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MAY : YEETS (Caffeine)



In May, I abstained from caffeine, or, to keep the rhyme scheme… YEETS. It wasn’t enough to give up caffeine, though... I wanted to see what life would be like without coffee.


COFFEE! 


No coffee, no decaf, no espresso-based concoctions or even coffee-flavored things. 


TERRIBLE IDEA.


I was curious to see what life would be like. Could I survive? Adapt? Could I self-actualize enough to be a tea guy? 


As it turns out… no. 


No way. 


There are a few elements to this abstinence. There’s the chemical abstinence… which affects my energy level, digestion and mood. Then there’s the ritual/habitual abstinence… which has some mental and behavioral side effects. As I recount my history


addiction!


...relationship?


enslavement!


...JOURNEY with coffee and caffeine, I realize how the chemical and ritual aspects are woven together.


Although it’s a commonly known fact, it sometimes bears repeating that caffeine is considered a drug. In fact, it’s the most consumed psychoactive drug in the world, and, according to this expert (points to himself), it’s the most delicious. It’s a stimulant. It’s addictive. It’s amazing. 


My first memories of getting high on coffee are from church.


Naturally.


Between Sunday school and the service, there was this little window of time when us kids were free to roam from the classroom to find our parents in the narthex.


Are you really talking about narthexes right now? 


Please let me be… I never get to use the word “narthex”. This is my chance. 


I’ll allow it. 


On that short journey from the back of the church to the front, I would pass the coffee table and sneak myself a cup. It felt very adult to do so. I’d grab that white styrofoam cup, pour in some heavy cream, grab the sugar (the sugar was just sitting there… straight sugar… in an easy-to-pour canister) and pile it in until I’d see that sweet pyramid break the surface of the cream. Then I’d add splash it with coffee. Just a dash, though, because that stuff was gross by itself. I just wanted that sweet toffee-ish nectar. Then I’d stride through the church to find my parents, feeling a few inches taller with that cup in my hand.


My next coffee flashback is from summer camp. I grew up in scouts and worked at a summer camp in my early teen years. I learned a lot those summers, much of which I’ve found very helpful well into my adult life. Other learnings were less useful, and some I wish I could forget. We’d smoke reeds, acting like they were cigarettes. Then some older kid, some eighteen-and-a-day year-old camp counselor procured some sweet cigarillos, which smelled a lot nicer than those stinking reeds. Swisher Sweets are like the Jolly Ranchers of tobacco. It was like smoking a cheap potpourri.


What does this have to do with coffee?


I have a distinct memory of a group of us camp staffers making our way into the tiny town near the camp. We went to a local diner, ordered coffee and smoked cigarillos (inside). I must have been 13 or 14. We felt sooooo mature. We must have looked so ridiculous… a gaggle of dirty pubescents hunching over our mugs, commiserating about camp like a crew of blue-collar ditch diggers. The point of this story is that I thought drinking coffee and smoking made me cool…


So cool.


And it did.


Totally.


Kidding.


This is the first memorable instance of the ritual and social aspects becoming apparent to me. Coffee was a focal point, a vehicle, something to do, and something to do with friends


Coffee and I met again in late night diners in my upper high school years. Rooting out cheap food after skating or goofing around, our crew would inevitably end up in a some diner drinking tarpit drip. After that, post-show chow-downs became a regular occurrence throughout my college years, always paired with a cup of black coffee. I never would have called myself a coffee drinker, though. That came later. 


There was one good coffee shop in the town where I went to college and the a job there was highly coveted. Since it was where I was spending a lot of time anyway, one day I asked if they were hiring. They said no. I asked for an application. They said they were out. Undeterred, I asked for a piece of blank paper. I sat down then and there and crafted my own application, even drawing the lines and boxes to make it seem official. The owner was surprised I was still there an hour later, when I handed her the application with a smile. She called a few days later to let me know a position was opening and wanted to talk to me. She appreciated my gumption. That job opened up the world of coffee to me in a real way. I learned that coffee comes from many countries… not just Colombia, and that espresso is espresso, not expresso. I also learned what a quiche was.


...a real education, you dummy. 


Barista was also a new word for me. I learned how to pull shots, froth the milk just so, and make a variety of drinks. This is also when I jumped into the chemical side of coffee. It was always there, and now it was essentially free. Drinking coffee was part of the job. That shop was a nexus for my social life, so I was there even when I wasn’t working… drinking coffee. Cut me and I’d bleed brown back in those days. My roommate Dan ended up working there and one day we competed to see who could drink more cups of coffee. I don’t remember who won, but I do remember calling it quits when my guts felt like lava and my heart was a hummingbird trying to bust out of my chest. 


After college, I moved to Costa Rica to volunteer at an inner-city church in San Jose. Coffee is a cultural cornerstone in Costa Rica. I’d regularly have coffee at least three times a day. Once with breakfast, once at our ritual 10am coffee/cookie break and again at 3pm for more coffee and more cookies. If we went out at night, sometimes we’d grab a cafecíto to end the day, too. 


