I love coffee.
I love the taste.
I love the smell.
I love the sound of it brewing.
I love espresso.
I love single shots.
I love double shots.
I love red eyes — a shot of espresso in my coffee.
I love the buzz.
I love the laxative effect.
I even love the fact that I love coffee.
In fact, I used to drink 3-4 monster cups of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee back in college. That must have been 48 ounces or so a day.
But times changed.
I quit coffee almost 10 years ago. I honestly can’t remember if it was easy or not, but I do know that I didn’t think of it too much or even laid my lips on a cup — until about 4 months ago.
I was at a cafe with a friend and he asked if I liked espresso. At that time, I’d only tried it once, so I told him “no, not really.”
He followed up by asking me if I wanted to try this particular one. It was one of the best.
So I thought about it.
I’m always willing to try something once. I’ve also been known to experiment with my health from time to time. Maybe you’ve read about my escapades in the past.
“Yes,” I said, “I’ll try it.”
And it was good. Really good.
And this began a 90 or so day experiment that I had been curious to start for quite some time.
My 90 day (or so) coffee / espresso experiment.
The espresso was so good, I decided that I would do an experiment I had been processing in my head for a while.
I would drink coffee or espresso every day for 90 days and see what happened. Not just any coffee, but organic and fair trade — which I had never had before when I was younger. I told myself I would stop if I saw outward signs of it not being optimal for my health and would continue drinking it if I got my blood tested in 90 days and everything was perfectly normal.
I was looking for signs of adrenal stress, mood, skin, eyes, hair or anything else that told me I was going down the wrong path.
I told Annmarie about this and she laughed, “good luck quitting once you start.”
Why do something so against my previous stance on coffee?
Look, I haven’t been nice to coffee since I quit 10 years ago.
It can create an acidic environment in the body. It can stain your teeth. It can wreck your adrenals. I know all this.
But what I really wanted to know was a theory that I hinted at above:
Is there a difference between the coffee I was drinking before (the convenience store variety) and the amazing artisan coffees and espressos available here in Berkeley.
Could drinking fair-trade, organic, super-quality coffee be any different?
My theory was that it might be.
Eating organic vegetables is better than non-organic vegetables. Local, farm raised eggs are more nutritious than mass produced egg look-alikes.
So was this coffee better — for me and for my health?
Let me share what I found out.
The biggest concern of mine when I started the experiment wasn’t about my health, it was my will…
What if I liked coffee so much that I couldn’t quit?
I’ve produced a full program on cravings, but what if I couldn’t use it myself to break my own experimental habit. Let’s be honest, I wasn’t experimenting with heroin here, but I still had some significant fear going into it. A fear that I would revert to a cigarette smoking, coffeehouse junkie (you’ve seen him.)
Why would I bother to do something like this and risk my own great health, or even the adrenal health that I had built back to near optimal?
Even after the experiment, I can’t answer this. I guess it’s because of two things.
1. I like to take risks.
2. I like to know for sure.
So I convinced myself that it would be a good idea and told myself that I would quit if I saw signs of poor health and that I would use the techniques in the program to do so. (Click here to check it out)
I also told myself that I’d trash the program and give everyone their money back if I couldn’t use at least one technique in the program to kick it. (Seriously.)
So is coffee healthy?
I was intrigued by the stories of the people living on the Nicoya peninsula in Dan Buettner’s book “The Blue Zones.”
They drink coffee — plenty of it — and they’re some of the longest lived people in the world. (Please note, the men also seem to be quite unfaithful, but that’s not an experiment you’ll see me diving into — I am somewhat sensible.)
As you may know, coffee does have antioxidants and there is an occasional study that comes out praising its health benefits, but I’m not into that sort of media/research back and forth. All I’m saying here is that there is research.
But, when I saw evidence of a long-lived culture who was doing something that was not making them so acidic that they succumbed to modern illness — as many health experts would make you think coffee would do — I made a personal note to attempt an experiment of this very nature.
Am I from Nicoya or Costa Rican?
No, of course not. I’m a very pasty, white man.
Does it matter?
It probably does, considering how my experiment turned out, but I didn’t want to consider genetic differences here. I just wanted to know if organic coffee — this time around — was something I could drink or not and still be healthy.
A week in.
I realized that I liked espresso more than coffee. It had more flavor, didn’t give me much of a buzz and I limited myself to one shot a day. Sometimes I’d order one shot and it would clearly be two. On those days, I definitely got more of a wake-me-up.
I was enjoying exploring the different flavors as well…
Some are sour, others creamy. Some are thick, others less.
I preferred stronger to not and more creamy than sour.
There was a place on along my walk to work I would stop at and then I was on my way.
Two weeks in.
Much of the same.
Three weeks in.
I decided I would upgrade to a double shot espresso. Why? I wanted to up the concentration a bit and see how my body responded.
