John Walker's Electronic House

Diary Of A Coffee Addict

by on Jan.06, 2007, under The Rest

Everyone has their gimmicks. One of mine has been coffee. People knew the easy way to get me a present was to have it coffee related. Youth groups I ran used to mock me for always having a mug of coffee in my hand (a beautiful leaving present made by Christ Church in Guildford contained cartoons and comments and even a disturbingly rude poem, all mentioning it). Everyone knows I make a great cup of coffee with my favourite toy, my espresso machine. Everyone’s experienced rants about the clucking idiots who stand in front of me in coffee shops and order their elaborate cream-based puddings while I’m stuck waiting for some hot water pumped through ground beans. And God knows I’ve got hours of material on instant ‘coffee’, and the Satanic “tea rooms” that charge money for it. (Good grief Britain, it was A WAR RATIONING MEASURE. Every other country in the world threw it in the bin the moment the bombs stopped dropping, and we’re still, sixty years later, drinking this freeze-dried crap, and worse, CHARGING MONEY FOR IT? Would the same cafes cook with powdered eggs? Do their staff draw stocking lines down the backs of their legs with an eyebrow pencil? Answers: I imagine they probably do, the disgusting hellholes).

I’ve not had a cup of coffee for nine weeks.

Before pedantic twitheads get too worked up, I’m drinking decaf, and yes, it has “coffee” on the label. But really, to make that argument, you’ve clearly no idea about coffee at all.

The doctor told me I must stop. Not because I was glugging back crazed amounts. I was genuinely having two or three mugs a day. And the “two” part was often true. They were damn good mugs of coffee, and certainly considerably strong (how coffee should be consumed, milky weirdos). But it wasn’t quite the intravenous drip it could have been. But because it was likely linked to my bundle of anxiety issues, and it was a first thing to rule out.

My response surprised me as I was spluttering it. I began bargaining with him. I genuinely said, “But I can’t! I have… a really expensive espresso machine.” He gave me a look.

It took about two weeks and the discovery of a bearable decaf before I could do this, but on that daythat was it. No more. Cold turkey. And it hurt. Oh man, it hurt.

Two weeks of constant headaches – proper cracking headaches that made me want to bring back trepanning – greeted my every morning, through to about mid-afternoon. I was grumpy and annoyed (and inevitably annoying), and so deeply frustrated to know that all I needed was one mug and all the pain would seep away. That’s an amazing part of coffee – it’s an instantly acting drug. Having clearly been worryingly addicted for years, missing a mug in a morning (and that would be all my system required – one in the morning – the rest were just because it tastes so damned good) lead to a miserable headache. Getting a mug and knocking it back used to cause a strange fizzing noise in the back of my neck as I felt the pain immediately drain away. Good grief, how was that not ringing alarm bells?

But I did not. I haven’t chipped once. Even in the face of Nick’s* peculiar devilish enabling, telling me, “It’s ok to just have one, go on, have a treat, you’re on holiday,” I resisted.

It’s odd to get up in the morning, do some “work”, and then notice it’s 2pm and I’ve not had a mug of decaf. It’s also great to drink it at night without getting fidgity. It’s still an empty drink, missing that essential ingredient and purpose, but thank goodness for Taylors of Harrogate, and their D:Caff range. And oh sweet joy! In finding that link I’ve just spotted they make a strength 5! That was the key to breaking the addiction – finding a strong enough blend. The people who tend to drink decaf appear to be the sorts of wishywashy fools who want their coffee all thin and miserable. D:Caff’s strength 4 was my magical medicine, freeing me from the caffeine. But yippee! A strength 5 for further enjoyment. It’s going to be hard to get hold of it, it seems, but dammit, it’s out there.

What most annoys me is that the doctor was right. I now sleep within an hour of going to bed. It’s so incredibly galling to acknowledge, but I can’t deny it. Before it took me about two hours to settle and sleep, now it takes me less than one. Raw facts. Goddammit.

