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Slack Tide: Coffee: The original gateway drug

Posted: February 12, 2012 - 1:03am

Hello, my name is Geoff and I’m an arabicaholic.

By this I mean I’m addicted to the Arabica bean, which, along with its cousin canephora (or “robusta”), comprises most of the world’s coffee.

My first experience with Arabica came at 14, when I registered for an AP-heavy high school schedule plus a special “zero” period science lab for students who wanted to enter the Westinghouse (now Intel) Talent Search. Despite my new dark, steamy friend, those 5:30 a.m. wake-ups ultimately made me drop my Westinghouse project — studying the effect of caffeine on mice (no joke) — much in the way I had to quit freshman football because it involved too much running (also, sadly, no joke).

Bottomless high school nights drinking bottomless diner coffee, followed by college, followed by stints at a New York advertising agency and a New York public high school, followed by more writing and grad school for writing, followed by relocation to a cold, dark rainforest with drive-through coffee stands on every other corner, followed by parenthood, then more parenthood — each life step served to increase my Arabica dependence.

Now, I chain-drink coffee all day, every day. I switch to cold beverages some evenings, but these days, I usually stick with the hot stuff, especially if I’m supposed to be productive after dinner or don’t want to fall asleep during “Top Chef.”

And I know I’m not alone. Coffee is the second-most consumed beverage on earth — 2.25 billion cups a day — eclipsed only by water, and that’s because everyone’s so thirsty after all that coffee. Domestically, more than 150 million Americans report using, sorry, I mean drinking coffee every day. That’s half our population — hooked.

In this way, coffee is the original gateway drug.

It starts innocently enough, a couple mugs with friends on a weekday morning. But soon you’re doing Americano, then Breve. Before you know it, you’re strung out on macchiato. You’re taking espresso body shots off the barista and sneaking to the bathroom for bumps of cappuccino, until you wake up days later in a pool of your own steamed milk.

Seriously, though, coffee actually does contain compounds known to affect body chemistry, including several (mild) psychotropic substances and, of course, caffeine, a stimulant. “Psychotropic stimulant.” That sounds like drugs to me.

And the way I take my coffee — double cream, triple sugar — it’s not just a drug. It’s a hot, fat, sweet drug, sort of like the alter ego of bacon-wrapped crack.

Coffee is the only drug acceptable to do: in front of children and the elderly; before performing surgery; while driving a car, operating machinery, flying an airplane or presiding over the United States (one company, Coffee People, even roasts a special “Obama Blend”). And, of course, you can slip coffee in your date’s glass without being sketchy.

It is also the only drug built into the workday. Can you imagine going on your 15-minute “glue-sniffing break?” Or stepping out to huff a quick can of Scotch Guard? You can still do these things, just on your Dept. of Labor-mandated “coffee break.”

Maybe this is the Arabica talking, but isn’t it interesting which “psychotropic stimulants” society condones over others?

I mean, why don’t they show anti-coffee public service announcements on TV? You know, like that fried-egg “This is your brain; this is your brain on drugs” commercial, only for coffee? Throw in some toast, that’s a nice little breakfast.

Maybe we view coffee differently because it boasts proven health benefits. Studies show coffee can reduce risk of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and gallstones; enhance cognitive performance and may even prevent type 2 diabetes. It also makes a delicious ice cream flavor, whereas crushed-up Vicodin does not.

Still, one summer break I drove a catering truck and we were specifically warned—under penalty of docked pay — not to dump returning urns in the parking lot storm drain. Why? Coffee eats away the asphalt. Surely, this same substance can’t be good for the digestive tract, which is, I’d imagine, a good deal spendier to repave.

Now obviously, some handle coffee better than others. My wife, for example, can drink one cup, two tops and stop there. But deprive her of that one? I daren’t even contemplate it.

And I’ve gone to great lengths forestalling such eventualities.

First, there’s the 12-cup auto-drip. If that breaks, or the power fails, we’ve got a Brazilian press. Seriously. I can’t tell how it differs from a French press, but I hear Brazilians are all the rage these days, so I figured I’d give it a try. Now, should the Brazilian press falter, I’ve got a one-cup plastic basket. The final failsafe: instant Folgers.

We often run out of milk, but never half n’ half (which, in a pinch, we put into the baby’s bottle). Sometimes we can’t even scrape together ingredients for rice ‘n’ beans (in which case I whip up a batch of my famous beans ‘n’ beans). But we never, ever don’t have enough coffee to get to 7 a.m., when Douglas Island Breeze In opens.

This recently got me thinking: if I laid in similar supplies of alcohol, it’d be time to check into the “hospital” for “exhaustion.”

Then I started asking myself more self-assessment questions:

Do you ever drink coffee alone? All the time.

Do you drink coffee first thing in the morning? It’s the only reason I get up; that, and a tiny finger poking me in the eye and a voice going “daddy, daddy, daddy, daddy….”

Have you ever injured yourself or someone else as a result of your coffee drinking? No, but I once ruined a very expensive authentic Derek Jeter jersey by dribbling on it.

Am I worried about my arabicaholism? Yes.

Am I going to do anything about it? What can I do? There’s always tea, but that’s like methadone to a heroin addict.

Until then, fellow arabicaholics — no names; let’s stay anonymous — mark your calendars and hoist your mugs: Sept. 29 is National Coffee Day. It’s also the anniversary of the 2008 stock market crash.

On second thought, maybe we’ll want something stronger.

• “Slack Tide” appears every other Sunday in Neighbors. Read more at

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