Coffee! We’re Lovers Again

I’ve conducted a love/hate relationship with coffee for more than 30 years.

I’m not like most people, who wake up and set the pot on the stove before they even contemplate the contents of their day. Coffee and I are definitely on the ‘hate’ side of our relationship when my stomach is empty.  But once I’ve eaten, I begin looking for that jar of beans.

I think it all started when I entered my teens and commenced a habit of drinking glass after glass of instant diet iced tea every day. Yes, instead of the recommended eight glasses of water, I consumed at least that many tall plastic tumblers of the artificially sweetened chemical concoction. The caffeine content in each tablespoon of the powder cemented my addiction  at a tender age.

When I got to college I resolved to quit my iced tea habit, but soon switched to instant coffee. This was before gourmet coffee got its grip on the nation, and my Folgers seemed tasty and buzzy enough. I’d heat the water in the plastic electric kettle in my dorm room and stir in the black granules, adding liberal amounts of sugar and powdered creamer, then sit down to pound out papers.

By my mid-twenties I’d moved on to gourmet beans, brewed at home, with real half and half and honey. And I’d become a morning drinker, sipping it from a big ceramic mug at 7 a.m. as I readied my toddler and myself for the day.

But I found that by the time I’d dropped her off, perhaps gone to the gym for a workout, and then arrived at my store for work I was ready for a nap. The coffee crash.

So I gave up that early morning mug and began to experiment with coffee consumption at different times of day.  After eating breakfast, at 10 a.m. when the store opened, after lunch. But that crash nearly always found me once the buzz began to wear off.

But oh that buzz! Suddenly my brain kicked into gear, neurons firing, central nervous system ablaze and the creative ideas would bubble up. With coffee’s help I kept the customers smiling, got dozens of orders placed, filled my list with brilliant new ideas, wrote stories for the newsletter, led scintillating meetings, and on and on.

I really couldn’t imagine life without coffee.

But as an herbalist, I was well informed of the negative effects of caffeine. It dehydrates the body, depletes B-Vitamins, runs down the immune system, disrupts the body’s natural ability to regulate energy levels…that list goes on and on too.

How could something so wonderful be so evil?

Throughout the years I took breaks from the bean. I’d do fasts and cleanses and cut the coffee out completely. But headaches and the need for constant naps prevented me from eliminating caffeine completely. I discovered that a bit of green tea would prevent the headaches, but not unfortunately the overwhelming desire to put my head down on the desk.

I think coffee helped me ignore the fact that I was running my life on far fewer hours of sleep than my body demanded. Chalk up another item in the Evil column.

I always came back. It would start with a half cup – just a homeopathic dose I’d tell myself. But before I knew it I was back to drinking a cup after breakfast and then a double espresso in the afternoon to boost me through the mid-afternoon crash.

Relief would flood through me when I’d read reports of new studies that had shown that coffee actually had beneficial effects on the body. But deep down I knew that afternoon espresso just wasn’t doing me any good. Relying on a substance just to get through the day just couldn’t be healthy – even the author of Eat Right for Your Type insisted that coffee was benign for people with Type A blood.

So, last year I resolved to break this cycle. When I did my annual cleanse and began to substitute yerba mate for the morning cup and iced green tea for the afternoon espresso, I resolved to make it last this time.

And I almost made it. Nary a drop passed my lips for four whole months. By summer I’d begun to drink a cup every so often with a friend, but didn’t rely on it to do my work or to get through the day. I passed the entire year of 2010 only consuming the occasional cup. A friend commented on how healthy I looked, and then asked if I’d quit coffee. I looked in the mirror and thought I noticed fewer wrinkles.

Then I encountered Bali coffee. I thought it would be easy to eschew the bean while traveling in Asia because I’d heard that decent cups of coffee were few and far between. That Nescafe dominated. But I guess things have changed in recent years – in Bali almost every guesthouse served a pot of coffee with the morning breakfast. Then in Thailand, there was the even tastier Hill Tribe Coffee – such a lovely accompaniment to a morning writing session.

By the time I left I was in the habit of a cup of coffee with breakfast every morning.

That seems reasonable. Maybe my year of abstinence has reset my addiction. Maybe I can enjoy that morning cup and manage my afternoon energy drop with something healthier – like a walk outside.

Here’s hoping.

What’s your relationship with coffee? Is it a trusted friend that never turns on you? Or must you battle its tendency to take over your life?

2 Responses to Coffee! We’re Lovers Again

  1. I identify with every word of this article Sarah. I have the same relationship with coffee (and tea) as you do. Caffeine is just so effective in the short term, but mid to long term it tires me out. I know this. I’m having the same experience in Laos as you had in Bali. Two cups of coffee with my breakfast – standard.

    I’m now going to order a big bottle of water and some ginger tea!

  2. Sarah,

    I love the taste of coffee (black), and the comfort of a cup or a pot first thing in the morning. I never believed for a moment there was any reason to not drink fully-caffeinated coffee no matter what I read or heard.

    All my adult like, I’ve drank at least a half a pot of coffee a day. I’ve always had more energy than I need (until I sit down after the dinner dishes are done and immediately crash), and I felt that coffee had no bearing on anything other than my enjoyment.

    A few months ago I read The Schwarzbein Principle by Diana Schwarzbein, M.D. When she explained scientifically how caffeine effects the adrenal glands, I cut caffeine down to one-half cup a day (the half cup is so that I won’t go into shock if I ingest caffeine unknowingly). I still enjoy coffee – but the caffeine-free kind.

    After a very slow withdrawal and a couple weeks of headaches, I found I have more energy (kinda scary), and it is consistent throughout the day.

    But even better, my hand is as steady as it was when I was a kid. I figured at 54 years, my slight tremor-of-hand was age related – yikes! No way – rock solid; hand me that scalpel. That alone will assure that I never again consume but a small amount of caffeine per day.

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