The increasing demand for decaffeinated coffee is one of the more noticeable changes in eating habits. Despite that growing demand, envelopes of instant Sanka are often presented with hot water at the end of the meal, even in some of our toniest and otherwise impeccable restaurants. It is much the same problem that faces tea drinkers who rightfully resent being served tea bags in so-called quality restaurants.

Feeling discriminated against, many readers who drink decaffeinated coffee write complaining of this injustice. They feel, understandably, that if conventional coffee is freshly brewed, why not decaffeinated? Many also resent not being offered a second cup of decaffeinated when refills of regular coffee are poured. This is especially annoying when restaurants charge as much for decaffeinated coffee as for brewed coffee or espresso.

There is a tremendous difference between the beverage obtained from high-quality beans, freshly ground and freshly brewed, and the weaker coffee made with nationally distributed brands of instant decaffeinated. And even those brands are far better when brewed than when prepared from instant powders. But for the most discerning palates, the many blends and roasts of decaffeinated coffee beans widely available now make this somewhat vitiated drink much easier to take.

For reasons hard to fathom, the most successful results with decaffeinated coffee seem to be obtained with a Melior pot, even though the Melitta and several other drip coffee makers produce equally satisfactory conventional coffee. The lustiest decaffeinated coffee is made with beans that are dark-roasted in the French or Italian styles. Good examples of those are available at many coffee shops, among them McNulty's Tea and Coffee Company, 109 Christopher Street, between Bleecker and Hudson Streets (242-5351); the Empire Coffee and Tea Company, 486 Ninth Avenue, between 37th and 38th Streets (564-1460), and the Schapira Coffee Company, 117 West 10th Street, between Avenue of the Americas and Greenwich Street (675-3733).

The custom of serving hot water and a packet of Sanka undoubtedly began when no other forms of decaffeinated coffee were available, and the wrapper proved that this indeed was the real McCoy. Now, however, that practice needs examining and a more gracious presentation of better decaffeinated is in order. A number of restaurant owners are already serving excellent decaffeinated, and if customers insist, perhaps others will follow. The quality of the decaffeinated coffee, like the quality of tea and bread, is an indication of a restaurant owner's standards.

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