Trying To Flick The Bean

coffee-beansAS most of you are probably aware (mainly because I won’t shut up about it), this year saw me say goodbye to my long-term relationship with cigarettes.

In the lead up to it I wondered how and if I’d be able to maintain the things I enjoyed with a cigarette, in particular COFFEE.

It was surprisingly easy. Even now, with no desire to have a cigarette, I CANNOT deny the heavenly way the brown liquid and the slightly lighter-brown, heavily processed plant compliment each other, as I’m sure hundreds of thousands of people can testify.

But still, I managed to do away with the cigarettes, I’ve had nothing but the smallest of cravings on the fewest of occasions – it’s going well.

It wasn’t until recently that I made the decision to cut back on coffee. Since the company I was working for ceased to be, I’ve been working at home – and while it’s been enjoyable, and I’ve been proficient, there has been a downside. Instead of walking across the road to the café twice a day for an extra strong coffee, I was making myself an instant with 3 large spoonfuls every time I got up from my chair, totalling anywhere up to 8 extremely strong coffees a day.

When it’s that ‘instant’ (pardon the pun), someone like me has no idea how many I’m drinking. It’s like when you go on a scotch bender, and somewhere between the 4th and 22nd shot you realise you have absolutely no idea how many you’ve had, just that there’s a lot of it inside you.

Appropriate picture

Appropriate picture

Then, instead of lying in bed trying not to close your eyes for fear that the world will start drunkenly spinning, you’re lying in bed unable to close your eyes because your heart is going at 120BPM and your mind is racing.

After a night just like the one mentioned above, I realised I might have a problem, and it was time to take action. It was time to quit coffee – and if not quit, significantly reduce my intake to what people might call ‘normal’ levels.

I never used to drink coffee until my hospitality years – not until I learned how to make it – PROPERLY. We had a proper machine at work, and it wasn’t until I smelled the freshly poured crema from a long shot of authentic, non-instant, freshly ground coffee that I realised there might just be something to this.

Within weeks I was up to 4-6 coffees a day. One at the start of each shift, one or two during each shift and sometimes one at the end – what did I care? It was free! Provided I made the boss one too, there didn’t seem to be any problem with my excessive coffee abuse. Bear in mind that this was someone who’d never been a coffee drinker.

One particular shift I specifically remember having 8 extremely strong coffees in a 4 hour period, primarily out of boredom, and I remember my co-workers and customers finding me hilarious and energetic. There is truly a zone you can get into when you’ve had too much caffeine – it’s delicately balanced but when you’re there its like any other drug that fills you with boundless energy and joy.

Like most drug abusers I couldn’t get enough, and it got to a point where I felt that unless I was bouncing off the walls and practically running around the restaurant like a kid with ADHD, it wasn’t going to be a fun shift. I couldn’t really find the time to drink more coffees, so it was time to make them stronger.

I was typically drinking double shots to begin with, and this quickly escalated into quadruple, even SEXTUPLE shot coffees that filled the glass with barely enough room for the smallest dollop of milk straight after the pour, and crema so thick and dreamy you could have eaten it alone with a spoon. Between four and six of these coffees a day meant I was having somewhere between 24-36 shots of coffee a day. Reading that to myself now seems utterly insane, but it’s true.

This went on for YEARS. I’d get home from most shifts around 11PM, sometimes later, sometimes earlier, and wouldn’t get to sleep until 2 or 3 in the morning at the earliest. Given that I didn’t have to get up until 10 for the next day in hospitality, this wasn’t problematic.

Of course, when I finally left hospitality, maintaining the habit became difficult. In the city you’re paying $4-$4.50 every time you want to indulge the habit – and when you’re spending between $12-$20 a day on coffees that pale in comparison to your own, you have to wonder if it’s worth it.

So instead I ended up back in the doldrums of instant coffee, shoving a host of massive spoonfuls in and stirring it as much as I could. Sure I’d still get one or two at a café every day, but they were never up to scratch. It was downhill from there.

After a bad case of one of those aforementioned nights, I decided that something needed to be done. Hell, if I could quit cigarettes, then surely coffee would be freaking easy. I was wrong.

Perhaps the initial part of my problem was that I didn’t seriously want to ‘quit’, I just knew that I needed to cut down and had some trust issues with myself, spending the majority of the day in an apartment with the massive jar of Moconna calling to me from the kitchen. So I quit coffee, for two days, and I will tell you this.

I found cutting coffee out to be MANY times harder than smoking.

The biggest problem? THE HEADACHES. I’d heard people speak of caffeine headaches before, and I’m not a fan of migraines at the best of times, but WOWEE! The afternoons were hellish, and made it difficult to focus, the desire to consume Panadol with reckless abandon was difficult to ignore, and after two days I realised that I simply couldn’t do it.

Who knows, perhaps if I’d persisted I would have found after one more day that I’d successfully gotten the brown and black monkey off my back – but maybe that was part of the problem.

I can certainly say this – I was sleeping better, and was actually finding myself tired at what some people would deem a regular hour. If you’re having trouble sleeping, cut coffee out for a day or two. If you ever thought that your body wouldn’t miss all those hours of lost sleep you’ve accumulated over the year, youre wrong. I’m not saying you’ll become narcoleptic, but if you’ve lived off coffee for years and then cut it out I wager you’ll find yourself falling asleep on the couch at least an hour or two earlier than you used to.

So I reintroduced my morning coffee because, let’s face it, it’s the most important coffee of the day. It’s not that mornings had been met with lethargy before, but coffee certainly accelerates the process of ‘waking up’. It made mornings easier but nights were much the same.

I reintroduced my afternoon coffee not long after – and that’s been it. I no longer have any late-night feelings of anxiety, I no longer have the painful headaches of caffeine withdrawal, it’s a good balance. Two (still pretty strong) coffees a day.

Yes, I guess that after quitting smoking with ease I’m a little disappointed in myself for not being able to master what seems like a relatively simple ingredient by comparison – but at the same time, I enjoy coffee. Yes, it might be ‘bad’ for you in some ways, but so is anything else consumed to excess. Unlike cigarettes, though, coffee isn’t so detrimental to your health that it needs to explicitly tell you so on the packet. Unlike cigarettes, coffee tastes GOOD and has a tangible after effect.

My pre-morning coffee face

My pre-morning coffee face

Did I fail? Yeah, I guess I did, but as Winston Churchill said: “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” He was probably drunk at the time. Imagine how much faster he would have said it had he been addicted to coffee instead of alcohol.

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