Self-experiment: No Coffee

sad face coffee

Is life better with or without coffee?

My parents are British, we always drank tea. I tried coffee a few times, but I didn’t like it until I was 25.

How I Started Drinking Coffee

When I was 25, I lived in Sydney. I started going with friends to a cafe in Newtown called Campos. We all ordered coffee. I had one too because I didn’t want to be awkward. We went regularly and I became a social coffee-drinker. Then I started going alone, just for the coffee.

A few months later, I travelled around Vietnam and drank the local style of iced-coffee everywhere. It was strong and sweet. Brewed hot, then poured into a small plastic bag of ice with a drinking straw. I loved it.

When I moved back to San Francisco, I started drinking coffee to wake up for work. The company had clients throughout US and Canada, so we jumped on the phones around 9am East Coast time. This was 6am in San Francisco. It was brutal for the first few months. I thought coffee helped. Then I started having one in the afternoon too. Why not? I had been awake since 5am, by 2pm I had already worked 8 hours. I thought I deserved it.

Later in Moscow, I started a business. I was in the office 12-14 hours a day. The rest of the time I was working from home or from my mobile phone. I started drinking more coffee. I would have a few cups in the morning as soon as I arrived. Then I would have one with an employee, it was a good way to have a chat. Maybe I would have another chat. Then another cup after lunch, and probably another one to get me through the dregs of the day.

We had a great coffee machine in the office kitchen. It would freshly grind the beans which had a Pavlovian effect on me. The smell was amazing too. This was very difficult.

Eventually I started feeling sick. My stomach hurt, my mind was foggy, my hands trembled. I wanted to quit, but thought I needed coffee to function. That sounds like addiction. I wanted to try life without coffee.

No Coffee

I had headaches for the first week and was very irritable. I could not concentrate and hated it. My withdrawal symptoms were strong and scary. I wondered how it got this far?

I substituted green tea, which has a small fraction of the caffeine in coffee. Whenever I had an overwhelming urge for coffee, I would have green tea (sometimes 8 cups a day). Gradually I substituted this for hot water instead.

By the second week, the withdrawal symptoms were gone. The smell still made me want to have a coffee, but I did not want to repeat the withdrawal again. This kept me going.

During the third week, the smell did not have much effect on me. It was no longer a battle I had to fight.

After four weeks I felt fine.

Results without Coffee

The big difference I noticed was my sleeping. When I woke up in the morning I was not tired. I felt like I had actually slept. It was never a problem for me to fall asleep even when I was a heavy coffee drinker, but I would wake up feeling tired. I needed a coffee to get going, or the promise of a cup (or three) waiting at the office.

Feeling like I slept meant there was no need for coffee. I liked this feeling, so I stayed off coffee. For a few months.

Then I was in Italy for a month and the coffee smelled amazing. I experienced the initial rush of coffee all over again. It was just one cup in the morning, but soon another one in the afternoon. By the end of the month, I was back on 6-8 cups per day and waking up exhausted. I did not like how I felt. The withdrawal process was painful again.

Every time I start drinking it again, I suffer the miseries of withdrawal when I quit.

Coffee never tastes as good as it smells. The pleasure of consuming it is just a quick inhalation of aroma before drinking. I still enjoy the smell. Weighing the enjoyment of coffee against waking up rested, I choose to wake up rested. For now.