Caffeine Addicts Anonymous

In food on 01/16/2009 at 2:52 pm

Yes, it’s legal, but it’s bad. It ruins lives. There are programs to quit, but like alcohol, another other legal drug, it seems cool to flaunt how addicted you are. Nicotine, the third of the holy trinity, has lost its allure thanks to the incessant advertising campaigns against it. But I am proud to say that I have quit the stuff for good; I still enjoy the occasional cup o’ joe, albeit decaf, and now I’m happy I don’t get the buzz, because that means I also won’t suffer the withdrawl. A good 8 hour night’s sleep is the true prescription to keeping the wolves at bay. There’s no shortcuts without consequences.

Mother used to drink the fake stuff, Maxwell House. I always liked the smell, but when I was a kid, I sneaked some sips and it was really bitter and gross, and the nasty flavor stuck to my tongue like a grass stain. She drank it while reading the paper in the morning, and I would wonder wherein the magic lay. I finally picked the habit up in college. That’s when Starbucks started to spawn nationwide, that whole idea of coffee as sub-culture, and my first mind-blowing frappucino was had at Au Bon Pain, across the street from campus, so convenient, right on way way from my dorm to early morning classes.

I worked as a barista one semester, in the newly opened student commons in the belly of the old church-turned lecture hall. I learned all the tricks to making the perfect cappucino, all the riffs on espresso using an industrial-sized machine with all the bells and whistles. One time, I drank four shots in succession and didn’t even notice when I bumped on my hand on the corner of a table and drew blood. It was high times. As long as I had a cup to start my day, it was smooth sailing. If my sleep schedule was a little off, I just downed another cup in the afternoon. No big deal.

But then, sometimes, coffee wasn’t available. Even the really really weak diner junk. Especially on hiking trips, or vacations. And the throbbing headaches would pounce. It got so bad that I was non-functional, huddling in a ball in the darkness under my covers, waiting for the drugs to kick in. As I get older, I got more headaches, more often, not just the ones from missing my caffeine date, and they got harder to ignore or shake-off. By now, I enjoyed the taste of coffee. You know you grow into the taste for sour and bitter. That’s the sure sign of old age, I think, to appreciate those flavors. So me and coffee were good to go if I abided by her rigorous demands.

Of course I was obsessed with all aspects of the coffee arts. The New York Times wrote of an cold brew method, born in the New Orleans summer heat, and I drank that in gallons. That beast was kinder, more mellow, sweeter, but the repercussions were the same if I skipped. A Goth friend’s Father even showed us how to roast our own beans using his hardware-store-cobbled roasting pot to obtain the optimal freshness from each drop.

Then I started medical school, learned of all the ways we destroy our bodies and minds, whether we know it or not, and how the medications you take to alleviate the pain can cause more pain down the line. At first, I really tightened the noose on the coffee chugging to keep up the pace. Slowly though, I could feel how horrible my insides were corroding and how much coffee was a crutch. Without it, I was a fizzled out shell of a zombie. The coursework was already beating me down; I didn’t need two masters. Clean living, that was the only thing that could save me. I had attempted to quit many times before, but the allure was too much to deny. So we came up with a plan. We would mix the beans, and slowly titrate me down to straight up decaf.

My objection to decaf in the past was that what was the point of drinking coffee if not for the pleasurable buzz? It tastes the same, especially if we were roasting our own beans. This past summer, at Barriques in Madison, I discovered an artisanal brew called Dream Harder, which was actually two roasts blended, one milder, and one darker. You could actually taste the two notes of coffee, independently, and as one. Wow. The answer came to me: For the flavor, dummy.

One day, several years ago, in the middle of spring, I was struck down with my bi-annual bout of the flu, the kind that really knocks you out for weeks. I couldn’t keep anything down, let alone my daily brew. So I suffered the withdrawl of all withdrawls, along with my other symptoms of respiratory distress. And cleared my system. It was horrible, but it was worth it.

Now I’m caffeine free. The other day, we passed by the Coffee Roasting Plant, a new cafe on 7th Avenue and 10th St. There was a giant machine, Willy-Wonka style, roasting coffee onsite and delivering the beans, shotgun, up and down shutes into their respective holding bins. We bought some of their decaf green beans to see how they compare to our Wisconsin online source: Burman Coffee Traders. But they have yet to be tested. There’s no sense of manic urgency to drink a cup. Just on weekends, or when I’m feeling like a warm something, we dust off the roaster or take a vacuum-packed bag from the freezer, and brew some up.

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