I Am A Coffee Addict and I Am Proud Of It!
Espresso, Flat White, Macchiato, Mocha, Frappuccino, Latte, Ristretto, …
So many of them, yet they are all the same in their core. A humble, beautiful coffee bean.
WHY IS CAFFEINE ADDICTIVE?
OK, maybe the word “addiction” is a little strong in this case. But caffeine is a nervous system stimulant, that’s just a fact.
It stimulates the production of well-known dopamine, responsible for motivation, and just about any pleasurable feeling you can think of – sex, reward, food induced feelings (chocolate).
However, caffeine doesn’t cause a massive surge in dopamine, which would have effectively caused your brain to become short-circuited. This is what happens with other “harder” drugs. They basically throw your brain off the charts, only for the brain to give you a hard time later when it’s trying to put itself back together.
With caffeine, I would rather use the word “dependency”, rather than “addiction”. It seems a little less harsh.
Caffeine hardly endangers your life economically, physically, mentally, and socially; like other drugs do. Although people who have ever seen me taking hours to pick a beverage from a coffee shop’s menu may debate about my mental health.
Yes, if you do drink several cups of coffee a day and then abruptly stop, you might experience some “withdrawal” effects. From my experience, they limit to a few days of an occasional headache. Most of us have them anyway, because of the amounts of stress we are willing to subject ourselves to – kids, job, deadlines, university, school. Some people even thrive in destructive relationships.
Since we are our own worst enemies half the time, it’s hardly fair to blame coffee for a little headache.
HOW DOES CAFFEINE KEEP ME AWAKE?
While we are awake, the cells of the nervous system called neurons, fire away as they please. They have to in order to help us function and to process all the information bombarding us during the day.
The brain creates many chemicals during to make sense out of the messages travelling through the neurons. Think about these chemicals as little translators.
We have already mentioned one of them, Dopamine. Responsible for happy feelings.
There are many other chemicals that are responsible for many different feelings.
Serotonin, which affects many functions from digestion to mood regulation. It’s probably best-known as a mood regulator. Normal levels mean that we are focused and stable. Low levels plunge us into anxiety and sleep problems.
Oxytocin is known as a “love” or “cuddle hormone”, because it’s released when people hug each other or bond mentally. Oxytocin floods the human body during sex, pregnancy and, mainly, childbirth.
Let’s get back to the chemical which enables caffeine to work.
Adenosine is a chemical that is responsible for how tired we feel. After waking up, its levels rise every hour until the evening, when the levels are at its highest. This promotes the feeling of drowsiness and sleepiness.
In order to do so, adenosine must first connect with specific cells that experts call receptors. And this is when caffeine’s cheating nature comes to place.
Think about receptors as a plug socket and adenosine as a plug.
There are many types of these “plug sockets” across the brain, but to one particular type, caffeine looks just like adenosine. Due to this confused receptor (nobody’s perfect, right?), caffeine is able to connect with that particular cell and pretend to be adenosine. The cell is quite happy, thinking it did its job and accepted adenosine.
A little like connecting a US plug into a Mexican one, it works, but the way the electricity flows is hardly ideal.
The caffeine looks like adenosine, but transfers a very different message. Instead of telling us to feel sleepy, as adenosine would have, caffeine tells us to stay awake. But it’s too late, the receptor has already accepted the chemical, so it has to let this “wrong” message come through.
So this is basically it. Caffeine is essentially a con-artist.
WHY DO I LOVE COFFEE?
I don’t even know where to start!
It smells great, as a bean, as well as a beverage. You can prepare it so many ways to suit just about everyone’s taste.
You can even bake with it! Add it so smoothies! Pancakes! Cakes!
There is something exceptional about a morning filled with fresh coffee smell. Even people who don’t drink coffee find a coffee smell relaxing.
Coffee is such a fascinating ingredient to explore, I dare to say it’s comparable to wine.
