Friday, March 11, 2011

Starbucks Made My Life Worth Living Until Quitting Made It Better

People really seem to like to hate on Starbucks. I don't know why-- I guess it's their ubiquity. When a logo can be seen from any street corner in any city in America, people (city-type people) are prone to backlash.

Not me. I love Starbucks. I love so many things about it: I love the coffee, which some people say tastes burned but I feel tastes yummy, especially with four sugars. I love the fact that they sell the beans so you can make your own at home. I'm partial to the Sumatra, but when it's not available I'm comfortable with the Kenya, or the French Roast, or any of the Extra Bold varietals. (I like to imagine that while Extra Bold refers to flavor, more flavor also means more caffeine.) I love the fact that they give their workers competitive benefits and room for advancement. I love the color green (that's just a coincidence). I love the Chocolate Chunk Cookies. I love that when I take a road trip I can count on good coffee the whole way. I love that they will let anyone (anyone) take a dump there. In a city like New York, one must always be aware of one's public restroom options -- particularly if one is a coffee drinker or a parent -- and in a city that sticks to "Restroom for customers only" like it's the eleventh commandment, it's hard for me to even imagine a Manhattan without a Starbuck's on every corner.

Sure, their naming convention for the sizes is kind of lame. Tall, grande, venti, trenta, quatorza, etc. For a long time I resisted it and ordered a large. Defiantly: "Large Coffee." But after a while I thought about it: I come to this same Starbucks three times a week. I talk to the same barista every time. I know, and she knows I know, that Starbucks calls it a "Venti." She knows I'm mounting a pointless rebellion and so do I. In fact, rebelling against the word "venti" may be the most pointless rebellion in the history of rebellions. So I gave in and started saying "Venti." Eventually I got over the feelings of powerlessness and surrender and went back to just loving Starbucks.

So it was a heavy heart that I broke off my intense relationship with the national coffee chain almost a year ago. I didn't just break up with Starbucks, I broke up with coffee altogether, but Starbucks and I were pretty much exclusive -- although I did have a nice little neighborhood coffee place tucked away on the side.

The break came when I started thinking about how much money I spent on my beloved coffee every month: my rudimentary arithmetic told me it was in the neighborhood of $125-$150.  I checked and rechecked that math, and will do so here again for the skeptical reader:

  • $10 per pound of Starbucks Extra Bold Sumatra, times two per week, times four weeks: $80 a month. My wife and I (mostly I) drained two large French Presses a day. I personally drank no fewer than six cups a day.
  • $2.50 per Venti Coffee of the Day per bar shift, times three per week, times four weeks: $30 a month. Going in to a job at 10pm after a full day of caring for a toddler requires a little extra pick-me-up.
  • $2 per random coffee, purchased whenever I happen to walk past neighborhood coffee place while not already holding a coffee, average four a week, times four weeks: $40 a month. Hi, my name is Alex, I'm an addict.

You may look at that math and say, Jesus F. Christ you drink a lot of coffee! And I would be hard-pressed to argue. Moderation has never been my strength; just ask my old friends beer and tequila. And tell them I said hello.

At the time of these initial calculations, I was bartending three nights a week and caring for my son in the daytime while my wife attended graduate school, so we were a one-income, low-income family of three, more than a little short on cash. $150 a month seemed crazy. So I decided to stop drinking coffee for a month and see how I felt.

Why a month and not a week? I knew that it would take at least a week, maybe two, for the withdrawal symptoms (headache, irritability, low energy) to subside. Once I broke that cycle of lift-crash-lift-crash-lift-crash, I wanted to see where my energy levels were. I wanted to see if I missed it. I wanted to see what it was giving me. I wanted to see what I was buying for $150 a month.

A lot of people said, you don't have to drink Starbucks coffee. Get a can of Bustelo from the deli for two bucks. Let's just say that the arithmetic didn't just open my eyes to the dollar amount, but to the amount. That much coffee is too much coffee, whatever it costs. Just drink less, they would say. Another fair point, but moderation, as I mentioned above, is not my strength.

That first month, I learned a few things:

1. Without coffee, the highs aren't too high and the lows aren't too low. I refer here to my energy levels.
2. In my uncaffeinated state, I am not nearly as impatient and irritable as I thought. This observation comes mostly from my wife, but I see her point.
3. Bowel movements can be solid!
4. Bowel movements can be limited to one a day!
5. Bowel movements can be accomplished in under 30 minutes!
6. Withdrawal was pretty rough for three days-- I had a brutal headache for all of day two-- but after that it was fine.
7. I can go to sleep earlier than 3am! Who knew?
8. When I get up in the morning, I might actually get moving less than an hour after rising.

People are really attached to coffee. I don't say this in a judgmental way, because I was every bit as attached myself -- probably more. But I was shocked to find my overall energy levels went up once I got the monkey off my back.

My wife and my son and I drive 12 hours from Brooklyn to Cincinnati a couple of times a year to visit my family, and the last time we did it was a revelation: I wasn't compelled to stop the car every time I saw the Siren in the green circle, I didn't have to stop the car to pee every 30 minutes for 12 hours, and I never felt my eyes closing involuntarily because I was tired. So that was awesome.

After a few months coffee-free, I started drinking tea instead. Yes, there is caffeine in tea, but it's significantly less, and tea doesn't taste good enough to be as addictive as coffee became for me. It's just kind of there. It's the methadone of hot beverages.

Coffee gave me bad breath, made me pee all the time, made me think I had Crohn's disease or something, kept me on edge all day, kept me awake at night, lengthened my morning routine by 90 minutes every day, made my forearms feel like they were connected to a car battery, had me ducking into every Starbucks I saw regardless of time of day or my blood caffeine level, drained my wallet, and stained my teeth.

What do I miss? I miss that nice girl at the Starbuck's on Delancey that gave me a free coffee once in a while. I miss the smell. Coffee smells good. I miss drinking it at brunch. I think that's about it.
Bye, Starbucks! Thanks for the memories. Remember me fondly, as I remember you. I'll stop by to visit when I get nostalgic for the good times. Or when I need to take a dump.

1 comment:

  1. Hmm. You are providing really positive messages about overcoming the caffeine addiction not being as bad as I think it is going to be, but I don't want to believe you. At the first sign of that headache, I caffeinate.