Students allege Bass café swapped espresso

Students hoping to pull all-nighters during Reading Week may want to avoid the Thain Family Café.

According to several reports from student employees and a document obtained by the News that appears to be part of the café’s internal records, some managers at the café have been substituting decaf espresso for caffeinated espresso at various times since the fall — including during the entire past two weeks — when the supply of caffeinated beans ran out. But café administrators emphatically denied the veracity of those reports.

Several student employees told the News the café has not served any caffeinated espresso since April 15 and that they were instructed by café managers not to inform customers of the shortage, which affects all espresso, latte and mocha drinks, though not regular coffee.

“It’s been several weeks that they’ve been out of espresso,” said Jacqueline Gosnell ’08, a café employee who recently quit because she disagreed with what she called café management’s decision to covertly swap the beans. “I wasn’t there for the shift where they ran out and started switching it, but I came for the shift afterwards.”

According to two students employed at the café, who wished to remain anonymous, the reason for this spring’s latest shortage of caffeinated beans resulted when café manager Brian Yezierski — who is employed by University Dining Services — ordered more decaffeinated espresso than could be sold before the end of the year. After the Thain Café ran out of caffeinated espresso April 15, Yezierski allegedly decided to substitute the decaf in its place.

In a phone interview with the News on Wednesday evening, Yezierski called the allegations “absurd” and declined to comment further.

An unsigned letter received by the News last week included a supposed photocopy of a Thain Café logbook entry from Feb. 29 that reads: “We will also run out of reg. espresso and French roast most likely — secretly use decaf espresso to substitute the espresso — for the French, I don’t know — I think we’ll just have to be out.”

Another former Thain worker, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said she accidentally discovered the substitution while on duty last month.

“Someone had ordered a shot, specifically decaf, and I saw one of the regular workers put a shot of what I thought was regular caf into it,” said the former worker. “Later, she told me they were the same.”

When reached at home Wednesday evening, Yale University Dining Services spokesperson Karen Dougherty said she was “dumbfounded” at the charges leveled by the student employees, but she declined to comment further because she was not familiar with the situation.

A University employee serving as café manager — who said managers are forbidden to talk to the media under Dining Services policy — said the café may have run out of espresso “for a few hours during the day” but that “customers were always informed.”

But Gosnell, the manager’s former employee, called that assertion “completely false.” Gosnell said several of the comment cards left by customers this semester complained that the espresso the café was serving was “really weak.”

According to Roland Griffiths, a professor of behavioral biology and neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University and an expert on the study of caffeine, caffeinated and decaffeinated espresso would have markedly different effects on people who drank them.

“Caffeine is a drug, even though it’s served in beverages like coffee,” he said. “People should know how much they’re taking and control their dose accordingly.”

Although not everyone reacts to caffeine the same way, “caffeine withdrawal is a well-documented phenomenon,” Griffiths said. “Fifty percent will exhibit symptoms, and 13 percent will be functionally impaired. It is a terrible idea to put people into caffeine withdrawal without their knowing it.”

Students studying at the tables by the Thain Café on Wednesday evening had mixed reactions to reports about the supposed switch of espressos.

“I’m a decaf drinker, and I’m appalled!” Emma Sokoloff-Rubin ’11 said.

Another student, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said she already knew about the swap, as a Thain Café worker had recently warned her not to order a mocha if she wanted to stay alert, while cautioning her not to repeat the information to anyone else.

“It’s a miracle some of my friends got their papers written,” she added.

But others said they had not noticed any difference in the beverages they were consuming.

“I would really not believe that from my physiological reaction,” Allison Kaptur ’09 said when told of the student employees’ allegations.


  • Anonymous

    That's pretty messed up. I've suspected the same thing a lot in the dining halls. Often, the coffee has absolutely no kick to it at all, and because of the way the signage works (sometimes there, sometimes not), you just need to take their word for it that you're getting real coffee, even if it doesn't seem to be the case.

  • alum

    sounds like a slow news day

  • Get a grip

    Blue Dog, you're knock against the News was far too easy. What would you rather them report: "Yalies attended class today, dinners were served" -- that reflects life as it is being lived by the vast majority of readers. But that is not news. In fact, I believe the YDN has never been better than this year is bringing to light so many delicate and (yes, of course) controversial issues about which their readers have greatly benefited thinking. While a student publication is never perfect, the YDN never makes up news. To read that, you'd need to go to Rumpus. Perhaps, when the News has revealed is that our campus is less stable than we think; that the ideas we accept to be unilaterally accepted are, in fact, not. I think that we can learn more from a news that reaches widely to challenge its readers than we can from a report that tells me what I already know.

  • yalie '10

    Well said, comment #1.

  • coffee drinker

    All this obsession with caffeine is yet another example of drug culture undermining civilization. One day it's vitamins instead of freshness, next day it's alcohol instead of wine, and now it's caffeine instead of coffee. Why is Yale so obsessed with drugs? Doesn't anyone care that these people can't brew a good espresso?

  • Friend of YUDS

    The real shame is that the "whistleblower" had quit already because she did not like her supervisor.

    Now someone will probably lose their job over this, it is quite sad that this is the height of problems on a college campus such as Yale's…"I'm appalled" that this story is getting coverage.

  • not suprised

    as an employee of dining services its so funny how they watch over us for every little thing. who is watching them . while they break all the rules

  • espresso

    espresso has less caffeine then coffee .. decaf espresso has less caffeine… but not much less.

    5oz of coffee 115-170 mg of caffeine
    1oz espresso 80mg
    1oz decaf espresso as much as 50mg

    No one is going through withdrawal from this.

