Wednesday, February 9, 2011


Been feeling a little down in general lately, thinking it could be caffeine withdrawals: they take four or five days, and I'm on day three. Weird, all this from just one cup of coffee, I guess I'm sensitive to it. Right now I'm trying to decide if I really mind being addicted to caffeine. I generally abhor the thought of being addicted to anything, but caffeine suits me. I like the lift, really appreciate it, as I tend towards low energy. Also it helps me write and think, get's the juices flowing, and that feels good too. But if I'm going to be this sensitive to one cup of joe, I either need to dive into a full on habit, or go decaf for good. These withdrawals suck. I admit I'm leaning towards accepting this addiction.

Really, though, it's kind of an interesting thing to experiement with it; you never notice these effects (for me, very low energy at the 48 hour mark, and generally depressive feelings for a few days) when you're having caffeine daily. I wonder if everyone gets this way and just never notices, either because they never have a long enough break from the stuff or because they just attribute it to other causes, sleeping poorly or feeling sad about other things.

I was thinking today at work that perhaps caffeine is the most defining drug of our Western culture. Tea for the British was (and is?) a critical thing, and let's face it, we in America are just the bastard stepchildren of the Brits. We, however, upped the ante to coffee. It fuels our 24-7 culture of workaholism and constant motion. It is often said that western man doesn't know how to slow down and really relax, to rest and reflect. Perhaps the fact that from early childhood we are dosed daily with caffeine: pop, tea, coffee, and now energy drinks and caffeine pills. I personally graduated to coffee in middle school, never having been big on pop, besides root beer. I think I was imitating my father, too.

It is, of course, hard to know if we are go go go because of caffeine, or if we find caffeine fits into a pre-existing (hyper)active cultural trait. And of course there is a fatal flaw: green tea (and tea in general?) was first used by Buddhist monks, a pretty relaxed bunch. They used it to stay awake in long meditation sessions. And the Muslims with their coffee (it is definitely the cultural drug of the Arabs), I don't know enough to say if they are a hyperactive lot. They always seem pretty literate, though, and thoughtful, deep; perhaps they channeled their buzz into religious thought, art, writing, poetry, and the like, not to mention street protests. And generally caffeine is the most used psychoactive substance on Earth. So it's not like it's unique to us.

Maybe this is all a little silly, this whole idea. Maybe I'm taking this to absurd lengths. But If you all have thoughts, I'd like to hear them. Meanwhile I think I'm gonna go make up some green tea...


  1. It probably says something that Starbucks and the latte culture came out of Seattle, where people use it to stay alert because it's so dreary most of the year. I do a homemade latte --half hot milk, sweet with a drop of vanilla and then strong coffee,topped with a dust of cinnamon; as I drink it I add a little more plain coffee as I get going in the a.m. The rest of the day is nicely fueled by some exquisite Longjin (green) tea I bought last spring in Hangzhou.

    I think caffeine gets a bad rap (it's not as bad as nicotine). You can overdo anything. Why are you abstaining?

  2. Well, I'm primarily a tea drinker. Am probably as addicted to caffeine as you are, but I don't drink too much of it, simply because it makes me jittery; more than one cup of coffee literally gives me the shakes.

    However, I have found that peppermint tea, as well as ginger and lemon tea, being natural stimulants, are good alternatives to caffeine. You may want to give them a try. But make sure it's the real stuff, either loose leaf or bagged, nothing already made (like Arizona tea) that has a bunch of artificial crap added to it.

    Both green teas and black teas are extremely healthy, green tea more so, because of its high antioxidant and bioflavinoid content.

    But if you add sugar to it, you're counteracting that.

    Coffee on the other hand depletes nutrients, but it does aid concentration (in small doses) and is a natural laxative. In moderation is probably okay, but personally I think tea is a lot healthier than coffee. Also peppermint and ginger are good too, but if you're taking any medication, check with your doctor first.

    Don't mean to spam your blog, but here's two wikipedia links you may find useful:

    Health effects of coffee.

    Health effects of tea.

