Is there a 12-step program for coffeeholics?
For hundreds of years, the bitter brown beverage we all know as coffee has empowered human beings to do incredible things. Whether you take it with two sugars or bold and black, with coffee, you can stagger out of bed, reeling from the 85 jello-shots you did last night, (you only remember 9) and still manage to crawl your way to the Uber that’s getting you to work. With coffee, you can stay awake for hours to finish that assignment that you’ve had for six weeks but totally procrastinated to the last minute. Thanks to coffee, you’re always prepared in case the opportunity for a first date strikes, because what cute, potential bae isn’t down for a cup of java?
It’s used by all of us. According to Zagat, the average person drinks one cup of coffee per day, and, by the measure of the FDA, Americans consume, on average, 300 milligrams of caffeine per day. To put that in perspective, a can of Coke contains between 30 and 35 milligrams of caffeine.
It’s also addictive. Not heroin/crack addictive. There’s no episode of Drugs Inc. for caffeine, but it’s addictive enough to give you a wicked kick in the teeth if you’re a frequent user who’s trying to stop.
And that is exactly what I tried to do with the help of some friendly, neighborhood coffee substitutes.
A Crash Course To Coffee Substitutes…
For those of you who don’t know, coffee substitutes are the twisted brainchild of some demented beverage-maker who decided they wanted to drink something that kind of tasted like coffee and kind of looked like coffee, but that neither was coffee nor had any of the benefits of caffeine. What kind of sick fuck would create this devilish trick of a drink? I assure you, I did not bother to find out.
What I did do was research and order for myself, the five most popular coffee substitutes, one for each day of my “cleanse.”
Let me be clear. I think this shit is an affront to humanity. Coffee substitutes should be outlawed by the Geneva Convention, right up there with mustard gas and landmines. So, moving forward, when I use the term “coffee substitutes” just know that what I really mean is “Satan’s dick sweat,” “boiled vomit,” “the blended fluids of a thousand filthy rats,” or some other term that adequately describes how disgusting they are.
I come from a long line of men in desperate need of something to get them out of bed. We Clines are not at all a morning people, just ask my roommate. My father was a caffeine addict, and his father before him. As for me, I started drinking coffee when I was 10 or 12, nothing major. I’d get a frappuccino from Starbucks at the airport when we had an early flight to catch, maybe a cup if we were on vacation and went out for dessert some night. That sort of thing.
By 16, I was a full-fledged fiend, drinking at least two cups a day. My mother told me it’d stunt my growth. After sprouting to a respectable six-foot, by the time I was 18, in between what I drank in the morning to get my ass to school, and what I drank when I got home to get my homework done, I was drinking 3–4 cups a day, a regimen I maintained up until April 8th, 2016, the day I quit caffeine for science.
Day 01: I Am Become Death
Abomination of the Day: Inka
Inka is a powdered coffee substitute made from barley, rye, chicory and sugar beet. On a scale of 1 to tasting like coffee, I’d give it a 5. Maybe a 6 when you add cream and sugar. It’s got a distinct butteriness to it that’s kind of pleasant going down, but that’s about all it has going for it.
The day begins like most others, with my being bludgeoned awake by my iPhone alarm. My first thought is of coffee. My second is remembering I can’t have any. I pound the snooze. By the time I make it out of bed, my roommate Cameron, who hates coffee but loves torturing me, is in the kitchen happily brewing a pot. I barely process that he’s fucking with me because my brain is still in the “buffering” stage.
On my way to work I take an alternate route to avoid having to pass by a Dunkin’ Donuts. By lunchtime, though, I’m in full-on withdrawal. My stomach is roaring like a god-damn lawnmower, and I’m ripping ass in a tiny conference room full of people. By 3pm excessive flatulence and slight grogginess have given way to a splitting headache and the narcoleptic urge to fall asleep at my desk. I think about “Trainspotting” and wonder if Mark Renton’s advice for quitting heroin is also applicable if you’re trying to quit caffeine.
By the end of the day, I’m a complete zombie. Forget dinner—I collapse at 6:45pm and sleep for an hour and a half.
Day 02: Naps, Naps EVERYWHERE
Abomination of the Day: Teeccino
Direct from the Teeccino website: “Teeccino Herbal Coffee is naturally caffeine-free, non-acidic, and tastes just like coffee!”
Tastes just like coffee my ass. This stuff doesn’t even have the decency to come in a powdered form so I can pretend it’s instant coffee or something. Nah, Teecino, at least the kind I bought, came in bags, like tea and tasted about as strong. Imagine if someone covered a soggy log in raisins and dipped that in boiling water a few times. That’s kind of what Teeccino tastes like.
I manage to arrive on time to my first class of the day, a feat even when I’m fully-caffeinated, but my professor kicks class off by turning out the lights and putting on a JFK speech. I’m asleep within fifteen minutes. Whoops. How have teachers still not realized that killing the lights and showing a video is basically declaring open season on naps Suffice to say, I wasn’t the only one who passed the fuck out.
With one class (sort of) under my belt, I spend my lunch break snoozing on one of the campus couches. When it’s finally time for my second class I down a couple of Aleve to stave off the ache that’s edging its way into my skull. Class number two lets out early. At this point, I’m convinced that sleep is the only thing keeping me from becoming a shuddering, irritable, caffeine-deprived jelly person. I use the extra time to cap a few more z’s before my third class. After a grueling 12 hours, I arrive home only to find that, lost in my morning haze, I forgot my keys and locked myself out. I climb in through the window like the irresponsible gutter person I am.
Day 03: Kinda, sorta feeling like a human again.
