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such a nasty woman | by maryann johanson

question of the weekend: Caffeine: gift of the gods, or scourge?

As I was drinking my morning cuppa just now in order to wake up enough to get myself to a screening of Shrek Forever After, an article on AlterNet greeted me with this headline:

Why Caffeine Is the Perfect Addiction for a Worker Bee Society

Cue alarming statistics about how much caffeine there is in energy drinks — the kids love ’em! — how little caffeine one must consume before bad things start to happen to your body, lots of scary terms such as “psychoacive substance,” and analogies like this:

The other prong is ritual: an almost spiritual aura attached to acquiring, preparing and consuming the substance, whether it’s stirring in Sweet’N Low or tying off veins.

likening the consumption of coffee to the injection of hard drugs.

And yet I’m still looking forward to all the iced coffees I’m going to ingest this summer.

So: Caffeine: gift of the gods, or scourge?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD/QOTW, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTW sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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  • I_Sell_Books

    Coffee – the Last Cheap Drug. Clearly, a gift from the gods!

  • Left_Wing_Fox

    Meh, sliding scale of harm. It’s addictive, but the withdrawal side effects are usually pretty minor. It’s lethal, but only in massive doses. It can have a host of negative side effects in even small doses though, so I don’t think its a good thing to be throwing in food willy-nilly. The article raises some good points, but it seems a little alarmist about the capitalist conspiracy tone.

    It’s a subtle difference between the US and Canada; caffeine is more heavily restricted as an additive to drinks. You can’t add it to a fruit-flavoured soda pop in Canada without specifically labelling the package with nutritional information. Mountain Dew and Sunkist orange pop, for instance are non-caffeinated in Canada. about 4 years ago, they finally came out with a caffeinated Mountain Dew called “Dew Fuel”, which had to be labelled with the same medicinal ingredient and recommended maximum dosage labels as energy drinks here. I think that’s a sensible regulation that improves consumer knowledge and choice.

    Oddly enough, I don’t think caffeinated Mountain Dew caught on here in Canada. Considering just how bitter it is as a flavour, I guess folks just got used to the single-note-sweetness of the non-caffeinated version. On the other hand, our national beverage seems to be the Tim Horton’s Double Double; a light-roast drip-brewed coffee from robusto beans. That’s pretty much the optimal blend for maximum caffeine delivery in a cup of coffee.

  • Magess

    Some people are WAY more sensitive to caffeine than others. I am one of those people. We’re call slow acetylators (it applies to more than just caffeine), but it means that things stick around and affect you a whole lot longer than average. For example, *one* caffeinated soda during the day will make sleeping difficult. And a decaf coffee still has enough caffeine to keep me up if I have it during the evening hours.

    So, caffeine? Not awesome for me. I know coffee purists say decaf is not real coffee because it affects the flavor, but seriously, I can’t tell the difference. And the ritual of having something in the morning works as much to wake me up as anything else, because in addition to having caffeine affect me forever, I *also* don’t get that rush that everyone describes. I can go from nothing to shaking and twitching without a sudden rise to new alertness. I don’t get *more* awake, I just *stay* awake.

    Not everyone’s body will process things this way, but for me it certainly makes caffeine not only pointless but pretty much only a substance with downsides.

    People who drink coffee because they’re always tired and always tired because they don’t sleep well might benefit from a caffeine elimination experiment just to see if any of that improves, though.

  • Isobel

    Gift of the gods – I love my coffee (not very English of me, but there we go!). I like it’s only colas and labelled energy drinks here that have caffeine in them (neither of which I particularly like – I’m a lemonade person), so I pretty much only get my caffeine from coffee, but then I do drink about four cups a day . . .

  • whatever caffeine is in the tea i drink daily (british blend, by the way) is a gift for me. i *can* go for a whole day without it, but i don’t like to. it’s also a very social thing for me… my family always had a ritualistic “tea time” which was for adults only. the day you were allowed to sit and “have tea” was a rite of passage.

    it’s a gift – like chocolate. let us not deride it, or look it in the mouth, lest the gods be jealous and take it away again. or something.

  • An historian, sorry, I forgot her name, was researching the connection between caffeine and the Englightenment. Apparently cafes serving coffee appeared in Paris at the same time. So she was trying to figure out if cafes spread because philosophers needed places to hang out, or if the cafes brought the philosophers together and hopped them up on caffeine, thus accidentally causing the Englightenment.

    But I don’t drink coffee myself. Too hot, too bitter, and I get enough sleep so I don’t need that much help getting out of bed. Nor do I drink soft drinks, but that’s more to avoid the sugar and battery acid. One cup of tea a day, one glass of juice a day, and water the rest of the time.

  • Anne-Kari

    Like all potentially addictive substances, it’s all about moderation.

    I love coffee. LOVE LOVE LOVE IT. I’ve been drinking coffee for 25 years and whenever I’ve had to do without or do with less (as in pregnancies), I’ve been a crabby miserable mess for the first week. Then I’m fine.