During the next stage of life, the bike shop and babies years, coffee powered me through many a slow morning and busy afternoon. Early on, I’d bring my morning coffee in a thermos in my messenger bag. This is when it dawned on me that I might be an addict… when I NEEDED to have that coffee with me to start my day at the shop. There was a real sense of guilt, like… “Oh no… I’M AN ADDICT. I’ve lost control. This drug has its hooks in me!”.


I would take coffee fasts to prove it didn’t own me. Funny to think about that now. 


One day, I remember riding into work and rode through the drive-thru to do a deposit. As I hovered there waiting for them to handle the deposit, I started feeling warm. It wasn’t a particularly hot day, but I remember thinking I was getting really hot, especially on my back, my lower back. Then I smelled coffee. I opened my messenger bag, my waterproof messenger bag, to reveal a steaming stew of paper mush and swollen books in a dark brew broth. I haven’t trusted a thermos ever since. 


Coffee hit a new level over at the bike shop. Three notable turning points:


  1. I hired an ace mechanic who was also a fine barista. He had a line on a refurbished espresso machine, so we bought it and put it in at the shop. He would spoil me with an espresso each morning. 

  2. My good friend and former employee Phillip served pour-over coffees at his wedding. That was the first time I’d had coffee made that way. Later, he sent me a bag of Heart coffee, which tasted like no other coffee I’d ever had before. “Single-origin” became a priority for me. 

  3. Then I hired another mechanic who was also a barista and absolute coffee nerd. Chad would make pour-overs at any point in the day, for himself and for others. In fact, he probably fixed bikes and made coffee in equal measure some days. I learned how to be an insufferable coffee snob from Chad (I was already there, he just pushed me over the edge). 


My tastes hit peak dork in 2016 when I ordered a THIRTEEN DOLLAR CUP OF COFFEE in LA. It wasn’t amazing. It tasted like coffee. 


At home, we eventually tossed our drip coffeemaker and switched to a Chemex and V60. I came to realize that caffeine past noon was a contributing factor to some sleep issues, so I stopped all caffeine after noon. That was a helpful change, reducing some evening anxiety and mid-night sweats. It also made me appreciate those morning cups even more. 


That about brings us to today. Anna has found the right beans that satisfy my picky tastebuds for a price that satisfies our pocketbook. She gets up a little earlier than me, and she has mastered the Chemex, so she typically has a mug waiting for me when I get up (I know, I’m spoiled). 


This is where the plot twists. 


In the first days of this abstinence, I anticipated headaches, sluggishness, irritability, and the like. As you’ve just read, I’ve been a committed coffee addict for a long time. To go from daily injections to diddly in a day was certainly going to cost me. Right? 


To my surprise, it did not. 


I did sense a slight change in my energy levels, but it was minimal. I didn’t really sense any headaches. Chemically, I must be missing it… but I didn’t experience anything that could be called withdrawal. 


Tell them why.


As it turns out… Anna’s been weaning us off caffeine for a while now. It came to light that she started making half-caff in the mornings this spring to see if it reduced some of her anxiety or had any other positive effects. Since I didn’t take notice, she just kept doing it! I was halfway to decaf already, so it wasn’t a big change, chemically, to nix the other half. 


The ritual aspect was hard to change, though. Tea just didn’t do the trick. By the end of the month, I desired bitterness. Tea was too smooth, too soft. I love a bitter, pitch black punch in the lips each morning. Tea was like sipping kittens. 


It was nice to nurse a cup of mint or licorice tea in the afternoon, but it didn’t do it for me in the morning. If I went to a coffee shop and ordered tea, it felt foolish, especially when they just tossed a teabag in hot water. Silly. 


So, no, I am not evolving into a tea guy. 


In the end, the hardest thing about abstaining from coffee was the monotony. It felt like the days were just… flat. This won’t be a scientific explanation, but bear with me. That first cup and the spike of caffeine (albeit a small one, recently), is a pick-me-up, an uptick, if you will. The mid-morning refill was another bump. Sometimes, I get real wild and have a third cup late in the morning, like I’m some kind of daredevil dancing on a tight-rope… wondering if I’ll regret it at 3am. These are all punctuation points in my day that create some interruption and variety in my energy, mood or even my creativity. A mid-morning pour-over is a good way for me to restart my brain or transition into a different focus. Not having any of those variations just put me in a very humdrum state of mind. It was boring. My mental wavelength was always the same. My best self needs variety... needs punctuation... my best self needs a dang cup of coffee.


My relapse on June 1st was glorious. Anna brought me coffee in bed. I hugged the mug and sipped it like a rescued castaway. Savored every drop. I’m back on my steady drip now. It feels good. I appreciate it anew. As a doctor friend once said to me, "I'll keep drinking coffee until someone gives me good reason to stop."


All of these abstinences have helped me appreciate these things, but I can tell I’m not as beholden to them as I used to be. The resets are productive. 


Do you think other people should give up coffee for a month? 


Heck no. That stuff is delicious. 



Thanks for reading. 





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