By: Dan Gentile
I'd like to subtitle this article "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Herbal Tea," but that statement simply isn't true. I don't love herbal tea. I love coffee.
In the spirit of journalism (and because my cruel bosses forced me to), I quit coffee for a week. And since I'm a glutton for punishment, I went without caffeine altogether. It wasn't easy.
A little about me: coffee is a central part of my life. I just got back from a tour of Brazilian coffee farms. I've written 25 coffee articles on Thrillist, ranging from the country's best coffee shops to the worst coffee in grocery stores, and I'm working on two more coffee stories this week. It's understandable that my bosses would think I need to detox.
But despite my love of coffee, I don't run an IV line from a French press and hit the pleasure button all day. I usually drink one Aeropress cup in the morning, and have an iced coffee or Americano in the afternoon.
For someone with my level of intake, the fine folks at Coffee Chemistry say my body will be as caffeine-free as camomile tea in three days. So for good measure I abstained for a week and kept a running record of my actions, emotions, and nightmares. Yeah, I really did have nightmares. And a glorious eye twitch.
If sleep is the cousin of death, coffee is the cool uncle that lets you stay up past your bedtime.
"I'll have a lemon ginger herbal tea, please," I say to the barista. For the first time ever.
She eyes me suspiciously, like I'm a spy sent into enemy territory. She is not mistaken, I am not a regular at this coffee shop. It is a crappy coffee shop.
The primary reason this place sucks is the bad coffee. But after spending more time here, I can tell you that the crappiness doesn't end at the brew. The furniture looks like it's from my first apartment, back when my favorite store was "the side of the road." The WiFi is split into eight networks with passwords so complex they'd elude even a hacker of Matthew Lillard's caliber. And everyone here is a student wearing sweatpants.
I'm feeling sluggish, but a more pressing issue is my raging headache. I'm pretty sure it's the lack of coffee, but the fact that I paid $2.50 for a bag of Bigelow tea doesn't help. Also, I just spent an hour sorting 25 pages of transcribed notes from cafe owners about how to open a shop. That also doesn't help.
Ok, time to write some glorious coffee observations!
... this is proving very difficult. I'm having trouble writing about not having coffee... because I haven't had coffee. I'm like a modern-day Yossarian, tip-toeing through the trenches of Internet journalism without my greatest weapon.
I often refer to that weapon as a "power-up." Sometimes I'll save it until late in the afternoon or even early evening, like holding onto a Mario Kart thunderbolt until the last lap.
Right now, my body could use a boost mushroom. Everything's happening very slowly. The headache is still lurking. My eyelids are rebelling, drooping as if I'm sitting through a bad college lecture. And my right eye is twitching relentlessly.
Okay, my eye was twitching before I started this story. I have strange eye problems. I emailed my doctor about it last night and am still waiting on a response. Is it weird to email your optometrist regularly?
As I reach for my morning Cheerios, my eyes glance past my coffee equipment. It's like when you drive past a car wreck and know you shouldn't look. But you look.
I'm uncontrollably compelled to work from my couch. My posture is suffering and I still have a raging headache, but the good news is that I received a reply from my eye doctor. She says the twitching is nothing to worry about. It could be the result of stress, lack of sleep, or... caffeine intake! So this experiment might actually pay off.
I stumble onto a recording of the lost score to the film 2001: A Space Odyssey on YouTube and play it as I'm working. It's a collision of timpani, dissonant strings, and stomping brass. It sounds like how I feel, and it's never good to feel like the score of a Kubrick film.
Suggestion: hit play on this song and listen as you read the rest of the article because ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES DAN A DULL BOY.
My adorable Shih Tzu is clawing for attention and uncharacteristically bites my hand. I jump up and sternly yell, "NO, PEANUT, NO!" The dog breaks into hiccups and sulks to her bed where she lays still for an hour. I am turning into a monster... and it feels good.
What doesn't feel good is that my sink is full of dirty dishes because I always wash them when the water is boiling for my morning coffee. I'll deal with that later!
I feel like I really need to leave the house, so I go to an f'ing tea shop. This is so funny to me that I tweet about it. They're playing Feist and I want to kill myself. The tea list is several pages long, so I ask for the tea-rista's favorite non-caf selection. She tells me she doesn't have one; she drinks it for the caffeine. She gives me a condescending look she must've learned from a barista.
I choose "Offering of Mint" with cardamom and a buffet of other spices. It's actually pretty good, and I feel guilty about my tweet. No matter how much I drink, my mouth stays dry.
I fall into a deep sleep around 7pm, then wake up two hours later and do the dishes like a damn adult.
Holy cow, I'm really awake! And only hit snooze once! I slept a full eight hours, the white whale of slumber that I haven't found in years. I feel like a million bucks, which is like hundreds of thousands of cups of coffee. Nothing can stop me. I am invincible!
One hour later...
I am not invincible! I'm actually super-tired. It's the first rainy fall morning of the year in Austin, TX, and man would it be nice to have a cup of coffee. That aroma, mixing with the softly falling rain and smell of wet grass, it gives me chills. Or maybe that's just my eye twitching. But at least the headaches are gone.
I am a golden god. My adenosine receptors must be doing yoga, because I am made of bliss.
My brain is in high gear. I'm out doing "research" for a story about camping in coffee shops. At the cafe counter I'm greeted by a chalk sign announcing the Four Barrel pour-overs of the day. I feel panicky, like a football player who fumbles at the goal line and has no idea where the ball went.
Shamefully, I ask the cute barista for the tea menu. She looks at me like a stray dog she feels bad for, but would never touch. I go with Honeybush, a rare South African tea that tastes like dirty water with a little bit of cumin. It makes my mouth dry.
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