  • Hieronymus

    More amusing to sub it the other way..

  • Ethicist


    Wouldn't it be a GOOD thing minor issue were the biggest problem on Yale's campus? You could have argued that there are bigger problems at Yale (there are), but that isn't what you said.

    As for the manager getting fired over this, why would that be so unjust? It is an abuse of power to demand that your underlings act unethically (in this case, the cafe employees allege that they were ordered to lie to customers). The real victims here are the employees (many of whom are scholarship students who CAN'T resign in protest because they need the work-study money). If someone forced them to act unethically as part of their job, that person should be fired.

    Yes, lying to customers is minor as far as unethical actions go. That doesn't make it okay for a supervisor to force his subordinates to do so.

  • loling

    8 should have read 6.

  • Ethicist

    I read #6. Your point is what, exactly?

    So what if there is only a small difference between the caffeine contents of decaf and regular espresso? Heck, the difference is so small that the average customer can't tell the difference (that's why the switch worked). That doesn't make it okay for a vendor to lie to customers (and it absolutely doesn't make it okay for a manager to force his underlings to do so).

    This isn't about a bunch of poor caffeine-addict Yalies tanking their finals…they won't, and we probably wouldn't really care that much even if they did. It's about a manager acting unethically.

    Yeah, (as I said before) it's awfully unimportant in the grand scheme of things. Yeah, (as I said before), Yale has more important problems it should be addressing. That doesn't make it ethical for a manager to force his underlings to lie, and it doesn't make it a tragedy if he ends up getting canned over this.

  • an underling

    @ 10

    is it really ethical to be calling staff "underlings?"
    that sounds a little condescending, don't you think?

  • Ethicist

    Well, "subordinates" sounded awfully stilted, so it was a tough call…

    In all seriousness, as someone who's been an underling many-a-time (and who's been forced by his boss to do things he hasn't much liked), I intended the word to indicate the manager's sense of superiority, not my own (and I think it does take a certain arrogance to order people to act unethically).

  • "ethical"

    I do not think that word means what you think it means.

  • Dumbfounded

    Finally a real story about something going on at Yale. Not a slew of slanted op-ed pieces speculating about someone's art project or what happens behinds ExComm's closed doors.

    It may be minor and trivial to most people, but if you're a coffee addict, it could adversely affect your performance on writing papers and studying for exams. #6, please state your sources. Decaf beans have on average 2-3% of the caffeine of caffeinated beans.

    Ethical, and ethicist, why don't you waste more YDN space and more Yale time and write an op-ed about the word "underling." Really.

  • Ethicist

    Well, enlighten me, Inigo.

    (unless that was @11, in which case I agree).

  • Ethicist

    Comment #15 was @13.

  • an underling

    actually, ethicist, i think the word staff does just fine. there's no need to make the structure any more divided than it already is. those underling/subordinates already feel looked down-upon.
    in any case, don't you think there are more pressing matters to be considered at the moment than the caffeination of the beans in the espresso machine hoppers? for the record, you are talking to one highly caffeinated individual.
    i think you'd be surprised how many people secretly get served decaf in a day. it's called barista justice. you probably don't consider that ethical, but neither do i consider your classification for people in my position.
    now, would anyone like to talk politics? this silly discussion on coffee beans has grown tiresome.

  • Ethicist

    Yeah, this has gotten pretty ridiculous, essentially since we agree that this is hardly the most pressing issue at Yale (see my first post). Given that, we seem to be arguing over whether calling staff "underlings" is condescending.

    I'll grant you that it wasn't perfect word choice, but I find your moral outrage at what you call my condescension a little misplaced because I fit the "classification for people in [your] position." I am writing as someone who has been at the bottom of many organizational hierarchies (and still is…but no, I am not and have never been employed at the CCL café), someone who has been forced by managers to do stuff he didn't much like.

    Just so we're clear, I would absolutely be against the firing of a staff member who swapped beans on his own (for whatever reason). It's managers who force staff to do unethical things against their will who deserve to get fired. I wish the ones I had to deal with had been. This whole thing came out of my comment that I didn't see how it was such a tragedy if the manager got fired over this. As someone who has been in the same position as the café staff, I stand by that.

    Anyway, this will be my last post on the thread…I have as much trouble as you do believing that I've spent this much time and energy arguing about CCL coffee.

    And as long as we're doing "for the record" disclosures, I don't drink coffee. Seriously.

  • an underling

    the fact is, everyone is under pressure from someone else. just because they are managers doesn't mean they are at the top of the food chain.
    there will always be someone setting expectations and you do what you have to do to achieve them. the answer is not always the popular choice, but doing nothing is not an option.
    my "moral outrage" was more about the dichotomy that you've created between the decision-makers and the executers. you've simultaneously damned the managers for finding a difficult solution and belittled the people who will take the abuse from everyone on the other side of the counter.
    really, it's a big "so what!" it doesn't make any difference in the long run, but to make a closed-minded, one-sided judgment because you assume you know best is irresponsible.
    also, i'm far from outraged. i merely have an opinion, and i'm done serving coffee to yale students today, so i have time to express it.

  • putz

    to be noted… both managers of the cafe were fired.

  • AG Fan

    This is a clear violation of the Connecticut Unlawful Trade Practices Act, which pays triple damages. Hire Ira Grudberg.

  • bass regular

    They're doing it now, too. But this time they are telling the customers. They simply have no caffeine. Supposedly, the company sent them decaf instead of regular. Just in time for reading week and finals. WOW.

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