Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Are You Really Getting Decaf?

Several months ago, I dropped caffeine.  There are a number of reasons but mostly they include:
- Caffeine seems to send me to the toilet very quickly
- It agitates my anxiety
- It keeps me awake at night, even if I had it before noon
- I'm pregnant. (note: drinking less than 200mg of caffeine is fine when you are pregnant. I'm just paranoid and take extra precaution sometimes).

Even though I dropped caffeine, I didn't want to drop coffee. I love the way it tastes loaded up with tons of cream. Call me crazy, but I think it's Mmmm, delicious.  And drinking decaffeinated coffee isn't insufferable around here because there are tons of swiss water processed options  and it's basically readily available both at the grocery store and at coffee shops.

One thing I've noticed is that since starting to drink decaf at coffee shops, I've been given caffeinated coffee by accident many times.  The first time it happened I didn't notice until that night when I couldn't sleep, felt anxious, and found myself frequenting the bathroom.  After that miserable day, I decided to be more careful.

Now whenever I order a coffee, I follow this protocol:

- Ask if they have decaf available
- Order decaf
- When handed the coffee, confirming it's decaf "This is decaf, right?"

The first 10 or so times I did this, they literally said "ooops!" and took the coffee back, making me a proper decaf one 3-4 times. They were always apologetic and I didn't make a big deal of it.  It just seemed like 3-4 times was way too many. Was that possible? Was I remembering wrong?

So I decided to keep tabs on how many times I ordered decaf but was almost accidentally given caffeine.  My 4 months of data is below:

Tim Hortons
Ordered Decaf:  16x
Got caffeine by mistake:  3x
18.75% of the time I was given caffeine when I asked for decaf

Ordered Decaf: 32x
Got caffeine by mistake 13x
40.625% of the time I was given caffeine when I asked for decaf

Ordered Decaf: 14x 
Got caffeine  by mistake: 2x
14.28% of the time I was given caffeine when I asked for decaf

Ordered Decaf: 27x
Got caffeine by mistake:  8x
29.6% of the time I was given caffeine when I asked for decaf

So in total, of 89 times that I ordered decaf in 4 months,  I was accidentally given decaf 26 times, or 29% of the time.  So pretty much 1 in 4 times, if I didn't ask, I'd have had unexpected nasty caffeine side effects later in the day. 

Please note, I only took tabs if I followed the steps above (asking if they have decaf, ordering decaf,  confirming it was decaf when the drink was handed to me).   It also only factors in the times that they were honest about it not really being caffeine, who knows how many times they screwed up but didn't want to own up to it, or weren't really certain.  That being said, I didn't have any negative side effects from any of these coffee drinking occasions. 

These numbers really surprised me for a few reasons.

1.  Holy crap, I drink a lot of coffees. I should save that money and buy myself an iPad.

2.  How alarming that it would be so common to accidentally be given caffeine when you ordered decaf!  I mean, not to get dramatic and act like caffeine is the equivalent of crack or something, but it is a substance that acts like a stimulant drug. If you ask to not have it, you'd think that request would be taken pretty seriously.

I've noticed the assembly line process they use in coffee shops seems to make a pretty big difference; at Tim Horton's they do pretty well because the decaf is in a pot next to them, and it's clearly orange.  The only times they've screwed up was when a person other than the actual cashier that took my order was the one to get the coffee.  At Starbucks, when they brew the individual drip decaf they do an ok job (but you wait 5 minutes), but when they give you an Americano or when it's really busy is when they screw up. 

I'm not convinced people should be fired over this, and they are always happy to re-do the drink properly.  Just please consider this if you order decaf; you may need to be a little more aggressive in advocating for yourself and ensuring you are actually getting what you ordered.  And if caffeine is going to kill you, you may not want to put that sort of responsibility in the hands of an overworked, underpaid barista.

And oh, P.S. Even decaf has a bit of caffeine in it, so keep that in mind if you have an allergy.

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