This newsletter comes out on Sunday mornings, so there’s a good chance you may be reading this while enjoying a cup of coffee. Good for you. Coffee is a beautiful thing. Sadly, two years ago my body informed me in no uncertain terms that I had reached my lifetime limit on caffeine and I cannot have any more. A half a cup of coffee in the morning would knock me out of action for the entire afternoon and evening. Even decaf is too much of a buzz. I envy you. Let me know how the coffee was, ok?
I’ve spent the last couple years learning about the caffeine-free alternatives to coffee, and there are actually a lot of them. And they’re good! Arguably the best known of these is Postum, which was long associated with Latter Day Saints but has other target demos too. (For example: just as there is “Irish coffee,” there is “Irish Postum.” Pretty sure it wasn’t a Latter Day Saint who put whiskey in there.) I get bags of an herbal coffee that has flavors, which runs in the coffeemaker just like actual grounds, so my Sunday morning routine is pretty much the same. Plus now I don’t fall asleep Sunday afternoon and have a headache all Sunday night! My new Sunday afternoon routine is folding the laundry. I am getting wild in my middle age.
Actually the Sunday morning routine is even more fun now, because drinking caffeine-free “coffee” has led to the invention of “kid lattes” in my house. The young people and I heat up some milk in the microwave, run it through a frother, add some of my coffee and then – most importantly – pour in copious amounts of flavor syrup. My hope is that they will eventually be so sugar high that they will ask me to put away all the laundry I’m folding so they can burn off all their extra energy. We’re not there yet, but I’m hopeful. Maybe when summer comes and we do iced “coffee” (see footnote #1).
My default setting was coffee-free for many years. I did not get into coffee much in high school or college; it would have just gotten in the way of all the burritos, honestly. My high school radio teacher was a caffeine addict like no other. He kept a coffeemaker in his classroom’s equipment closet and easily drank two to three pots a day. His coffee was very strong and very black. Just going in that closet to get some cords or blank tapes, you might get a buzz.
There was only one time growing up that I drank actual coffee on purpose, and of course it was because I was trying to pull an all-nighter. My English class was studying Dante’s Inferno and the assignment was to create our own levels of Hell for modern times. I was excited about the project and got extremely inspired. The only problem was that the inspiration hit at about 9pm the night before the due date. I realized that if I was going to stay up and type out – yes, on a typewriter – a decent project, I would have to make some coffee.
I did not then know how to make coffee, and I also apparently did not know how to read instructions, because I took the coffee grounds out of the container and added them to boiling water. I did this because I remembered seeing someone do that on a TV commercial. At age 16 I did not know the difference between instant coffee and the kind you brew in a coffeemaker. It tasted terrible and at least once that night I had to head to the bathroom to unload some of the horrid stuff.
But it worked. I got so wired that I not only wrote like 15 pages, I then went to school and wrote a second paper for a friend in my class who hadn’t thought to poison themselves and stay up all night writing. Days later the teacher said that the funniest, most creative paper that anyone in the class had turned in was mine, and the best written paper was the one that I wrote for my friend. Sometimes you sacrifice to make great art.
I stuck to decaf for years after that, but still managed to occasionally baffle myself and those around me whenever I was near caffeine. In my early public radio days I was waiting for a callback from an editor and decided to snack on some chocolate-covered espresso beans I’d bought at a candy shop. I ate handfuls of them the way I ate handfuls of M&Ms, only I had no caffeine tolerance. When the editor finally called I had to talk to him while laying down, because the room was spinning. I hope I made the changes he wanted.
My coffee habit got going when my kids came along, not only because keeping up with newborns can make ultramarathoners tired but because a good coffee shop can be a weary parent’s base of operations. There are comfy places to sit, the music and lighting are usually pretty chill, there’s a wide range of refreshments, and, most importantly, there’s a bathroom right there on site! When my oldest kid was a baby we would walk to town every Saturday morning, check out the farmer’s market and then head to our favorite coffee shop and just sit there while the baby took a nap and everyone else in the place oohed and ahhed over him. (See footnote #2)
At this point I’m far enough along in going without coffee that I don’t think I’m going to fall back into the habit. I may not even need to hang out in coffee shops again, now that I’ve got this tradition going at home on Sundays. Though I did find out a few months ago about a place in town that serves what they call a “steamer.” It’s a flavored latte without the espresso, and I’ve tried them and they’re really good, though I still like our name a little better.
1. Middle kid once saw my iced coffee maker, which takes 24 hours to brew, and asked “is that your tomorrow coffee?” So iced coffee in our house is called “tomorrow coffee.”
2. When he got a little older, this young man made me a Lego coffee cup and filled it with dice. He called it “diced coffee.” It was perfect.
3. The youngest of these babies spent most of her infancy trying to walk off with our iced coffees. Either she was picking up her parents’ habits or she was mistaking the coffee container for a bottle.