Because, you see, I really like coffee. I was also worryingly addicted, planning ahead if I was ever away so I could be certain to have access to something decent. Nine weeks on and the addiction is tethered, but the drink remains my favourite. Sadly no one I’ve found makes a decent grind for an espresso machine, so that still lies dormant. But yes, here it is: I stopped drinking real coffee.

*Which reminds me: I will finish the Cotswolds story, as the best nonsense is still to come, including a great instant decaf rant

22 Comments for this entry

  • Mark H Wilkinson

    Two weeks of headaches? That’s pretty extreme. Back when I used to go cold turkey when younger (and having considerably more than the two or three *plus* litres of diet coke) I’d expect three days at most — awful headaches of a kind I’ve never experienced in relation to alcohol, but not for longer than that period.

    I can only assume you’re abnormal.

  • Nick Mailer

    Well done for writing a proper journal entry. You actually also have part two of the Amsterdam trip to write up as well, but I imagine that’s lost in your coffee-addled memory now.

    “To addle”. An odd infinitive.

  • bob_arctor

    What about tea though?

  • Greg Sherwin

    I gave up coffee myself for nearly two years. (I am also a former vegetarian who gave up meat for a couple of years during grad school, so perhaps there’s a pattern in this.) I had the most convenient timing: after some prior deliberation about the matter, I quit the day I had elective sinus surgery.

    Oh sure, I had a massive pounding headache for a while. But how could I really notice the difference between that and having my sinuses packed with gauze during my recovery? The doc prescribed vicodin even. And not that I was worried about going down the road of a Brett Favre or Rush Limbaugh, but I’m a bit of a masochist who prefers to endure the pain unless I really need the meds.

    But I was coffee-free for the longest time, and I missed the flavor – but not immensely. Then came a trip to Italy, and the whole thing seemed absurd. And while Italian espresso suffers from a sort of sameness, that baseline is so far and away better than the U.S. baseline. That and the real deal was just too naturally sweet and flavorful to pass up. So like my vegetarian stint years prior, I came to question, “Was coffee really all that bad to me? Particularly when it could be this good?” I was born to be a coffee drinker, and I was only betraying my true nature as a human being.

    So if I were to enjoy coffee, it wouldn’t be wasted on bad coffee. I had to get the best damn stuff I could find and/or make, which lead to my obsession with home espresso making, home roasting, etc.

    And of course, if it were the caffeine I was worried about, espresso is one of your better options. Culturally, at least in America, we errantly hold espresso as if it were a pure caffeine I.V. drip. Writers and editors constantly riff on “espresso” as a euphemism for the most potent infusion of caffeine your veins can handle. And yet if made properly, it has less caffeine than your typical drip coffee.

    Of course, in the end, I’m afraid there’s something of a genetic element that can only be the root of frustration for many, including yourself. Because I always could down a couple of double-espressos an hour before bed and still sleep like it was a glass of milk – and that’s remained true after my long journey in the decaffeinated wilderness. My wife is the same way, except she tends to think that the coffee-vs.-sleep issue is purely a myth. However, I know enough people who truly do have a heightened chemical sensitivity – not unlike the way some people can fall violently ill with just the smell of perfume – who will curse both of us for our “good fortune”.

  • Steve W

    Blimey, I’d never though of catergorising coffee in the “dangerous addictions” bracket. Three or four years ago I remember having 18 mugs in one working day, and being somehow proud of that fact at the time. I’m now down to a more manageable four; my Mum only the other day commented upon how highly-strung I’ve always been…

  • roBurky

    You mad people sticking drugs in your body.

  • Stu W

    i once tried to drink water for a month, unkowingly aware that i was addicted to caffeine / coffee. 24 hours later i was in bed, with the worst migraine id ever experienced. even after it had gone my head ached due to how painful it had been. Then theres, as you say, days of not being yourself.

    Its strangely unadvertised how painful such a casual addiction can become and, as your doctor mentions, dangerous. I hadnt realised that even 2-3 per day is bad, i still drink that sometimes. Ill be cutting back in future…

    nice to know im not alone!


  • Tombola

    I sometimes give up caffeine for a bit, but I always seem to come back to it. It’s the least of my vices though, and one that doesn’t cause me any weird psychological distress.

