I have a love/hate relationship with coffee - or more accurately caffeine.
It all started when I drank approximately a gallon of coffee to help me cram in all of the knowledge in my notes the night before my very last exam at university. Usually I was well prepared but a mixture of laziness and arrogance forced me to spend most of the entire night reading and rereading reams of notes in the hope that some of it stuck.
Caffeine didn’t help me. On the contrary, I think it made the situation worse.
The coffee certainly kept me awake but my brain was totally and utterly fried and I didn’t get a wink of sleep. Sadly my ability to retain facts and apply logic flew out of the window and headed south. That was the worst exam I ever sat. After the initial panic was over, I somehow managed to struggle through dredging my memory to scribble down vague facts related to the subject at hand.
I passed – barely.
As a kid I rarely drank coffee. I would have a cup to force myself awake for a newspaper round at 6am in the morning, but apart from that I was a tea junky. I didn’t actually realise that tea contains a fairly large quantity of caffeine too - that's how stupid I was.
I have always loved my tea to be so strong that I can stand a spoon up in it. I leave the teabag in the cup for as long as possible so that all of the flavour – and caffeine – drains into the hot water. Yet paradoxically I cannot stand strong coffee.
I remember my first trip to Europe way back in the early 1980’s. My travelling companion at the time was a coffee addict who drank his caffeine bombs by the bucket load. We spent loads of time in coffee shops in Amsterdam drinking the strongest coffee I had had to that point. The taste stayed in my mouth for a couple of hours until it was time to grab the next one. When people ask me how I felt about my first trip abroad, I used to say “the beer and food tasted of coffee and I barely got any sleep at all.”
Amsterdam? No sleep at all? Yes – but not for the obvious reason. I was so high on caffeine that I mutated into a gibbering wreck.
My brain was overstimulated but my body was completely exhausted. My brain wanted me run around like a madman but had no idea how to channel the energy into something constructive. The conversations went something like this:
BRAIN: QUICK!! WE NEED TO DO STUFF!!
BODY: Yeah – sleep!
BRAIN: NOOOOOO!!! SLEEP IS FOR ARSES!!! GET UP AND DO STUFF!!!
BODY: Do what? I’m exhausted.
BRAIN: I DON’T KNOW – JUST DO STUFF!!!
Coincidentally, the first time I worked abroad was also in Amsterdam, and my Dutch colleagues used to constantly supply me with huge mugs filled to the brim with potent coffee. I somehow survived on around four hours sleep a night for the entire week I was there.
Gradually as I got older, I started to feel the effects of caffeine more. The tipping point was when I found myself in a bar in Manchester around fifteen years ago with a few friends who insisted on sharing a pitcher of Red Bull and vodka. Until that point I had no idea what Red Bull was and naively thought it was some kind of weird mixer for boring old vodka.
I do not drink spirits but on this occasion I succumbed to peer pressure and had a fair amount. Inevitably I was slightly the worst for wear, noticeably drunk but there was something else wrong. I felt alive and buzzing, so much so that I was actually shaking.
I arrived home, desperate for sleep but lay tossing and turning on the bed with my brain and body completely and utterly wired. I think I eventually passed out at around seven o’clock in the morning some five hours after arriving home.
Red Bull gives you wings indeed – the stuff is lethal!
So why am I blithering on about caffeine?
The reason is that for the past year or two I have seriously cut down on my caffeine intake. I have even purchased decaffeinated tea – which is not exactly the best thing in the world but still infinitely better than the swill you get in Europe and America.
I still drink full fat totally caffeinated tea at the weekend but during the week my sole drink of choice at work is decaffeinated coffee.
I have had some abuse for this. One guy said:
“Why on earth do you drink decaffeinated coffee? Coffee tastes like shit and the only good thing about it is the BUZZ you get. It gets me through the day. Drinking decaffeinated tea is like drinking alcohol free beer – totally pointless.”
Nevertheless, I actually feel better for it. I sleep better and I am reasonably calm at work instead of being so wired that I run around like a demented lunatic.
Some people say that coffee helps the true executive to function correctly, keeping his mind sharp and focussed so that he can be bulletproof. Mr Motivator cannot live without his coffee.
So what does caffeine actually do that makes Mr Motivator so dependent on it? Caffeine actually blocks chemical signals in your brain that tell you how sleepy you are and thus kick starts your mind when really, perhaps, it should be feeling sleepy. I think we all know this especially if we are coffee connoisseurs or Red Bull addicts. However, as well as telling your brain that you should be awake instead of asleep, caffeine enhances mental ability, which is where Mr Motivator comes in.
“I need my caffeine to function at 200%!” says Mr Motivator.
Your body can successfully break down caffeine within a few hours so perhaps my mistake when I sat my final exam was not to drink a monstrous caffeine bomb comprised of Red Bull, caffeine pills and espresso.
Well I can function without it. My mind is clear and relaxed and I don’t end up buzzing around like a wired wasp.
Having cut down severely on my caffeine intake, I find that I am still reasonably agile mentally which is good because I don’t really miss it. I still love my tea and I can channel my energy into something useful. I have no problem staying up later though I don’t drink tea after 5 pm and usually end up falling asleep around midnight in front of Match of the Day or that late movie I really wanted to watch.
And I sleep a lot better when I finally do nod off at the end of the day.
I think I could actually live without caffeine in my life at all.
How about you, dear reader?
Can you function without full fat coffee or tea?
Is caffeine a help or a hindrance to you?
And have you ever grown wings through drinking Red Bull?
I have to say, speaking about Red Bull, that it is absolutely disgusting. The taste is abhorrent even when tainted with vodka.
What on earth was I thinking? That is exactly the drunken thought that raced around my head for five hours in the wee small hours of that fateful night - and how disgusting Red Bull tastes.