Life without Coffee

Early this year, I gave up my daily habit of drinking coffee. For a while, I started drinking it only a few times a week. Now I have it about once a week at most.

This was a big deal for me. Even though I had given up coffee for months at a time in the past, it has been ever-present in most of my adult life. I can hardly imagine how I would have survived ten years of college and graduate school without it. Yes, I spent a number of nights at the 24-hour Starbucks in Chicago writing papers and studying for exams. However, in recent years, I have been more moderate, usually consuming only one (large) cup in the morning. I thought it was reasonable.

However, I realized that I was too physically dependent on coffee. How did I know? Well, I guess the best evidence was that I carried little packets of instant coffee and creamer with me whenever I traveled, just incase at some point, coffee would not be available to me. I got headaches and even migraines if I missed my daily dose. So, I realized it was time to break the cycle. At first, it was hard to give it up physically. I suffered an intense migraine in the days following the cold abandonment of my daily drug. But soon I found that physically, I could get by just fine without coffee. In fact, I have noticed definite physical benefits. No more coffee-related headaches. What’s more, I’ve been sleeping better.

Psychologically, the change was more challenging. I felt like I lost a faithful morning friend who greeted me, comforted me and assured me that the day was going to be just fine, without saying a single word. Ok, that’s exaggerated, but I won’t deny that I enjoyed coffee very much. Maybe too much. So I switched to tea for a while, and then I became content waking up to water. Now I’m okay with it. The health benefits are worth letting go of morning coffee comfort.

However, emotionally and socially, this is still difficult. And I think the two go together. “Getting coffee” with someone has always been one of my favorite things ever. The best conversations with friends happen over coffee. Some of the greatest inspiration comes during chats over coffee.  Often new connections are made over coffee. Even when the meetings are sub-par, you can at least count on enjoying a great cup of coffee. And in Paris, you not only get great coffee, you also get to enjoy great cafes.

My closest friends over the years have picked up on how much a coffee and a good chat could lift my spirits. Friends and family would regularly give me Starbucks gift cards while I lived in Chicago. And often when a close friend would recognize that I was down or just in a crappy mood, they would say, “wanna get coffee?” and suddenly my face would light up. So yes, I admit that there was an emotional attachment, too.

So recently, “getting coffee” has just felt so… different. When I walk into a cafe in Paris, usually the person I’m with quickly orders the standard “café,” which is a simple shot of espresso that costs 1-2 Euros. Not bad. Recently, I was out with someone and ordered the same thing. However, I realized that I didn’t really want coffee. So the next time I found myself at a cafe, I uneasily searched the menu. I like tea, but when you “upgrade” to a tea, you upgrade the cost to 3-5€. Same goes for a juice or a hot chocolate. I ordered tea anyway. It was nice, but it just seemed too pricey. A few teas at that price add up very quickly. The next time I found myself in a café by the Bastille, so prices were even more elevated. I couldn’t find a non-coffee item for less than 4.20€. So the server came and I surprised myself (and my friend, and the server) by saying, “I’ll not take anything.” And suddenly I felt misplaced in one of my favorite places and sad that coffee doesn’t inspire me anymore like it once did.

I’m still trying to figure out how to navigate the social aspect of my conversion. I don’t want to lose the fellowship that comes over coffee… even if, for me, there is no more coffee.