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Challenge: Kicking Caffeine


Willkommen and bienvenue, this is Harry Fraser, the Regulars Editor for Grapeshot Magazine. For the Challenge this issue I will be giving up caffeine for a week, because it seems the Australian population and economy relies on some brown beans that are ground up and supported by foam art.

Before I launch into it, a brief disclaimer: I don’t really drink coffee anymore (besides the occasional yet welcome Espresso Martini) because it has previously made me rather anxious. But before everyone cancels me for writing an article about giving up caffeine despite not drinking coffee, take a sip of your almond iced lattes with one pump of vanilla and pipe down.

I am an avid tea drinker and if 2020 left me with one thing, it was a newfound appreciation for Matcha Green Tea Iced Lattes. They have become my weakness but I’m not ashamed. I love the flex of strutting around sipping something green from a Starbucks takeaway cup. It looks like I know what I’m doing and where I’m going in life.

Picture me at work on my 15 minute break, taking the lift down to the food court where I involuntarily feel the magnetism of Starbucks pull me in. I know I shouldn’t spend $7 on some ice with a side of matcha but there is a little voice in the back of my head saying, “it’s green tea, what could be healthier?” and “saying Grande is fun”. And my inner demons are right: saying Grande really is the best.

I saunter up to the counter, feigning my perusal of the menu as though I don’t already know what I want: a Grande Iced Matcha Latte with half ice, oat milk and one pump of syrup. “A name for the order?” they ask me. I almost always forget how they ask that at the end. “Harry,” I manage breathlessly, before moving aside to await my beverage.

Based on that dramatic rendition of my Starbucks order you might already have a sense of my week long suffering. The Iced Matcha has taken on an almost sultry presence in my consciousness with its marked absence, enticing me with her green tea goodness.

My week without caffeine was mild and mediocre. In my mind I expected cold sweats, trembling hands and oppressive drowsiness. In fact, the only effect I can attest to experiencing was some mental lethargy. Even then such symptoms could be attributed to lack of sleep or uni workload, or some other facet of the working uni student’s life.

What I noticed most was when I would sit at my desk at home to do uni work, my instinct was to brew a cup of tea to nurse as I headed over to Echo360. During lockdown and spending much of 2020 at my uni desk, it became a helpful habit to make some tea before I sat down to work. It gave me routine and some structure around work time vs break time when the entire day stretched before me, uninterrupted by things like leaving my house and being social.

Hence, despite a significant return to normalcy on the uni front, i.e. on campus tutes, my quarantine at home study routine is here to stay. A big part of that routine was tea and what was most challenging this last week was not the lack of caffeine (although I’m not exactly doing a scientific study here, so don’t quote me on that) but the disruption to my routine and my process.

It felt perverse and unsettling to plonk down at my desk without having first put the kettle on and set my timer for three and a half minutes, while my Melbourne Breakfast teabag sat in the mug (I’ve since graduated to loose leaf). I keenly felt the absence of my little green mug on the opposite side of my desk to my laptop (some close calls there), where I used to check to see if she was too hot to sip.

Again, sensual dramatisation aside, I felt the absence of caffeinated drinks mostly in the disruption to my routine and not necessarily the lack of caffeine itself. I wonder if this is part of the reason why people become reliant on their daily beverage of choice. It gives them a sense of stability and normalcy in days that can go off the rails or be filled with unknowns. No matter what may happen that day, at least you can always get your morning coffee.

There is something to the physical act of holding a drink and repeatedly sipping from it and the comfort that it brings. Almost as though coffee (or any other daily beverage) is to adults what comfort toys and blankets are to children. BTW this is based off no scientific expertise, just straight up overthinking, which I wish I could say was due to the lack of caffeine but I would be lying. I’m always overthinking.

ANYWAY. I’ve been going without caffeine for 6 days strong and I haven’t had any visceral cravings, night sweats or trembling hands. Sometimes when I sat down to do uni work and I was feeling tired or unfocused, I wanted to grab some tea to help me concentrate. Honestly, I think this had more to do with procrastination than anything else. I managed to get my work done when I actually put my mind to it. Perhaps the hot water itself was what perked me up. Full of scientific based and well-researched hypotheses here folks.

