It’s early in the morning, and you need your usual hit of caffeine before going to work. You grab your go-to order at a coffee shop and down it, but an hour later, you’re still groggy. It turns out your barista knowingly gave you a decaf coffee when you wanted all the caffeine.
That’s what happened to some people at this coffee shop, and a concerned employee is calling it out.
In a popular thread on the Starbucks Reddit, an employee who specifically works at a “We proudly serve Starbucks location”—which is not an actual Starbucks but instead a place that is authorized to sell Starbucks coffee—explained his dilemma.
“I literally don’t know if this is ethical or allowed so I wanted to ask here,” poster u/LundyHF said.
In the post, the worker said that their location ran out of Starbucks brand espresso and all of their other backup blends but still had decaf left.
Instead of letting customers know so they could decide for themselves if they wanted Starbucks decaf or coffee from another brand, the locations’ management had another idea.
“Management now wants us to use decaf in all the hoppers, which we instantly saw as a red flag,” the person said.
u/LundyHF added that they’ve worked at corporate and licensed stores before, so they know what the actual procedure is for running out of the standard espresso beans, and this is not it.
“We were also told now to not tell anyone customers that we are serving them decaf without them knowing. Which obviously feels borderline unethical,” they added.
The barista said that they’re supposed to keep the decaf situation a secret from their co-workers (lying to both customers and their fellow baristas), but “it’s not hard to figure out.”
The worker wanted to know if any policy was being violated and asked for advice.
There were several replies, and one person who was marked as a Starbucks supervisor advised the worker to disclose to customers that they only have Starbucks decaf available.
“If your boss has an issue with it, ask them why you’re being asked to lie to customers. Make them explain it,” the supervisor wrote.
They added that the person could also flag the issue to their HR person and inform them that they don’t feel comfortable in their work environment.
A fellow barista in the comments section made a good point about caffeine being an addictive substance, and if people don’t get their daily dose, they could go through withdrawals.
“Beyond that many people use it to manage ADHD/Migraines/other conditions. I would disclose it to customers so they can make the right decision for their health,” the person pointed out.
Several people backed this up. Some with asthma said they drink a caffeinated beverage in a pinch when they don’t have their inhaler. A sleep-deprived parent said they get a large cup of coffee when they need to drive long distances with their kids. A nurse with ADHD said they need the caffeine to get through the day “with my head still on my shoulders.”
The original poster gave an update, sharing that they did some research and figured out that the caffeine deception violates a state statute on food tampering, so they’re going to bring the issue up with their management.
The barista seemed to be right. While we don’t know what state they’re in nor the statute they’re referring to, replacing one food item with another seems to partially fall under the federal definition of food tampering, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
“The provision includes tampering with the labels of consumer products and falsifying or altering the written information accompanying the product,” the Criminal Resource Manual reads.
However, there’s a bit of a grey area since the writing also states, “The tampering must be done under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the risk of death or bodily injury.” This does not seem to be the case with the Starbucks coffee.
The Daily Dot reached out to u/LundyHF for comment via Reddit direct message and to Starbucks via email.