Here's a question: Is coffee good for you or bad for you? Answer: Shut the fuck up and give me my fucking coffee now.
I have a problem.
I used to smoke cigarettes, eat meat and party like it was 1989 (it was). I tried every drug that didn't require needle delivery. I drank a lot of Carlo Rossi Hearty Burgundy straight from the jug. I was also sexually active before AIDS, if you know what I'm sayin'. And I've already written in this column about my eBay problem. But none of it ever stuck.I'm just not an addictive person. Even the cigarettes couldn't beat me. At age 27, I stuck a full pack of Camel Lights in a drawer in my kitchen and said, “Never again.” No patch, no gum, no hypnosis—just the constant temptation lurking in the junk drawer. I quit cold turkey.
That same year, I quit eating cold turkey, too. Or dead birds at any temperature.
I've been on a real health kick for a good decade now. I don't do other stimulants like crystal meth or Red Bull. I drink alcohol infrequently and take a very occasional puff (if you think marijuana is a drug, that's your problem. To me, it's a once-in-a-blue-moon natural pain reliever, and I don't do drugstore pills). I also ride my bicycle, wear sunscreen and take long clichéd walks on the beach at lunchtime. This is a healthy 43-year-old man with a steady girlfriend half his age who can barely keep up with him: She takes the elevator; I take the stairs.
But coffee's got me in its grip and it won't let go. Can I get a witness? Are you with me, brewhounds? What are you gonna do? Not have an espresso at Art of Espresso or a French roast at Influx? Not have a slow-drip Vietnamese iced coffee at Saigon on El Cajon Boulevard on a hot summer day? And don't get me started talking about how I make mine at home. There's something about the combination of caffeine and its toasty, slightly bitter, dark delivery system that overwhelms the senses and logic alike.
Prior to 2006, medical journals were constantly feeding us conflicting reports on the coffee good-for-you / bad-for-you debate: In '04, a study showed that coffee consumption reduced the risk of diabetes. In another study, pregnant women were advised to lay off the bean juice. Coffee has been linked to increased hypertension and lower cancer rates. This constant back and forth between good and bad news on coffee has been a source of confusion for coffee addicts like me. But more recently, Canadian researchers have argued that the issue is genetic.
A major 2006 study in the Journal of American Medicine showed that if you have the 1A variation of the CYP1A2 gene, coffee can decrease your risk of heart attack, but if you have the slower-metabolism 1F variant of the same gene, even as little as two cups a day can increase your risk of heart attack as much as smoking cigarettes. The Times Online UK reported that some studies estimate as many as one-third of all Caucasians might have the 1F gene, so your afternoon joe is straight-up Russian Roulette with two loaded chambers, whitey. I can't find the studies on non-whites, but I did find a study in a medical journal that used Indian subjects, and about one in eight had the genetic mutation in question.
What this means is that it is probably risky to drink more than two cups a day. But health risks aside, coffee changes us, dominates us, freaks us the fuck out. Even if it were good for us, is it good for us to be such stark raving java junkies?
When I am at my worse:
• 7:10 a.m.—Slow-dripped coffee made on my stove. If there's no time, I'll stop at…
• 7:30 a.m.—Gelato Vero for a stiff double espresso with a small splash of steamed milk.
• 7:45 a.m.—A watery but fresh coffee from the snack bar at the Old Town Transit Station.
• 8:30 a.m.—A hammerhead at the appropriately named Crack of Dawn coffee stand at the Carlsbad Village Station.
• 9:15 a.m.—A mug full of whatever Jason the Italian IT guy at work made from his special stash of Italian roasted beans.
• 3 p.m.—Whatever the interns made in the big drip brewer. (Sometimes in the afternoon, I'll see Natalie from Accounts reheating her morning large takeout coffee in the microwave. My disgust is tempered by the fact that we are nonetheless kindred jacked-up spirits.)
Evening—If I have one, I won't sleep. I might have one.
When I was a kid in Chicago, my mom would pour a little bit of coffee and sugar in my milk. She got me addicted. She was a heavy coffee drinker who died young from some major health issues. I don't know if the coffee had anything to do with her poor health, but the correlation makes me nervous. Or maybe it's the coffee I just had that makes me nervous. Either way, I get nervous. And when I get nervous, I try to quit.
Usually I last a day. The next day I reward myself for the previous day's resistance with just an inch, carefully measured, in the bottom of a cup in the morning, so that I won't attack any of my coworkers with a staple gun. And by the end of the week, I'm back to full caffeination. I've tried decaf, too. But as I start to rotate back in the real stuff, I soon find myself re-hooked.
But this is a caffeine-nation, right? Why do I kid myself? How can I quit completely? I'll lose my edge. What if Presently Tense became Presently Calm? There's no naptime in the caffeine-nation, boy. Now, get wired and get to work.
I can't quit you, coffee. You're my last true vice. And your grip on me is truly vise-like. This column may be read as a cry for help.