Just like wine, coffee comes from different parts of the world and these parts pride themselves in producing a certain type of coffee.
- Colombia (my favourite) produces coffee rich in chocolate and caramel tones.
- Indonesia (very popular in my kitchen too) creates coffee with a strong cacao aftertaste.
- Kenya (my least favourite) produces coffee with a certain tartness to it, which can be described as a blackcurrant flavour or tomato-like acidity.
- Ethiopia is also on the tart berry side.
Everyone can choose. Some people love the tartness and acidity in the African coffee beans. I am more of a South America chocolate coffee type of girl.
Also, you can’t beat an atmosphere of a great coffee shop. And I don’t mean Starbucks. I mean, proper local, beautifully looking shop, where people go to work or study with their laptops. Read a book, magazine or newspaper. Meet up with friends.
I think the way to recognise a great coffee shop is the one, where you can imagine yourself sitting alone with your own thoughts without being disturbed.
Not too much hassle or traffic, just people hanging around with a book or a laptop, and a cup of excellent coffee complimented by a slice of cake.
It should also have a decent amount of wood, plants and exposed brick 🙂 I find this extremely relaxing. And I can’t be alone since ALL coffee shops seem to go for this look 🙂
What’s not relaxing about this? I wish I had a local coffee shop like this, where everyone would know me and where I could spend afternoons writing my articles. I can’t quite create that ambiance at home.
That said, I am off to make a Colombian cup of coffee 😉
Coffee is as good a companion for those of us seeking some alone time, as it is for those who seek social interaction.
Coffee basically is culture. It’s not just a drink you quickly pick up to stay awake for an hour longer. Or to focus better at your morning meeting. It’s a ritual. Yes, it does a good job at stimulating our brains, but it also puts us into a special kind of state.
Isn’t’ it great to meet a friend in a coffee shop in the morning or an afternoon? You immediately have a feeling of doing something cultural. It definitely has a different impact on us than sitting in a pub would have.
These interactions are not often long, but they are of a better quality. The conversations are different and you won’t spend half of your monthly wage in a coffee shop.
Don’t get me wrong, going to the pub is great! But sometimes I just want a nice conversation in a relaxed environment with no risk of a beer glass flying in the air.
Also, I don’t have to shout at my associate in the coffee shop. They can hear me just fine.
I didn’t include any boring information as to “What is coffee?” because that’s not what this article was supposed to be about.
Plus, I’m sure most of us already know that it’s a bean from various places in the world that gets picked, dried and roasted to different degrees.
This was more about the background and getting to the bottom of how come coffee is the most widely used “drug” in the world. Because it doesn’t affect us only in a chemical way, like other drugs do. There is nothing quite so social about other drugs.
Yes, most people would probably say I’m wrong and there is a great potential to “enjoy” recreational drugs with friends, but in the end, whatever drug you take, you are alone. Nobody on the outside doesn’t understand you.
Coffee just does it all. It connects people, it makes them come together in beautiful places, it makes every morning better, and it also delivers. It keeps us awake when we need to, even though for some of us, it might just be a placebo effect – good chance is that a lot of us a pretty numb to caffeine, anyway.
As long as you are not exceeding the recommended dose of 400 mg/day, which is more than enough and is very unlikely to go over, unless you have a cup of coffee every hour.
It’s worth keeping an eye on some medications too. If you take a pain relieving medication on a regular basis, it might be worth checking the caffeine content in those, so that you don’t go over your daily recommended intake.
I’m not saying that going over 400 mg/day would kill you instantly, but it can give you uncomfortable shakes and headaches. They are so not worth it.
Enjoy coffee for the culture around it and an occasional pick-me-up, rather than the other way around.
I included coffee in another post about supplements, where I look at caffeine from an athlete’s point of view. Feel free to check it out if you are interested in this aspect.
Leave me a comment below if you wish to share anything with me and thank you for stopping by and reading my post.