Something to do with coffee


As many of my friends will testify to, I'm extremely fond of coffee. My morning brew is something that I love so much, that I have a hard describing the experience in any meaningful way. I buy whole beans and grind them myself to a specific size. I'm also quite picky with regards to the beans; dark roast, organic, roasted three months earlier at most, and so on. I'm mainly using a Chemex pour-over and have measured specific ratios of water to coffee in the past, something that I've learned to eyeball quite alright. I'm kind of agnostic when it comes to the species and origin of the beans. Ethiopian, Sumatran, Peruvian, everything goes as long as it's dark roasted and fresh. The same holds when it comes to robusta vs. arabica, although robusta is my go-to. I've also come to like certain blends but somehow I can't recall the beans used for them.

Since I'm studying what I'm studying, I feel the need to describe some more technical aspects of coffee, especially caffeine. Caffeine is the main psychoactive compound found in coffee, but it's not the only one; monoamine oxidase inhibitors, as well as polyphenols (non-psychoactive plant compounds contributing to the antioxidant system via hormesis), are also found in coffee. Caffeine acts as an adenosine receptor antagonist; it blocks the effect of adenosine. Adenosine is an endogenous molecule that, via agonism (positive interaction) to its receptor, induces sleep pressure i.e. sleepiness. Other effects of adenosine include decreased heart rate, vasodilation, and decreased dopaminergic activity. The antagonism of the adenosine receptor thus leads to wakefulness, an increased heart rate, vasoconstriction, and increased dopamine transmission. The psychostimulatory and dopaminergic aspects of caffein are, relatively speaking, quite strong, especially considering that caffeine is a "natural" compound. Roland Griffiths has done great work on caffein before he moved on to psychedelics and has described many aspects by which caffein can be considered one of the stronger psychoactives out there. The effects certainly vary across people due to differences in the CYPs (Cytochrome P450, "detox"-enzymes), differences in receptor density and sensitivity, recent food intake, etc. Caffeine, together with amphetamines, is actually listed as a contributor to "other stimulant related disorders" in the ICD-10 (International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems). The listing doesn't imply that caffeine is particularly strong or dangerous in any way, but kind of confirms, together with research, all the anecdotes. The fact that people can't seem to wake up and experiences headaches and irritability without getting their cup of coffee or energy drink, speaks to the powers we are dealing with. Not to mention the compulsive redosing that comes with these things. Caffeine isn't taken seriously or given thought by many (my former self included), but has, with potential downsides, a lot to offer in terms of health, productivity, and enjoyment.

With all this out of the way, let's talk about the real reason why I'm writing this.

I've made up a rule for myself that whenever I run out of coffee, I'm taking a one to two-week break. My rule is based upon two premises. First of all, the break desensitizes me to the effects of caffeine, which makes me able to reach the same amplitude in effects with lower consumption when I then start again. This also makes the starting again really enjoyable. Secondly, and maybe more importantly, I need to prove to myself that I'm not dependent on caffeine to function. This is not meant to be a virtue or anything, and kudos for everyone who mainlines caffeine day in and day out. But for me, it's a kind of spiritual practice, as corny as it sounds. It's more about the principle of not overindulging. Coffee is a great source of joy for me, but I certainly want to remain in control of this relationship. Anyway, the experience of forgoing is certainly a painful one, but my recent time was like nothing before.

Normally I only experience some headaches for a few days and I might be a bit irritable and groggy. I've received feedback that I'm not the most pleasant guy to hang out with at that time, but it only lasts for a few days and is also a great chance for me to reflect upon the experience and my behavior, and how much the caffeine really affects me. The last time though was a bit rougher. I hadn't taken a break for quite a while, since my grandmother had brought me this absolutely delicious coffee from some small producer. I drank somewhere between four and eight cups of coffee a day. Now and then I'd throw in there a monster or a nocco as a pre-workout (not a good choice of pwo if you want to have performance-enhancing benefits). I ran out of coffee exactly one day before I was leaving to our summer cottage in the archipelago, where my family was staying. This naturally marked as a good occasion to abstain from coffee.

In my experience, caffein withdrawals are mainly physical. I seldom feel any mental urges, but as I mentioned before, headaches, irritability, and an overall sense of sluggishness are to be expected. This time was different though. In addition to all the usual withdrawals, I experienced horrible muscle soreness and joint aches. It was astonishing to me. The first few days I thought I had just overdone it with training. There were many days in the last two to three weeks where I'd trained twice a day; both running and resistance training. I averaged maybe 9 sessions a week with one day off. I'd decided in advance to take a break from training when I was away from home, but the soreness didn't subside. The second thought that popped into my mind was that I'd caught COVID. There was an incident by which I had reasons to believe that it could have happened, but I was tested two times, three days apart, before I met my family, and I wasn't supposed to have caught it. Somewhere around the fourth day, an epiphany came to me. I hadn't had any caffeine for a few days now! The headaches had subsided after the first day and I hadn't thought about the withdrawals other than the soreness. In retrospect, I guess I was kind of irritable and took it out on my family, something I always regret afterward and need to work on.

It took about a week for me to feel "normal" again. I was hungrier than usual and felt a bit warmer, physically, but overall I felt great. I recovered well from workouts and slept greatly. I ended my break from caffeine after 12 days and have now fallen back into the habit of a morning brew. I've cut out all energy drinks, mainly because of the extremely addictive nature, all the artificial stuff, and accumulating cost. Not that I'm against energy drinks in any way. I haven't figured out any reason for the soreness. It could certainly be a totally separate issue from the caffein, but who knows? Somehow all of this made me respect caffeine a bit more than before. After longer breaks, it certainly becomes apparent how strong of an effect it has. Try drinking a few cups on an empty stomach first thing in the morning in combination with some meditation. You should certainly feel it. And it feels great!

Seeing coffee in a not so trivial light brings a lot of joy and fulfillment to the experience of consuming it. I certainly love my cup of coffee for everything it has to offer, but I try not to take it for granted. I've throughout the years developed certain respect towards it and try to stay thankful. From the health benefits to the routine and ceremonies around it, coffee truly is something transcendent.

This overly romantic entry was inspired by the work of Michael Pollan, who recently have made appearances on the Joe Rogan Experience and the Tim Ferris show, two of my favorite podcast. I strongly recommend people explore Pollan's work on environmentalism, sustainability, and psychedelics. His articles, or books; "How to change your mind", "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and "Your mind on plants", are all great places to start with.

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Regards, Daniel.