“What in all fiery hell made you do something like that?” is usually the first response I get when I tell people about this adventure. The answer is simple. I was in my kitchen one morning, sipping a cup of my favorite brew – three ounces of espresso and powdered milk blended whipped in with a hand-held latte foamer – when I thought to myself “I don’t actually want this cup of coffee, I’m simply staving off an addiction.”
Truth be told, that preparation of coffee was – and still is – one of the most amazing things I’ve come across on God’s green earth. It combines the angry punch of an espresso with a sublime creaminess that starts with the foam at the top stays with you until the last drop, a concoction I developed over years in Caracas in with the help of my wife and many Venezuelan friends.
My thought at that moment, standing in my pajamas in front of the stove, wasn’t that I never wanted to drink coffee again. It was more motivated by the question “Shouldn’t I be able to drink coffee because I want to, and not because I have to?”
I could have of course just poured out the cup of coffee I didn’t want so that I could start to break my addiction. But I’d actually tried that before. Several years earlier, just to confirm I was in fact addicted, I tried to see what would happen if I just stopped from one day to the next. At that time I was drinking three or four dark shots of espresso a day. Let’s just say it didn’t go well. Yes, first the headaches, then the dizziness. Within two days I was constantly nauseous. The third day I was vomiting. As you can guess, the fourth day I was drinking coffee again. I can’t help but smile to myself when I see the coffee industry groups insisting caffeine withdrawal only causes “temporary, mild discomfort.”
That was enough to scare the daylights out of me. For the next six years I didn’t give the slightest thought to ditching my morning brew, even downing a few sips of warm Coke when I couldn’t find coffee on the road, or munching on chocolate covered espresso beans on camping trips. But over time the thought came back to me – do I really want to have to drink this stuff every day? Part of my problem is that I even when I was a regular coffee drinker, I had to constantly resist the call of coffee anyway. My metabolism only allowed me to have my own cup of coffee in the morning, which gave me the nice jolt I wanted. After that, coffee usually did more harm than good. Those slow, boring afternoons, when I was nodding off from a big lunch, drinking a cup of coffee would simply make my head swim. Granted, I don’t have kids, so I sleep pretty well, otherwise this might be a different story. So I thought, if I can’t try this now, when will I ever be able to?
And so it began. When things first started I was putting about two teaspoons of coffee into my little espresso pot, so I started to taper down while I kept the water constant. It was a slow ramp-down, but I could feel it. In the afternoons my stomach would clench up, and I’d have this irresistible urge to lie down on the floor. People asked me if I was sleeping OK. Most of the time I just told them I was tired (which was true). It was probably a period of two weeks or so where things were tough, but after that it got noticeably better. And, at the same time, the coffee was getting noticeably worse. By the end I was only putting in 1/8 of a teaspoon of grounds, which yielded a pale watery brew with a few grounds floating on top of it. The declining quality of the coffee was a deterrent to continuing to drink coffee. So I quit.
And to my surprise, I haven’t missed it as much as I thought I would. I do sometimes walk past a coffee shop and really feel myself being pulled in by the overpowering scent of roasting beans. And I so get up on Saturday mornings and have a cup of coffee with my wife while I read the paper, and I truly enjoy it. It becomes a special occasion with that absence-makes-the-heart-grow-fonder intensity.
I remember one dark early morning a few months later I had to get up at some godawful hour to return from a reporting trip, I stood in front of a coffee counter at the airport. I wasn’t sure if should take advantage of the moment to indulge in an espresso. Would the coffee keep me up on the plane? Or should I drink the coffee so I could stay awake on the plane and then get home and rest? Or would the coffee dehydrate me too much on the plane? And then I had a sudden realization, like clouds parting to reveal a brilliant sun – “I don’t want coffee!”