It made me wonder what caffeine actually does to us though and here is where I sought proper, qualified opinions. So, I googled it and went to the first site that looked like it had a nice name with pretty vibes.

I wanted to compare the amount of caffeine in tea and coffee to see if I was being unfair in my characterisation of quitting caffeine as relatively easy.

This was news to me but apparently, caffeine is NATURAL and is found in over 60 plant species. Who knew? Of course, the amount of caffeine in any given beverage is vastly different, but I already knew that. Obviously large doses of caffeine can cause serious health concerns but then again when did taking massive levels of stimulants ever turn out well?

In large doses caffeine has been known to cause anxiety, restlessness and difficulty sleeping. If you already have crippling self-doubt and imposter syndrome to keep you up at night a coffee habit might not be the best investment. Some studies have even shown caffeine to cause migraines and headaches (yum).

Not to mention my favourite part, caffeine is mildly addictive. I don’t know whether to focus on the ‘mildly’ or the ‘addictive’ part of that sentence, so I’ll leave that up to each reader. Although to be fair, every individual is susceptible to caffeine’s addictive personality traits in different ways, that is, some people are more likely to develop a caffeine habit than others.

I feel like this is an important, albeit late, time to point out that these are simply the musings of your average peasant, with no authority to recommend or advise on any health-related matter. If you do have any issues with caffeine, please seek a qualified health professional, not me. Cheers.

Back to the various drinks now, I had a look at tea first. Black, white and green teas are all prepared from the same plant (I don’t believe that, idk why) but apparently black tea leaves are oxidised and harvested at different times. While this fact makes sense, I want to keep the fantasy in my head alive that all the different teas come from unique plants, I’m talking plants named after my tea: English Breakfast, Earl Grey and New York Breakfast. That’s where they come from and don’t try to tell me otherwise.

Now the average cup of black tea (237ml) has 47mg of caffeine but can have up to 90mg. Compare this to green tea with 20-45mg and white teas with 6-60mg. Okay, but what does this mean? I think we’ll know more when we look at the coffee.

Matcha tea (you remember, from earlier) is supposedly a high caffeine tea with 35mg of caffeine per serving. I feel attacked, but not as attacked as the people who think they are drinking caffeine free tea. I’m not about to blow the lid off the caffeine-free tea industry but according to the few sources I found, there is still a small amount of caffeine in them. But they do say that it’s considered a negligible amount, which is a good thing apparently.

Turning to coffee, the average cup (237ml) contains 95mg of caffeine. Doesn’t seem like enough, at least not compared to tea. But here’s where it gets interesting— in an espresso shot, the caffeine is more concentrated; in just 30ml there is 58mg of caffeine. Pop off sis. Most standard coffees are made with two shots, that’s 116mg.

Considering that some people have ‘strong’ coffees with three shots, as well as potentially multiple coffees per day, these numbers start to add up. If HSC General Maths serves me well, that amounts to a lot of caffeine for some people.

I shouldn’t just bash the coffee drinkers, I’m sure that even though I would rarely have more than one tea per day, there are many tea drinkers out there that have similar habits to coffee drinkers in terms of multiple cups per day. We all have a vice, it’s just that some roast dead beans while others boil dead leaves. The lesson here is that we all put our pants on one leg at a time.

But I will say that coffee does contain more caffeine than tea (and don’t forget it). So, if it was a competition and I’m not saying that it is, but if it was, tea would win. It confirms what I felt in my waters, that tea really is superior to coffee. I knew it, just like how November, the number 7, and brown are the same vibe. There are no words, only vibes.

To conclude readers, you can see I have attempted to emulate a peer-reviewed medical research paper, minus the peers and the medical research. What we are left with are the rantings of a man who hasn’t had an Iced Matcha Grande with one pump of syrup, oat milk and half ice in almost a week. Let’s just say I’m feeling the absence of caffeine, but only low key. I wouldn’t recommend, mainly because it was inconvenient, rather than unbearable. But if you feel like some drama in your life, it’s always worth creating problems for yourself in ways that don’t alienate family or friends and this could be a way to do that.

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