense of a customer seem bad for business? Huh?) I’ll buy my whole bean coffee and take it home, thank you! And yes, I’ll even buy my decaf in the local grocery store that is hip to my enjoyment of better decaf coffee.

The Wake-up Call…

So, I hereby proclaim, “Decaf Drinkers of the World Unite!” We decaffeinated coffee drinkers have been relegated to sneers, jeers and all around name-calling for long enough. We’ve known for as long as we’ve been drinking decaf that it is a perfectly valid category in the diverse world of coffee consumption. And, we consider ourselves just as elite as regular leaded coffee lovers. As a matter of fact, we could argue that we are the one true-blue class of coffee lovers, because we stick with coffee even without the kick of caffeine! We are that rare breed of decaf drinkers—exclusive decaf drinkers. We love decaffeinated coffee all the livelong day. Even (gasp!) first thing in the morning. Do we know something you don’t?

The Why of Decaf…

First, let’s look at the reasoning behind the choice of decaf. Maybe that regular cup of coffee really bothered us during the morning board meeting—we certainly didn’t want the boys to confuse our trembling hands with fear! Maybe our doctor, noticing those jitters in our joints or racing heart or god-forbid-more-serious health concerns, told us to “cut out the caffeine.” Maybe we’ve found that we are becoming more and more caffeine sensitive with age and just don’t like that wired feeling. Whatever the reason for giving up coffee, we don’t really want to give up coffee. There’s the morning coffee ritual that sets the rhythm of the day, the soothing mid-afternoon coffee break, and not to forget, that end-of-a-great-evening espresso. Then there’s the actual taste of those wonderful single estate coffees, those fabulous rich Guatemalans or those sweet butterscotchy Panamanians or tall dark and handsome Costa Ricans. Why give all these up for good? Enter decaffeinated coffee—roasted from those same great single estate beans. And to those who say, “why bother?” we say because we love the taste of coffee.

The Who of Decaf…

Are you missing out on our business? Don’t be so foolish as to overlook us…
The fact is, us exclusive decaf drinkers are a powerful lot. Regarding the size of the decaf market, the most recent data from the National Coffee Association (NCA) indicates that decaf now accounts for 18% of total coffee consumption in the United States, larger than fair trade and organic coffee consumption combined! This number isn’t really surprising. Female baby boomers are currently the largest (population) segment in the US market, driving all kinds of consumer decisions, and the largest target market for decaffeinated coffee. So by offering such a narrow line of “decaf versions” of regular coffees, here’s what you miss out on: our joy of experimentation and discovery, our famous brand loyalty and our pocketbooks!  After all, we know that “variety is the spice of life!” Also, don’t forget that decaf consumption can be aligned with a marked trend towards healthier living in general; us baby boomers want to live longer while still indulging in the best quality available. Repeat: the best quality available (not what’s leftover from your stale old inventory, so you decaffeinate it. Oh yeah, we’re on to that!) And besides the details of where our coffee comes from (is the farming sustainable? the coffee fairly traded?), we want to know how our decaf is processed (with or without chemicals? is it safe and fit to drink?). And again, to those who say, “why bother?” we say because we buy a lot of coffee and if you take care of us, we’ll bring you even more business.

The Manifesto of Decaf…

We decaf drinkers want freedom from insults, innuendos and abuse! And we want the same varieties, freshness and choices that are offered to regular coffee drinkers—the whole coffee experience.
Okay, okay, I’ve heard it’s difficult (and expensive) to have a constant supply of fresh decaf coffee on hand, but haven’t you heard of the old “build it and they will come” adage? Why not go to single cup brewing systems, like the new “Clover” or even the classic French press on demand? Otherwise, we’re relegated to Americanos—a decaf espresso shot with hot water added, yuk. I guess that’s better than getting a wretched cup of hour-old drip, but still, is that how you take care of 18% of the market?! It’s only equal treatment we’re after—fresh brewed, great tasting decaf in all of the great varieties—like regular coffee drinkers expect.
And while we’re at it, why not change that (dirty) word “decaf” into caffeine-free coffee? It worked for caffeine-free diet sodas, right?

By JRN

(This article was penned for FRESH CUP, a wonderful coffee trade magazine. Feel free to print it out and give it to your local coffee shop if they treat you like a second-hand decaf coffee drinker!)