Things I Like to Do: Coffee

Coffee: A gift from God. Photo by Lum3n:

As I sit down to spend hours in front of a computer screen with the full intention of writing, I do so with my best friend at my side.

A cup of coffee.

I don’t remember when I started drinking coffee. My taste preferences have changed and matured through the years, but it all began when I’d get coffee at Dunkin Donuts when I was in high school. This was back in the day when Dunkin’ Donuts offered combos, and my combo was #1. It included a medium coffee and two donuts. I blogged about this years ago.

In New England where I grew up, I’d order the coffee “regular” which meant with cream and sugar. I understand that to most of the world, this isn’t “regular,” but to us in the Northeast, it was. This would have been in the early 1990’s, back when my teenage-boy metabolism would devour those two donuts and sugar/cream coffee without so much as a hint of added body weight.

I liked the taste of the sugary beverage. I loved the way it would warm my inside on cold, wintery New England days or nights. It wasn’t until college that I began drinking it for the caffeine. Besides the obvious help it provided me with slogging through the hours of morning classes after the late night happenings of the college life, I also found that slugging back a large, regular coffee before playing in a varsity baseball game would put me in peak performance mode.

…as I sat on the bench. But, whatever, I’m not bitter.

I imagine college is where my enjoyment of drinking coffee became a habit, developing into a bit of a socially-accepted chemical dependence. It was and remains to this day decades later a morning ritual I share with most of the rest of my world.

As I traversed through the early part of my working life, I spent several years as an overnight security supervisor. Coffee became the means by which I did not fall asleep on the job, thus keeping me from getting fired. By this time Dunkin’ Donuts – which is literally on every corner in Boston – had blossomed to include iced coffee. So in the winter I’d have my large coffee, regular, and in the summer months, I’d get a large iced coffee, again regular.

As chemically-dependent people know, over time I grew to a place where I’d need more and more caffeine, so I’d get those mid-night coffees with added shots of espresso, or “turbo,” as I learned to say when ordering.

I knew caffeine had dug its talons into me pretty deep. And, from time to time I’d do my best to shed the habit. I’d usually have a terrible day or two of caffeine withdrawal including a migraine. The migraines were actually pretty debilitating to a point where I couldn’t do anything else. After the suffering, I’d have a week or two of a caffeine-free life before it quickly worked its way back into my routine. But, even as I succumbed to the caffeine, I did make one major change in my drinking habits.

As I grew into adulthood, I discovered the reality of a metabolism which was slowing. The “regular” coffees were adding hundreds of unnecessary calories to my day. One serving of coffee at Dunkin’ is 10 ounces, and about 6 calories if you drink it black. Add the cream and sugar and it balloons to 120 calories per serving. Since I was getting a large, I was ingesting 260 calories per cup.

So I made the decision to change to black coffee.

It took some getting used to, and I had to get more intentional about how I drank it. Instead of coffee drinking being a mindless activity as it had been for years, I began to be thoughtful in how I partook. I sipped slowly, noticing the warmth it brought to my hands and fingers as I held the cup. I began to pour the coffee into a mug as opposed to drinking it out of the disposable cup. I also noticed the warmth it brought to my mouth, throat, stomach and entire insides as I swallowed it. I recognize this might sound silly, but the warmth seemed to increase as I focused more. I could feel the temperature change traveling from my lips all the way to my stomach where it would then permeate through my core.

I also began to seek out coffee at places other than Dunkin’. I think Dunkin’ was a habit, not a preference.

As it turns out, I developed a sort of addiction to the coffee drinking experience. If I’m honest, there’s probably an oral fixation for me now too. The entire coffee-drinking experience brings me joy. The smell, the warmth, the high. I love it.

(Caveat – While I appreciate the ease of Keurig pods, it takes away one of the best parts of brewing coffee. A few months ago I had the opportunity to once again open a fresh can of ground coffee. I’d forgotten all about the aroma! I sniffed and sniffed at that tin of coffee, making the others in the office laugh. I let my eyes roll back in my head and enjoyed the smell, as well as the thought that my antics were making my colleagues laugh!)

So, for the most part I always drink my coffee black. No cream or sugar. If I do drink with any additions, it’s on purpose, not by habit. I can’t imagine where I’d be weight-wise if I hadn’t shed those 500-extra daily calories a while back.

Even so, I’ve still been frustrated by the idea of being addicted to the caffeine. Then I had an accidental breakthrough which came in the most unexpected way.

I got food poisoning.

It wasn’t the worst food poisoning you’d ever heard of, but I didn’t want to put anything into my stomach for a few days, including coffee. I was miserable and eating or drinking anything but water made me more miserable. I was out of work for a few days, and wasn’t drinking coffee.

When I returned to work I had an epiphany.

After getting all settled in at my computer, I fell into my routine. I got up, picked up my mug, grabbed a coffee-pod and walked over to the Keurig. At just the moment when I was going to push the button to brew myself some coffee, it hit me. I hadn’t had coffee in days, and my caffeine withdrawal experience had been overshadowed by my food poisoning experience! I was caffeine free! So I stopped, cold-turkey.

Well, sort of.

I didn’t give up caffeine completely. Instead, I began to approach it like I did cream and sugar. I became intentional about my caffeine. I usually allow myself one cup of caffeine a day. Usually, this is after lunch when it’s most difficult for me to stay awake.

I now drink a lot of decaf. I know that’s probably making some of you grimace. But remember, I drink my coffee black. I like the taste of coffee. I like the way it feels when I hold it and drink it. So the caffeine is now a side-benefit I use when I’m in need of a kick in the butt. There are days when I cheat – mornings when I’m really dragging – but for the most part, I’ve been pretty good, and I’m happy with my new outlook on coffee.

On my most impressive days, I will drink straight, hot water. As I mentioned above, a lot of my coffee experience isn’t even about the coffee, it’s about the warmth. Water can provide all of that for me too. Try it some day! You might be surprised!

What’s your relationship with coffee?

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