I know it sounds terrible, but hear me out. Do you really need coffee? Some of you just gave an emphatic and whole-hearted YES! before you even finished reading the question, but let’s stop and be honest with ourselves. Why do we even like it so much? Some coffee tastes pretty good, but some of us don’t even drink it for the taste. For a lot of people, coffee is an acquired taste. For one reason or another, many of us made ourselves like it. Some of us probably started drinking it because we wanted the caffeine boost. Others of us started drinking it because it was cool or popular, and we didn’t want to feel left out. To be blunt though, neither of those are good reasons to obsess over a drink.
Don’t be a coffee snob.
The coffee shop culture is what started turning me off about coffee at first. I used to be quite interested in coffee. I started drinking it in high school and really got into it in college where two good friends of mine worked in coffee shops and further encouraged my caffeine craze. I also liked to make my own coffee with a French press and enjoyed trying different brands and roasts. I had had enough coffee to taste the difference between the cheap stuff and the quality stuff. A cheap cup of Maxwell House or Folger’s instant coffee was no longer satisfying to me. I would settle for cheap coffee if necessary, but I was starting to think of my palette as too refined to be satisfied by low-quality coffee.
And things only got worse when I moved to a new job where I worked with some serious coffee drinkers. My coworkers were the kinds of coffee “connoisseurs” who took pride in tasting the difference between an average cup of joe and high-quality coffee. While these coworkers were otherwise wonderful people, seeing how proudly addicted to coffee they were made me realize that I had once been on the brink of becoming a bit of what I call, for lack of a better term, a coffee snob.
By coffee snob, I mean the kind of person who goes out of his way to let you know that he has a refined palette. I mean the kind of person who takes pride and sometimes might even seem boastful about his addiction to coffee. Coffee snobs are the kind of people who “can’t live without their morning cup of coffee.” They are the cringy hipsters wearing beanies and giant headphones and sipping overpriced coffee in some no-name café while they shop for more plaid flannels from a brand you’ve never heard of on their MacBooks.
Okay, they don’t all look like that, but you know who I’m talking about. And while I was never really in danger of becoming one of those people, I realized that I had been in danger of foolishly obsessing over something that wasn’t important.
If you’re a coffee snob, allow me to be blunt and give you some tough love here. You’re not that cool, and no one is impressed by your refined taste for exotic toasty bean water. Coffee is just that. It’s toasty bean water, and while it may taste good, it’s not something you should be finding your cultural or social identity in. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a nice hot cup of bitter brown bean sludge once in a while, but don’t let it be more important to you than it should be. Coffee is just a beverage.
Get more sleep!
Drinking coffee for the caffeine boost is at least understandable. We wake up early and we feel groggy, so caffeine seems like a good fix. We get sleepy at work around 2 pm, so another cup of coffee seems like an effective way to get through the rest of our shift. After a while, we build a tolerance for caffeine, which means we need more coffee to get the same stimulating effect. We create a vicious cycle in which we constantly feel a need for coffee and continue to waste more time and money on it. We end up trapped wasting our money on coffee we wouldn’t have needed if we had just slept enough in the first place. Coffee is not a healthy way to deal with our sleepiness. The real ground-breaking solution is to get enough sleep.
I’m not a scientist or doctor, and I don’t want to get too technical, but suffice it to say that adequate sleep is extremely important for all areas of mental and physical health. If you are drinking coffee to cope with inadequate sleep, then the most important advice I can give you is this: make adequate sleep a non-negotiable priority. Forget what Arnold Schwarzenegger said about sleeping faster or what your favorite politician or business tycoon claimed about doing just fine on four to six hours of sleep. Sleep is vital to our health. No one is immune to the detrimental effects of inadequate sleep or the long-term damage it has on our minds and bodies, and no amount of coffee can prevent or reverse the damage caused by inadequate sleep.
