Cup of espresso

How I quit coffee… and why I’m un-quitting it

It’s a very First World Problem, isn’t it? “I love coffee so much… but I’m sure it’s not healthy to drink as much as I do… oh, but the coffee from the place near my work, it’s so good, how can I say no?” Or, “how can I do anything this morning until I’ve had my coffee?” she says, as she pours herself a double-shot from the coffee maker at work. (She says, she pours? Haha who am I kidding, I mean “I say, I pour”.)

And moving to Italy will only amplify whatever coffee-drinking tendencies you had before. Coffee here is good. Many — not just the Italians! — say it’s the best in Europe. It’s integrated into the entire food and drink culture: cappucino in the morning, espresso after lunch, local variations like the marrocchino from Turin, made with chocolate syrup and a dash of milk. Coffee is cheap, 1 euro for an espresso even in cities like Florence which will otherwise make your wallet cry. Even if you were previously a tea-drinker, Italian tea… well, it’s a good advertisement for switching to coffee.

Within a few months of arriving here I was steadily on 3 strong coffees minimum per day, and woe betide anyone who should cross my path if I’d missed one of those. I had vague thoughts of cutting back, but I dunno… Maybe next week. Or the week after.

And then I quit.

Everyone I know who’s managed to quit coffee is either strong willed in a way I can never hope to emulate, or they stopped drinking coffee in some mildly traumatic situation, like a former colleague who got off coffee while so sick with food poisoning he didn’t drink anything for 3 days. I can vouch for the mild trauma method of coffee quitting: my method was to spend the first week of March in an Italian hospital where, believe it or not, they don’t serve coffee to patients. (Why this is the case is one of the greatest mysteries I have encountered in my life.)

It was amazing (the no-coffee thing, not the hospital). Everything people say about breaking caffeine addiction is true. Without coffee, you sleep better and wake up feeling refreshed, rather than in withdrawal. You don’t get drowsy in the afternoon. It’s easier to concentrate fully. And if nothing else, the warm, smug glow of “I don’t need coffee” will power you through the day.

Are you thinking of quitting coffee? I recommend it, it’s fantastic. But it’s not for me. A few reasons:

  1. If you don’t drink coffee at all, even one cup will make you loopy-la-la (ask me how I know). Which means you can’t use it for a quick boost.
  2. Socially, if you can’t go for a coffee with people in Italy, well, I dunno. Maybe you can find new friends, or take up smoking with people instead? I kid, but I’ve realised just how much it’s part of the culture, and if you don’t drink coffee you’re either going to miss out on the social aspect, or feel awkward standing at a bar not having a coffee while everyone else gets one.
  3. Oh, and the social aspect is 100x worse when you’re a physicist in Italy, because physics culture is coffee-drinking, Italian culture is coffee-drinking, the and the two combined are greater than the sum of their parts.
  4. That “I don’t need coffee” smug glow? It keeps you warm at night, but good luck avoiding becoming insufferable with it if you’re anything like me.
  5. But most importantly… Let’s face it, I genuinely like coffee. Just because I can give it up, doesn’t mean I want to.

So I’m easing back into drinking coffee. A small morning coffee here, an after-lunch espresso there. Is it possible to drink it regularly but not get addicted? Probably not. But I’ve decided that’s something I’m comfortable with and not worth getting angsty about.


4 thoughts on “How I quit coffee… and why I’m un-quitting it

  1. Nathan Hobby

    Funny post. Your complicated relationship to coffee sounds like mine. Caffeine-impervious individuals treat us caffeine-sensitive individuals rather incredulously, I find.
    I don’t think I found one good cup of “the” in five weeks in Europe.
    What happens if you ask for decaf in Italy?



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