I’ve been obsessed with caffeine since my junior year of high school. It started as a way to bond with my father, as I’d finish my homework while he read the newspaper, our steaming mugs of brewed coffee side-by-side. Venti toffee-nut mochas became a crutch as I fought my way through AP Calculus my senior year (the taste still conjures up images of derivatives to this day).
This lead to a science fair project testing the effects of caffeine, as the bean was always on my brain. Now, as a second-year undergrad, I brew my own coffee and steep my own tea, in addition to spending half my paycheck on overpriced lattes.
I always viewed my caffeine consumption as a hobby of sorts. I’m into fashion, and a small non-fat caramel macchiato pairs well with a pea coat. I like having deep conversations and doing well in school, and the popular stimulant keeps my mind sharp. I love rising early, so a cup of joe serves as a considerable motivation for me.
This year, though, I realized that something was wrong with how I approached caffeine. I added shots of espresso to my already jolted drinks, and sometimes substituted chai tea lattes for an actual meal. At one point, I couldn’t enter UCI’s campus without purchasing something caffeinated to push me through the day. I memorized the nutrition facts for the coffee places I frequented the most and considered my constant jittering almost as much of an accessory as the cup in my hand.
According to MedicineNet, 130-300 milligrams of caffeine is a moderate amount to consume on a daily basis. Average coffee consumption among adults is approximately 280 milligrams a day, but almost 30 percent take in more than 600 milligrams a day.
I’m sure I’ve landed in that 30 percent many times. Eight ounces of brewed coffee alone packs about 135 milligrams of caffeine, and a shot of espresso contains 70-80. Not to mention my countless diet Cokes, the occasional energy drink, chocolate, and of course, a great deal of caffeine-laden green and black teas.
Scarily enough, Time magazine reported in 2007 that there were 265 cases of caffeine abuse in the U.S. reported to poison control between 2001 and 2004, and the average abuser’s age was 21. It makes sense, considering that caffeine supposedly controls appetite, boosts metabolism and goes hand-in-hand with study sessions.
When I realized I was slowly embracing the Mary-Kate Olson diet — sans cigarettes and rumored cocaine — I felt I should quit caffeine altogether, to prove that it didn’t have power over me.
I read online that one shouldn’t cut out caffeine cold-turkey, but decided to try it nonetheless. What I found was a world of excruciating headaches and irritability that jumped off the charts. I couldn’t hold my attention in class and moped around with replacement beverages of herbal tea and decaf coffee that fit the gap in my heart like a round peg in a square hole.
On day three of withdrawals, I started crying. The extreme nature of my caffeine avoidance overpowered my life more than the stimulant did. So I finally listened to my boyfriend’s pleas to caffeinate in moderation.
I started mixing decaf with regular coffee, and if I purchased a latte, I wouldn’t add an extra shot. I decided not to allow myself more than 100 mg, which is supposedly the threshold of caffeine dependency. After a week or two of such control, I started to relax, and found myself one late afternoon realizing I hadn’t consumed caffeine yet that day.
Recently, my roommates and I changed into summery dresses, and headed to a quaint, independent coffeehouse in Newport. We sat in a room of homey, wooden tables with mismatched chairs, scooping up the whipped cream-topped lattes with spoons like children. We giggled about boys, talked in-depth about our future plans, and shared stories of the past week. We left feeling refreshed and inspired, and sang sappy, girly pop-songs at the top of our lungs on the ride home.
I’m still the friend who knows her coffee. I can tell you the caloric value of your favorite Starbucks’ drink and how much it’ll cost to upgrade. Yet, caffeine no longer holds the same authority over me, and I can now enjoy it leisurely instead of out of necessity.
Whether bonding with a great group of girls or going on coffee dates with my boyfriend, the very notion of caffeine vanishes into the background, leaving it among the list of wonderful things in this world that are more beautiful in moderation.