    But I always go back, and I even have my doctor’s confirmation that my 2-cup a day habit is no big deal.

    I’ve never liked the so-called ‘energy’ drinks, nor have I indulged in espresso more than a few times. There’s just too much caffeine in those things – I tried a redbull once and I was a jittery mess, and probably vibrating a frequency only squirrels and hummingbirds could hear.

    I’m an old-fashioned girl. I like regular old drip coffee with milk. Of course, I also like cigarettes with my coffee, and I did in fact give THAT up…. but I don’t think that caffeine is nearly the evil death substance that tobacco is.

    Just don’t try to make me drink some kind of vanilla hazelnut flavored mocha latte thing. Coffee, milk; full stop.

  • Leslie Carr

    I’m a tea drinker (a requirement for a British passport). Earl Grey by preference.

    My boss forced me to learn to drink coffee a few years ago – she said she was fed up of me declining offers of coffee in business meetings. So I can drink espresso, but it just doesn’t seem to provide that “kick” that I hear everyone talking about, and which I need professionally. If I have to work on a paper at 2am, I NEED something that will give me a buzz. Frankly coffee (and caffeine drinks) have proved very disappointing.

  • Boingo

    I must be the one with a sensitivity to it. I drink it
    every morning (2-3 cups w/cream). I found I can’t handle a regular cup of Starbucks-must be too much caffeine-It will give me a migraine.Every so many years,
    I’ll stop,but miss the early morning rush.Coffee,
    a cigarette,sudoku,and I’m ready for the freekin’
    world-bring it on!

  • Dokeo

    If you’re reading this, it means that I’ve started on my second cup. It’s a wonder beverage!

  • Orangutan

    I can totally understand the ‘ritual’ part of it. The work day just doesn’t feel right if I don’t get to stop in to the local Starbucks and see the baristas and the regulars who come in around my time. Heck, I even get thrown for a small loop if it’s not the usual baristas. :)

  • @les… imagine being an american and not liking coffee! the looks you get! and getting a decent cup of tea in the outside world is not easy. (also, the assumption with tea drinkers here is, if you drink tea, you’ll drink *any* kind of tea. i hate to tell you people, but herbal tisanes, are not tea i actually have an electric kettle at work because the coffee machine dispenses hot water, but it tastes like coffee and it isn’t boiling. i have, very rarely, had a cup of very milky coffee and one good tasting egg nog latte at starbucks. just one. every other one i had after that was lousy. sometimes, just to be sociable, i’ll drink hot chocolate if that’s on offer in a restaurant. i love my tea so much, it has to be just right for me to enjoy it. so i’ll wait until i get home many times to have that second cup of the day.

    long live tea. that’s the beverage of revolution and change.

  • Long live tea. that’s the beverage of revolution and change.

    If you say so…

    I guess I better not bring up the history of the East India Tea Company.;-)

    Seriously, I never was much of a coffee drinker until I started working night shifts. Even then, I learned that an extra hour or two of sleep often did more good than the blackest cup of coffee ever could.

    I was even less of a tea drinker but I still have fond memories of visiting my ex-girlfriend’s house and letting her make a cup of herbal tea–which I usually enjoyed–but more because of her than anything else.

    Come to think of it, I also used to visit Starbucks a lot–but that was usually because I was either meeting my sister there for lunch or attempting to please my ex-girlfriend the tea drinker.

  • As an American living in China, I’m always surprising people when I say I like tea more than coffee, but after getting over the surprise they are usually happy to indulge. The trick is when they offer me a beer and I say I’d rather have tea. Some Chinese men have been quite offended, even more so than some Americans of either gender.

    I have even become enough of a tea snob that I don’t like bag teas anymore, I want looseleaf tea, but in a cup that contains the tea leaves so they don’t get in my mouth. But not snobbish enough to tell which province of China the tea came from, as some tea experts say they can do, just like wine guys who try to guess the country it is from.

  • I guess I better not bring up the history of the East India Tea Company.;-)

    Yes, they were horrible and ruthless, particularly after they commandeered the Flying Dutchman. ;-)

    For stimulants, I prefer Theobromos myself.

  • bronxbee

    i was referring to the American Revolution. the Boston Tea Party… anyone? bueller? bueller?

  • There was a Tea Party before this current one?

    Next I suppose you’ll tell me Paul was in a band before Wings.


  • Didn’t the Boston Tea Party led to the rejection of tea in the American Colonies, Bronxbee? And wasn’t tea for a long time afterward associated with Tories/Loyalists?

    Or would it be a lot simpler to note that most of the conservatives you know drink coffee and most of the liberals you know drink tea? Not that I know that for sure but it makes for an interesting theory.

  • Next I suppose you’ll tell me Paul was in a band before Wings.

    Paul was in a band called Wings?

    Next thing you know, you’ll be telling me he was married more than once…

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