  3. I am abstaining (or was abstaining) because the fact that I'm addicted to it bothers me. Psychologicaly and physiologically, I want it, need it, and I don't like depending on such things, don't want to be addicted to anything.

    Anyways, I'm coming to terms with that.

    I'm a coffee fan, keep it simple, black with sugar, on rare occasions with a bit of milk in it. Also green tea (I have some powdered green tea which is pretty good) as well as rooibus; don't like black tea much. Baroness, I'm not educated in various coffee concoctions, but that sounds more like a cafe au lait, unless your milk is "foamed." Comes to the same thing I guess.

    Thanks for the links Cym.

  4. I drink green tea from time to time, but certainly not on a regular basis. In 53+ years, I may have consumed 4 or 5 cups of coffee total! It doesn't seem to agree with my delicate digestive system.

    Right now, I'm sitting here at the computer with a hot cup of Ovaltine in milk. If I could afford it more often, my favorite hot drink is Edensoy (soy milk).

  5. Yeah, I think it is cafe au lait, French, although a German taught me this particular method. (If you pour the coffee in the cup from a height, it kinda foams the milk. (And I guess a real latte needs "shots" of espresso.) Although "latte" is just Italian for coffee with au lait.

    And no Chinese person would ever put sugar in green tea (or any other for that matter)...I once was chastised when I was young, maybe 15, when, at a Chinese restaurant, I asked for milk and sugar for my oolong.

    "Only drunks put sugar in their tea," the server said.

    The thing about green tea, very Chinese style, is you start with a pinch of loose leaves (depending on the quality of the leaves, a one, two or three-fingered pinch), and just keep infusing the same leaves all day...usually in a glass. (You can also add things like dried tangerine peel or hawthorne berries for flavor and certain health benefits.) If the leaves are delicate and reasonably fresh, you can just eat any that make their way past your lips. (This is not "gong fu" style ceremonial tea preparation, but everyday Chinese tea drinking.) You can drink it the way people sip at their liter water bottles all day--much more enjoyable. In fact, you'll see the Chinese carrying around tea bottles the way Americans carry around water bottles. It's never strong, just fragrant, lightly flavored hot water (which the Chinese also drink plain, jokingly called "white tea", not to be confused with actual white tea). The Chinese traditionally do not drink cold beverages believing it to be hard on the digestive system.

    There is a black tea, infused with vanilla and grenadine (pomegranate) called "Monk's tea," thought to be used by monks to keep them awake while meditating. Quite nice, really.

    Powdered green tea is very Japanese.

    But right now, no caffeine, I'm enjoying a nice little Argentinian Malbec...

  6. "for me, very low energy at the 48 hour mark, and generally depressive feelings for a few days"

    I have similar symptoms when I have caffeine. It also give me anxiety attacks/general jitteriness and can make my heart race. It took a long time to connect these symptoms to caffeine because most of them don't show up right away.

    I don't know how common it is to react like this, though.

  7. And don't forget all those Bolivian coco leaf chewers....

  8. I never put sugar in my green tea, mostly because I prefer the bitter astringency. But I don't really care if the Chinese think only drunks put sugar in their tea. Fine for China, and when in Rome do as the Romans, but hey, other people do things other ways, so what?

    I mean, I could come back that poor people in Detroit (and elsewhere?) drink hot water, "white tea," because they can't afford tea or coffee, and their old drafty homes are poorly heated, and anyways gas is expensive too. But who cares, right? I've done the just-hot-water thing, sometimes you just feel like something hot without all the trouble with diuretic teas or coffee, or corn syrup cocoa and you don't have any milk for a hot steamer.

    Not that I'm offended or anything. Just sayin'.

    Yeah, I like my Japanese style tea, or matcha. Don't do the tea ceremony or anything, but close enough, eh?

  9. Well, you were talking about cultural factors and differences....and Chinese tea culture is pretty much were that all started.

    (And just for the record, I enjoy a nice masala chai and English Breakfast with milk and sugar.)

  10. Heh, yeah, I guess I was talking about cultural factors. With the discussion, I kinda forgot :)

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