I think, looking back, this was my fatal mistake.
One shot has kind of gotten pedestrian for me. It didn’t give me the buzz that I was craving when I woke up anymore. So I wanted to see if two sustained it.
I started to crave espresso every morning. Warning sign #1.
Four weeks in.
I tried drinking coffee sporadically. I would switch up between espresso or coffee and see if there was any difference.
It wasn’t as good as espresso, but I liked it.
I started to notice that if I had the coffee, my hands would get clammy and cold about 15-30 minutes after starting to drink it (an adrenal response.) Warning sign #2.
Five weeks in.
I’m still on coffee or espresso. Annmarie tells me that my eyes seem bloodshot.
I made it a point to check every day to see if they still are.
Warning sign #3.
I’m beginning to see that I need to stop. I wonder if I can. I love it.
Seven weeks in.
Around this time is when I really started to know this wasn’t going so well.
I got out of the shower one day and looked at my hair. It seemed more frizzy and brittle than usual. I passed it off as maybe just the weather, but something inside of me knew it wasn’t. The weather here doesn’t change. It’s either sunny and 70 degrees or cloudy and 60 degrees. Sometimes rain, more often not.
I asked Ann if she noticed a difference and she did.
So now the warning signs were adding up. Cravings, clammy hands, bloodshot eyes, dry and brittle hair.
What I didn’t mention was that somewhere along the lines I also was having a little trouble getting out of bed. My hands also started to ache a bit when I was typing — something that had never happened before.
All signs pointed to…
But I didn’t right away.
I knew my experiment had been a success. I had learned that no matter what type of coffee I drank — it still wasn’t for me.
Just like my chocolate experiment, this one proved that my adrenals are not wired well to handle stimulants — even though I tend to love them.
I drank coffee for another two or so weeks. I even decided — since I knew I was going to quit — that I would get a red-eye a few times in the morning (which is shot of espresso in my coffee.)
That really whacked me out.
But I didn’t mind. I just wanted to go out with a bang. To make my last few times the best they could be, since I knew I would be done and likely never do an experiment with coffee again — maybe never even taste it again.
There’s a lot of internal emotional turmoil when you think of things that way.
Weening doesn’t work, replacement does.
I knew I couldn’t ween my way off drinking coffee. Teasing yourself never works for quitting. Cocaine users can’t just take a little. It’s all or nothing.
So what I decided to do was replace my coffee with something else to ease my way out of it.
And that’s what happened.
One morning, after about a week of telling myself that I was going to quit, I had a cup of green tea.
The next morning, green tea again.
I did this for a week, then one morning I woke up and didn’t have any green tea.
I made a tea with nettles and holy basil.
I did this for another week and the experiment was over.
I think so.
I haven’t had or thought about coffee since I re-quit, until I started to write this article — but even now, I don’t want a cup or a shot of espresso.
In a period of about 8-9 weeks, I had experienced a decline in my own health enough to realize that coffee, organic and fair-trade or not — for me — is no health food.
(NOTE: During the experiment I tried coffees from all different companies and all different places around the globe. While some were different in flavor, they all gave me similar symptoms.)
To prove that the coffee was actually causing some of those warning signs I monitored my eyes, hair and adrenals for the next few weeks.
It took about 3-4 days for my red eyes to clear up. My hair started to get it’s shine back in 1-2 weeks and my hands and fingers were no longer clammy and cold. My hands stopped aching as well.
In this short period of time, my body had adjusted back to its normal, healthy self.
This was fun to see. I normally don’t see health results when I do anything, so seeing these change quickly before my eyes, was evidence that the body is still and will always be quite remarkable.
What does this experiment mean for you?
Nothing. It’s just a story about me and how I react to coffee.
It’s a anecdote that may or may not apply to you.
Was I silly to drink coffee when I knew that these results would be likely?
Maybe, but it was fun to do it.
What was important was that I re-identified symptoms of adrenal stress that likely many of the millions of coffee drinkers experience. If you drink coffee and your hair is brittle and dull, you have cold clammy hands, you have trouble getting out of bed, or your hands ache, you might want to try to give it up for a while and see what happens.
That’s the benefit to you — or anyone you know who drinks it.
But what I think it more important for me, is that afterwards, I knew that this really wasn’t about coffee. It was about re-learning the mindset it takes to actually quit something you really like, when it starts making you less healthy.
That was my biggest fear when I went into the experiment. Could I control my urges? In this case, yes. So I felt like I accomplished something while reminding myself of what you may be going through with your diet or health.
I take my healthy diet for granted.
I’m not programmed to eat healthy foods. I don’t eat crap.
This experiment allowed me to re-feel what it’s like to be doing something unhealthy for me and learn how to get out of that muck.
What can you learn from it? It’s up to you.
Your question of the day: Did you kick coffee, or is it still something you love to drink?