Caffeine does not actually help you in the long term. It makes you feel temporarily more alert by preventing your brain from receiving adenosine, the chemical that makes you feel sleepy. Normally, adenosine slowly builds up in your brain throughout the day. The more the adenosine builds up in your brain, the sleepier you feel. Adenosine in conjunction with your circadian rhythm should keep you on a good, natural sleep schedule.
Caffeine keeps you awake by blocking your brain’s adenosine receptors so that adenosine cannot gradually build up in your brain and make you feel sleepy. In the mean time, adenosine is still being produced but has nowhere to go since the caffeine is blocking its receptors. Later, when your body processes the caffeine, the receptors it was blocking are suddenly wide open, and the adenosine that previously had nowhere to go floods in and causes the crash you feel after the coffee wears off.
How quickly or slowly a person’s body processes caffeine is largely up to genetics. Thus some people seem almost immune to the effects of caffeine and can sleep like a baby after having coffee only an hour before bedtime, while others might not be able to sleep after a cup of coffee they had several hours before bedtime. If your body processes caffeine slowly, then the coffee you drink throughout the afternoon could be one of the reasons you don’t get adequate sleep.
When we understand what coffee does to our brains, we can see that it is not a permanent or wise solution to sleepiness. It does not solve the root problem of our fatigue and can often end up making things worse by creating a vicious cycle of sleep deprivation, overcompensation, and caffeine dependency. If you’re interested in the importance of sleep and the effects of caffeine, I highly recommend the book Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker.
Save yourself some cash.
I’m not one of those guys trying to sell you a book about how giving up your daily latte will make you a millionaire, but giving up coffee actually can save you some cash. If you’re an avid coffee drinker who buys a cup at Starbucks every morning, you could save a lot of money each month by forgoing the fancy brew. You spend more on coffee by getting it from a café than you would by brewing it at home or using up the Folger’s in the breakroom at work. Even a plain cup of black coffee can cost several dollars at a café. Multiply that by about twenty workdays per month, and you’re talking some serious cash.
If you’re not quite so rabid for coffee, you might not end up saving a ton, but you could still save a good bit. I usually made my coffee at home in the mornings and only bought from a café a few times a month. By cutting out coffee, I save around twenty or thirty dollars per month. That’s not crazy money, but twenty or thirty dollars can be helpful when you’re on a small budget.
How do I quit coffee?
If you are thinking about quitting or cutting back on coffee consumption, you might be in for a bit of a challenge. If you’re addicted to caffeine, you will likely experience withdrawal symptoms by quitting cold turkey. It’s important to know yourself and accept your weaknesses before you try to quit or cut back. Some people might have the self-control and willpower to cut back a little at a time. Others would be better off quitting cold turkey because they would be too tempted to give in and brew a pot of coffee every time they feel a craving for it.
If you know you don’t have the self-control to drink coffee in moderation, I recommend quitting cold turkey. One good way to stay motivated is to visualize your progress by crossing off each day on a calendar or planner. You might also consider keeping a journal of the challenge and how you’re improving. It’s also helpful to create accountability. Tell your friends and family that you’re cutting back or quitting coffee. Decide on some consequences you agree to pay if you fail. Make a post on your blog or social media account to hold yourself accountable to your friends and followers. And most importantly, eliminate temptation by removing coffee from your home.
If you have sufficient self-control, then you might be able to cut back incrementally. I started cutting back on coffee by limiting myself to one cup each day. I failed here and there, especially if a coworker brought in coffee or offered to buy, but most of the time it wasn’t very hard to limit myself to one cup per day. More recently I decided that I didn’t want to feel dependent on even a daily cup of coffee. I eventually decided that once the bag of coffee I was using ran out, I just wouldn’t buy any more.
I’m not writing this article to say that coffee is terrible and that no one should ever drink it. I still enjoy a good cup of coffee myself, but I don’t think that it’s wise or healthy to be addicted to it. A lot of us would benefit from taking a good honest look ourselves, our health, the things we value, and the kind of performance we should expect of ourselves and to what extent we should allow a simple beverage to control our lives.
What do you think about coffee culture? Please feel free to share your opinions and coffee quitting anecdotes too!