Caffeine

How Starbucks saved my life by Stewart Sallo

Is there anything worse than being away from home and in dire need of medical attention? There I was in Hartford, Conn., of all places, and I was feeling worse by the minute. My head was pounding. I could barely walk, and I was beginning to feel feverish and a little nauseous. And I was in a strange city without a clue as to how to find a pharmacy where I could get the medicine I needed. How did I come to find myself in this dreadful predicament? It all started a few weeks before my daughter, Julia, and I enthusiastically hopped on a flight to New York for a six-day, whirlwind East Coast college tour. It was late August, and I was in the final two weeks of rehearsals with my band, Hindsight, as we approached our annual B-dub Anniversary Party gig at the Boulder Theater. Playing in a rock ‘n’ roll band, running a newspaper and being a family man (replete with a 17-year-old high school senior determined to gain admission to the most expensive East Coast college possible) was beginning to take its toll on me. I was getting little sleep, and my energy reserves were becoming depleted. So, I took the only logical course of action available: I abandoned my low-caffeine, high-anti-oxidant green tea habit and turned to the “hard stuff.” By the time Julia and I were cruising at an altitude of 31,000 feet en route to JFK, I had been meeting myself for coffee, let’s just say, more than once a day for three weeks and had developed a full-blown caffeine addiction. And not unlike most drug addicts, I was firmly in denial of the reality of my addiction, until the fateful third day of our tour brought us to the admissions office at Hartford’s Trinity College. We awoke that morning in an ancient Mohegan Holiday Inn. Having still not adjusted to the two-hour time difference, we were on the anti-Ben Franklin schedule: late to bed and late to rise. I figured we could grab a cup on the way out, but when faced with the choice between the 6-month-old Maxwell House brew being offered in the motel lobby and the gourmet variety I had enjoyed the day before at the Vassar College admissions office, I opted to wait. Unfortunately, this was Saturday in Connecticut, not Friday in Poughkeepsie, and when we arrived at Trinity there was no coffee to be found and the program was about to begin. (We now interrupt our story to enlighten our readers on the nature of caffeine and how it affects human biochemistry.) Despite being the most commonly consumed drug (yes, drug) in the world (annual world consumption of coffee exceeds 4 million tons), the active ingredient in that harmless cup you mindlessly reach for every morning is capable of wreaking havoc within the miraculous body with which you have been gifted. Caffeine works to stimulate the brain in a way that is biochemically identical to the effects of amphetamines, cocaine and heroin. Essentially, there is an agent your brain produces naturally, called adenosine, that causes drowsiness by slowing down nerve cell activity. To a nerve cell, caffeine looks identical to adenosine. So, introducing caffeine into your body inhibits the natural process that enables your bodily functions to slow down, instead causing them to speed up and setting off a misleading chain reaction. First, your pituitary gland, thinking there’s an emergency, releases hormones that cause the adrenal glands to produce adrenaline (the “fight or flight” hormone). This causes dilated pupils, rapid heart rate, elevated blood pressure, constricted blood flow at the surface and to the stomach (to slow blood flow from cuts and put digestion on hold), increased blood flow to muscles (which tighten), and a release of sugar from the liver (for extra energy). Basically, when you consume caffeine, you trick your body into a false state of emergency. All of this results in a deficiency of sleep (and, particularly, deep sleep), which means that you’ll wake up tired after consuming caffeine and need more to get going in the morning. The more caffeine you’ve been consuming, the more you need in this endless, vicious cycle. That’s the state I found myself in as I sat through a 60-minute “info session,” followed by an hour-long tour of the Trinity College campus. By the time it all ended, I was in desperate need of caffeine, and my commitment to my anti-corporate principles had met their match. I was being tortured, and the first thought—the only thought—in my woefully confused nervous system was this: “Where’s the nearest Starbucks?” After being pointed in the right direction, we jumped in our cheap rental car and proceeded to search out the Starbucks with the same sense of purpose as a salmon returning to its spawning place, a bee cross-pollinating a field of wildflowers, or a swallow returning to Capistrano (all of which, I understand, are also the result of biochemical antecedents). Within 15 minutes, there it was, like an oasis in the midst of an inhospitable desert, in a strip mall in Hartford, Conn., looking exactly like any of the 11,784 (as of Sep. 1, 2006) Starbucks locations in the U.S. and 37 other countries. Most importantly, I knew I could get a 16-oz. “Grande” with 550 milligrams of caffeine, more than five times the caffeine quantity of a cup of Maxwell House coffee or a standard dose of NoDoz. About 30 minutes later, the “medicine” had worked, and I was feeling human again. And even with the granola square I added to the tab, it came to less than $5—far less than a visit to the emergency room. Yes, Starbucks saved me that day, and I must admit I have never been more appreciative of the corporate model, which assures a level of uniformity that supplies an identical cup of coffee in Hartford as you get in Boulder, China, Egypt, France or Korea (South, of course). However, make no mistake; Starbucks is a legal pharmacy, dispensing a very powerful and highly addictive drug in higher doses than you can find most anywhere else. And just like any drug, there are side effects that must be considered. For myself, I’m back on tea now as my daily beverage, having weaned myself off the “hard stuff” following our return from “Collegeland.” How did I do it? Log on to BoulderWeekly.com, and click the button on the link that says, “Kick Caffeine, Stew’s Way,” for my personal method. Works every time. Kick Caffeine, Stew’s Way by Stewart Sallo (letters@boulderweekly.com) Here’s a surefire way of kicking your coffee addition and switching to tea, or decaffeinating yourself entirely, in one month. Week One: Get down to one cup of coffee in the morning If you’re a full-blown coffee addict, and have been for some time, you’re probably drinking multiple cups each day. But it’s really just that first cup in the morning that you need to prevent those nasty withdrawal symptoms. While you’re in this first phase, try having just one cup in the morning and substituting a different hot drink–my recommendation is green tea–the rest of the day. If you can’t make it through the day, spend this first week cutting back gradually until you’re down to one cup in the morning. Week Two: Switch to black tea A good strong cup of black tea has enough caffeine to keep you from experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Stick a tea bag in a cup of boiling water for five minutes, and then add a little milk and some sugar or, my favorite, honey. Delicious! Drink green tea or herbal (decaffeinated) tea the rest of the day. By the way, “decaffeinated” coffee is not decaffeinated; it still has caffeine in it, just not as much as regular coffee. Stay away from coffee entirely from this point forward. Week Three: The weaning process Here’s where the real process begins. On day one, steep your black tea bag for four minutes. Time it; it’s important. On day two, steep your black tea for three minutes. On day three, two minutes; day four, one minute and 30 seconds; day five, one minute; day six, 30 seconds; day seven, 15 seconds. You may drink as much green or herbal tea as you like. Week Four: You’re free After completing this process, you should be able to get up in the morning and feel like you have plenty of energy without any caffeinated beverage. It is doubtful that you’ll experience any withdrawal symptoms at this point, but if you do try drinking green tea. You may continue drinking green tea if you wish, as green tea contains a very small amount of caffeine, and the antioxidant content and other health benefits of green tea (such as its ability to strengthen your immune system) far outweigh any liabilities associated with its caffeine content. Last step: email me If you have success with this process, please write me at ssallo@boulderweekly.com and let me know. I would love to hear from you.