Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Gagging for caffeine
I had a grim week this summer. I stopped drinking coffee.
It’s the second time in my life that I’ve gone cold turkey – both times on the advice of naturopaths who told me that coffee is not my friend.
So I knew how tough it was going to be. And this time around was no different from my previous experience. I felt shivery, headachy, utterly out of sorts and yes, there were those sharp leg pains back again.
The emotional tug was worse. I had to look the other way each time I passed my favourite cafes, lest I got lured inside to worship at the espresso machine.
Before, I couldn’t start the day without a plunger of stiff black stuff with breakfast. There also had to be the mid-morning flat white and maybe an afternoon one as well if I was meeting friends. Each time a cup was placed before me I would admire its heady aroma, the richness of the crema and the dinky little pattern on top created by a caring barista.
There was the whole ceremonial ritual of playing with the spoon, stirring, skimming off a little foam, slipping it between your lips. I can't like Starbucks because of the spoon shortage there. A wooden or plastic stick is no substitute. But overall, even Starbucks will do if there's no alternative. A good coffee (or so I believed) makes everything better.
When I stopped and become an outcast, I began to realise how intensely our world is engaged in a coffee culture that did not exist a few short years ago. There’s a cafe on every corner to feed our habit. Mobile vans are on patrol for office and factory workers who can’t cope without double-shot lattes. Portable machines take centre stage at farmers’ markets. Every second person on the street is carrying a cardboard cup with plastic cap. Forests are being felled to make those cups.
We’ve gone as ga-ga over coffee as we have over bottled water.
Petrol outlets are probably making more money from caffeine (and water) than they are from fuel. The weatherbeaten guys who used to check your oil and tyres - ah, in the good old days - are now hunched over steaming machines in the BP shop, looking embarrassed about having to faff around with chocolate powder and sugar tubes.
We are so hooked.
I decided that stopping coffee was like stopping smoking. Smokers convince themselves that having a cigarette calms their nerves, when really all it calms is the desire to have another cigarette. We have to have a coffee to perk us up, when really we just need to have one to make us feel like the last time we had one. We’re addicted.
At least lattes don’t give you cancer. At least not as far as we know. But surely when it hurts to give something up, it can’t be doing you much good.
So at breakfast now, I drink green tea. But being healthy can’t last for long. I’m back onto flat whites. Just once a day. Damn, it’s good.
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