Abomination of the Day: Dandelion Root Tea
Sound gross right?
Honestly, it didn’t taste as bad as I thought it would. It’s definitely bitter and you’d better drink it out of an opaque container, because it’s the exact same color as piss, but tempered with some honey, it’s really not too bad, and there’s the added bonus of getting to sound super healthy when you tell people “oh no, this isn’t coffee. I’m drinking dandelion root tea.”
For the first time since I can remember, I’m up like a shot at the first sound of my alarm. Hey, maybe not having that 8pm cup of java the night before paid off. I marvel at the idea that there could be benefits to NOT drinking coffee. Who knew?
Throughout my day at work I feel pretty coherent, a welcome change from the roiling bowel hurricanes and narcolepsy of earlier in the week. I form complete, logical sentences, interact enthusiastically with my coworkers, and even manage to get some actual work done. All things I would’ve never thought possible without the power of the hot, brown brew I used to ingest every day.
That evening, I don’t crash when I come home. I don’t have to crawl in through the window. I do swallow a couple Aleve to go with dinner, just in case a migraine might be lurking around the proverbial corner though. You can never be too careful. By bedtime, instead of trying to wrestle my subconscious into submission for twenty minutes, I fall asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow. Maybe this no coffee thing isn’t so bad after all.
Day 04: Pooping Less
Abomination of the Day: Pero
Pero is pretty similar to Inka in most respects. It’s powdered. It’s made from cereals. It has four letters in its name, and it doesn’t taste like coffee.
Fun fact: Caffeine makes you poop, and when you’re an everyday coffee drinker who quits caffeine, you poop less. A LOT less. I’ll leave the exact details of how I came to understand this to your imagination, but there’s definitely something to be said for the taking three or four fewer trips to the crapper everyday. I’ve probably wasted entire days of my life on the toilet because of how much coffee I drink.
With regards to my cleanse, day four is pretty uneventful. I down my travel mug of Pero, but there are no headaches, no real grogginess, and only one sudden bout of napping. Is this what normal people feel like all the time?
Day 05: And I’m feelin’……good?
Abomination of the Day: Ground Chicory
This shit is downright foul. As a matter of principle I never trust any drink brewed from something that people used to burn to cleanse their houses of evil spirits, but for science, for Neil Degrasse Tyson, I force myself to down one cup, and hey, I only gagged once or twice. It tastes like burnt hair and cherry cough syrup. Two thumbs down. 0% on the Tomatometer. Thank god I’m only drinking it for a day.
I never thought I’d live to see a morning where I woke up without a burning desire for caffeine already roiling in my loins, but that day has come. On my final day without caffeine I successfully navigate shifts at both of my jobs, while feeling completely normal, functional and even -shudders- chipper. By the end of the day, I still have enough energy to turn up for my buddy’s 21st birthday. We stay out til 2 A.M., a feat I would’ve never imagined possible without coffee in my blood.
Honestly, what’s more adult than a day full of work followed by a night of hefty boozing? If I can do that without coffee, maybe there’s hope for me after all.
What I learned….
Let’s be honest, I quit caffeine for five days. Even for an addict like me, this is in no way an insurmountable, life-altering kind of challenge. It’s not like I came into the week Gandalf the Grey and emerged, having slain the Balrog as Gandalf the White (Where my “Lord of the Rings” fans at?), but, then again, it’d be pretty ridiculous if I had.
However, as with any challenge large or small, I emerged from my dive into decaffeination having learned a just a little bit more about myself, my dependence on a substance that people often forget is a drug, and how often I should be pooping.
Here’s what I took away.
1. Caffeine is definitely addictive and withdrawal from it is definitely a thing.
I may not have been writhing around on the floor screaming for Starbucks, or sneaking into the bathroom to freebase espresso beans, but I did experienced severe migraines, debilitating fatigue and incredible difficulty focusing. If that ain’t withdrawal caused by dependence, I don’t know what is.
2. Absence really does make the heart grow fonder.
The cup of coffee I made Saturday morning was damn near the best thing that’s ever passed through my lips. I seriously collapsed to the floor in joy. Maybe this just solidifies my status as an addict, but hey, everyone’s got their vices.
3. Drinking coffee any other time than in the morning completely fucks with your sleeping habits.
Whodathunkit right? But, for real, I didn’t realize how much trouble I was having falling asleep and waking up until I cut out the café. I woke up MORE alert and with more energy, probably because I was getting healthier sleep.
4. I’M A STRONG, INDEPENDENT MAN, AND I DON’T NEED NO JAVA TO SUPPORT ME.
You’re damn right.
So my first couple days were a little rough in terms of, you know, being a functioning person, but after day five I felt pretty confident that, short of scaling Everest or raising a barn or something, there were few challenges I couldn’t have surmounted without coffee. That being said, I am still not a morning a person. No amount of coffee or lack of it will ever change that. Do not talk to me in the morning. I will cut you.
Ok, that’s a lie. There’s no way I’d have the coordination, motor skills or general awareness to cut someone in the morning.
5. I’m not going to stop drinking coffee, but I’m definitely going to cut back.
Before this experiment, I was drinking a medium Dunkin’ Donuts iced coffee pretty much everyone morning. That’s 24 ounces of the stuff, and I’d usually have at least one more cup on top of that, which is, frankly, just unnecessary. No one needs that. That’s like more than a Big Gulp of coffee every day, and I don’t care if it’s full of ice cream and puppies, a Big Gulp of anything is too much.
So I’m gonna scale back. It’s cheaper. It’s better for me, and most importantly, I’ve learned that I can.
Also, I may have lied a litle bit. 32 ounces of puppy still looks pretty great.