I wasn't always a coffee drinker. But ever since the age of six, I've enjoyed a cup in the morning and a cup in the afternoon, minimum — or at least that's what it felt like when I decided to quit coffee for a month.
In reality, I started seriously relying on coffee when most people do: as a freshman in college. I had Spanish 101 at 8 a.m. five days a week, and making it to class each day was excruciating. My only hope was a large travel mug full of burnt cafeteria Breakfast Blend. And though I remember little from those early morning lectures (lo siento, professor González!), I developed a serious dependence on the bean.
Whether it was cup after cup of cafeteria swill — only slightly worse than the office coffee that would later replace it — or the occasional (or not-so-occasional) splurge on lattes or after-dinner espressos, caffeine fueled my body for better or worse for more than a decade. I drank it so regularly that sometimes a cup of joe didn't even affect me, and I'd be left facing that 4 p.m. wall with nothing but a headache.
So when I recently traveled to India, I decided to use the shortage of readily available coffee and the abundance of cheap, delicious chai to kick my habit — at least for a little while. For 30 days, I would stay away from coffee altogether.
It was tough at first, but the fogginess and pain of jet lag disguised my cravings. Add to that the whirl of excitement that is India — an energy boost in itself — and my senses were sufficiently overwhelmed. I didn't even miss it.
Coming home two weeks later, on the other hand, was a bitch. I felt sick and weak, but, determined to complete my 30-day challenge, I refused to give in. I continued the tea habit I had picked up in India, and before I knew it, I had become that person I hated: the tea drinker.
Just kidding — I love tea drinkers; I've just never understood them. But a full month into swapping lattes for loose-leaf, a lightbulb turned on. Sure, tea leaves were a pain to clean up, and whether I drank black, green, or white, I never got as much caffeine into my system. But tea did provide for a much more even-keeled existence. I may never have felt quite as awake as I used to, but I also never felt quite as tired. I was more mindful about getting to bed earlier and had an easier time falling asleep. And, of course, I saved money without all the lattes, too.
I missed the taste of coffee, and I missed the aroma even more. But between the oolong and the Irish breakfast, I was keeping busy. I may have occasionally sneered at energetic people passing me on the sidewalk, to-go cups in hand. I may have looked over my shoulder every so often and wondered, Is it just me, or are my colleagues typing faster? And, gasping for breath in spin class, I may have asked myself if my neighbor was pedaling harder. But at the end of the day, I grew OK with my new steady pace replacing the fits and spurts of yore.
Plus, I learned to really love tea. No longer was I shackled to my morning java cup or beholden to that afternoon shot. In fact, when my 30 days were over, I decided to extend my vacation from coffee, just because I felt like it. I was free and feeling great . . . until the fateful morning I caved and — thinking I'd get the better of my addiction — forked over $5 for a decaf cappuccino. Just one sip and the rest is history: I'm back, baby.