    Anyway, I’m not just reacting to your interesting post with narcissism: I was going to tell you about my experience of giving up and headaches.

    I’ve found through doing it a few times that if I just suddenly stop one morning, by the evening I’ll have a horrible headache. That’s usually it. However, if I have as much as usual until lunchtime on the day I’m stopping, then nothing goes wrong that evening and the next day’s fine too.

    Which is nice to know. Weirdly, I never have the caffeine withdrawal. Probably because my body’s too busy mourning alcohol, nicotine, glucose and so on, but still.

  • mathew


    I rather like Cafe 3065’s instant; I think you’re wrong to say that instant can’t be (at least) passable. But then my taste in coffee is probably pretty weird; I only really like filter coffee with milk and sugar or espresso if it’s strong and black.

    I don’t have to drink it every day, thankfully – I kicked my daily habit after a week of body destroying food poisoning. But I have a couple of cups a week, probably.

  • John

    You’re welcome to like instant. But you may not serve it to me under the title of “coffee”. If you went into a cafe and ordered “fresh orange juice”, and they gave you orange squash, you’d be furious. (Although if you’re in Canada, you’ve probably no idea what orange squash is).

  • Tim R

    I don’t really understand how coffee has so much culture attached to it. I think the average kitchen has about four different ways of making coffee, all stacked in the back of a cupboard: plunger, filter, percolator, espresso machine etc, plus instant. My sister is very excited about her machine – I think you put seeds in one end, it grows the coffee plant under idea conditions, harvests the beans, roasts them, grinds them, and makes coffee in time for your retirement.

    Far fewer places make tea ideally. When i was on holiday this summer in Czech land, I despaired of getting a decent cup of tea for the duration, until, in a little known picturesque town called Cesky Krumlov we found a little tea place. The man had every type of tea under the sun – black tea, green tea, Indian, Chinese, African, Ceylon – and he made his tea with elaborate ceremony. We ordered a pot of assam, and informed him we were English and had our tea with milk. We were given a fantastic pot of tea – with evaporated milk.

  • John

    It’s because there actually IS some science to making coffee correctly. Espresso has to be made at the correct pressure or the taste is too bitter and the crema is foul. You need at least 13 barrs.

    Tea involves making a bag wet.

  • mathew

    John, I’m Scottish, so I know perfectly well what Orange Squash is.

    It’s what you have to drink when yer maw has run out of bottles of ginger.

  • Tim R

    John – making a bag wet? I don’t understand… What are you trying to do?

  • milko

    eeek. I love geeking over my espresso (gosh but isn’t discovering a good grinder revalatory) and I fully agree that instant ‘coffee’ is a totally different (and to me, revolting) drink. I can however not drink coffee for a day or two and not notice any effects, positive or otherwise. Hmm. I’m tempted to experiment more now though.

  • Mrs Trellis

    You never hear anyone saying how they’re going to give up caffeine in tea, do you? Nobody’s ever worried about their addiction to tea, are they? That’s why tea is briliant and coffee is weird smelly stuff that gives you heartburn.

  • Mrs Trellis

    John, tea only involves making a bag wet if you’ve gone to a “coffee shop” and have just paid £1.20 for a cup of hot water with a tea bag in it.

    But, having said that, crap tea (in a bag) is certainly more tolerable than crap coffee. Except decaf tea and that effluent that comes out of vending machines.

  • Willem100

    Good luck with your coffee ban.

    I’ve stopped drinking Coca Cola. Well, I told myself that I’d stop for one month and then drink far less than normal. (I usually drank nearly a litre a day. Or more. My record being 3.33 litres.).

    All is well with that. And no side effects! (Except that I eat more, which is good)

    Anyway, good luck.

  • Tedi Worrier

    I havge been on decaff for a week … when should I expect my head to explode?
    Will I be a better prerson?
    Must be something else stopping me sleeping

  • Tim R

    TW – guilty conscience.
    Mrs Trellis – thank you!

  • Kieron Gillen

    This reminds me of the time I was giving up Meth.

    Hell, who am I kidding. I’ve never given up Meth.


10 Trackbacks / Pingbacks for this entry