In a move that I applaud both for the action and for the press received, Intelligentsia Coffee announced today – with great fanfare – that they will be dropping the largest 20 oz drink size from their menu. Trust me, I’ve done the research, it’s better…

Small. Medium. Gone.; Intelligentsia Coffee will stop serving venti drinks, forcing customers to slow down on their caffeine consumption

By Monica Eng, TRIBUNE REPORTER — Chicago Tribune, July 9, 2008 Wednesday Chicago Final Edition

Venti drinkers — and that means you, mister, with the 20-ounce coffee in your hand — watch out.

Starting Aug. 1, Intelligentsia Coffee, the Chicago company with three local cafes and whose coffee is served in more than 900 restaurants and other outlets nationwide, will phase out its 20-ounce coffee and espresso beverages.

It’s not economics talking; it’s about showing respect for your daily brew.

“Drinking our coffee is not like drinking jug wine,” said Intelligentsia Coffee founder and Chief Executive Doug Zell on Tuesday. “We’re focused on intensity of flavors and providing coffee in the way it tastes best. And it’s not in that size.”

Zell claims that the large size “throws off the proportions of the beverage” in espresso drinks and you end up with “a watered-down, Big Gulpish version.” Regarding drip coffee, he asks: “Do you really need 20 ounces of drip coffee?”

But you won’t find coffee-giant Starbucks following Zell’s lead.

“We don’t have any plans to phase out the venti,” said Bridget Baker, spokeswoman for Seattle-based Starbucks Coffee. “We know that people like to get all sorts of different beverages in that size and we are happy to provide them.”

Intelligentsia has built its reputation on providing quality coffee, and the move is a part of a continuing Intelligentsia effort to make the operation more “streamlined and focused on the coffee.”

Fine coffee, notes Ric Rhinehart, executive director of the Specialty Coffee Association of America, “is not a Big Gulp world. People who are focused on the quality of the beverages and the gustatory pleasure of drinking coffee know you want to keep it hot and fresh. And with 20 ounces, it hard to keep it hot and fresh. It’s like a glass of sauternes. You want to enjoy highly concentrated flavors in small quantities.”

Zell said that all of the extras added to 20-ounce drinks end up “masking and adulterating the pure, intense flavors we work hard to source, roast and produce. We don’t want this to just be a caffeine delivery device.” It also may not be so difficult for Intelligentsia to part with the big cup. The 12-ounce size, not 20 ounces, is most popular with customers, both in drip coffee and lattes.

Zell further predicted that news of his phase-out would prompt competitors to “take their 20-ounce drinks off the menu tomorrow,” he said with a chuckle. This wasn’t exactly the reaction, however, that other gourmet coffee purveyors offered.

Kathy Nowicki, Dunkin’ Donuts marketing manager for the Midwest, said that Chicagoans in particular dig this large size.

“Chicago is the only market in the country where the top-selling size is 20 ounces,” she said. “In all of the other markets the medium size is the biggest sellers. So we are definitely keeping it.”

Tony Dreyfuss, founder and co-owner of Chicago’s Metropolis Coffee Company, is more understanding. “I definitely see where [Zell] is coming from,” said Dreyfuss, whose company is most similar to Intelligentsia in size and reputation, “but I do think there is something to be said for a 20-ounce cup of drip. I drink it most often because coffee changes its flavor and character at different temperatures.”

Although the phase-out will be enforced in only the official Intelligentsia stores, outlets will be encouraged to follow suit.Zell realizes that some might interpret the move as coffee policing. But, he said, he just wants to offer coffee “in a way it tastes best. If that doesn’t work for you, we understand, but we’d like you to give us a chance.”