Much ado is being made about a seemingly harmless shop that, for just one week, dares to sell decaf only.
In New York, the city that never sleeps, a well-caffeinated diet seems par for the course. The Center for an Urban Future’s 2013 “State of the Chains” report found that there were 212 Starbucks and 134 Dunkin Donuts in Manhattan alone, which only makes the borough somewhat of an overachiever in a highly caffeinated nation. According to this year’s National Coffee Drinking Trends, 71 percent of Americans drink coffee at least once a week — and chances are it’s not because of how the beverage tastes.
This might explain why the Swiss Water Decaffeinated Coffee Company has struck such a nerve with its launch of a Manhattan pop-up studio this weekend with the ambitious mandate of giving away samples of coffee deprived of its most precious element — a “sensory experience” they call “The Art of Coffee Without Caffeine.”
The Swiss Water Coffee Studio, which remains open until the end of this week, offers a variety of options you would find at your every day coffee shop — espresso, manually-brewed coffee and cold brew — just minus the psychoactive drug that helps you get through Monday morning.
“Swiss Water isn’t trying to get anyone to stop drinking caffeine,” a company spokesperson wrote in an email to The Washington Post. “We are trying to show people who don’t drink caffeine that they can still enjoy a great tasting cup of coffee, without chemicals.”
Swiss Water is the same company that in 1933 pioneered a decaffeination process that uses a water-based water process to remove caffeine from coffee beans. This method promises to be chemical-free — as opposed to the 70 to 80 percent of decaffeination processes involving chemicals — thus taking away some of the unnatural character that results from removing one of coffee’s natural components.
Even then, it’s impossible to strip the beverage entirely of caffeine, so Swiss Water prides its products in being 99.9 percent caffeine-free.
Coffee aficionados and average cup of joe-lovers alike are crying foul.
Some are calling the pop-up store’s venture another sign of gentrification, while others are pointing out the irony of selling everything coffee-related except for what makes it appealing in the first place.
“I hear their next concept is an alcohol-free wine bar,” Katherine Sprung tweeted.
Under the headline “Try Not to Scream,” Jezebel framed the news as a modern-day horror story. The writer mused about whether visitors to the shop will have to a sign a liability waiver, since it “sounds scarier than a haunted house.”
In his tweet of the Quartz story on the enterprise, the publication’s executive editor Zach Seward predicted how things would unfold: “Caffeine-free coffee shop opens in New York, undermining all reason and causing the city to collapse into itself.”
New York Eater succinctly dubbed the occasion “the first sign of the cultural apocalypse.” As the company is based in British Columbia, The Gothamist has blamed “Canadian weirdos” for taking the magic out of an elixir which makes “colleagues moderately tolerable at 9 a.m.”
Strangely, Swiss Water’s social media presence suggests that the company likewise subscribes to the notion that coffee offers a cure for all ailments. (One of its tweets reads: “Here’s to love and #coffee for getting us through the week!”) But can the same really be said for decaf?
There are some radicals who have expressed their support for the project. A few courageous supporters called it “cool” and “awesome.” One Twitter user even said that she and a friend will be going to the studio’s “every second of [their] lives” until the pop-up closes.
Swiss Water is celebrating its store’s brief and controversial presence with help from musical acts and artists whose careers have presumably presumably benefited at least a little from the powers of caffeine.
The store’s most passionate naysayers may sleep (and drink) soundly knowing that the Swiss Coffee Studio is housed in a gas station facing imminent demolition. Until then, some of them might want to rethink their addiction.