Alyson and Pearl’s Excellent Coffee Adventure

Two qualified journalists/coffee-abstainers experience the effects of caffeine—It’s enough to drive you crazy if you let it. Illustration by Pearl McNames and Alyson Sutherland.

According to the National Coffee Association (NCA), 62 percent of Americans drink coffee every day.  I see my family and friends unable to function without coffee in the morning, and wonder, how did this happen? Many have tried to convert me, but I have always resisted. The few times I have tried coffee, I found I had a strong distaste for the flavor and the effects it had on me. What was it like to enjoy this beverage? For it to be the only thing that gets you out of bed? I set out to find the answer for myself, bringing along my fellow writer and illustrator, Alyson. 

When I, the aforementioned Alyson, told my family that I’d be drinking coffee for a week, they responded with a resounding “why would you do that to yourself?” I’ve always been discouraged from coffee, as caffeine-delirium seems to run in my family. My parents have been known to drink a dozen mugs between them in one morning, and Trader Joe’s instant coffee accounts for at least 13 percent of our expenses. My mom is the shameless owner of a “Death Before Decaf” T-shirt, and only recently left the Facebook group after deleting her account. Although I wasn’t going into this completely inexperienced, I can’t say that I ever gave coffee a chance prior to the experiment. In the past I’d occasionally have a bottle of Starbucks’ chilled coffee, or accidentally mistake my parents’ Folgers for hot chocolate, but that was all I had to my name as a coffee drinker. Somehow, feeling like a zonked-out squirrel who just narrowly escaped being sucked under nine consecutive semi-truck tires never appealed to me. Going into the experiment, I felt certain that nothing would happen. I joked about getting addicted, but never really considered that one week alone could get me hooked. Before even starting my temporary status as a coffee-drinker, I began formulating my conceited conclusion of triumph over those supposedly life-altering grounds; or in my case, cheap crystals. Despite being related to the living consequences of coffee addiction, I was so sure that it couldn’t happen to me. How foolish I was.   

For this undertaking, we decided on drinking one coffee beverage per day for a week. If we felt it was not enough, we would up the dosage. This may seem like a meager helping to coffee fanatics, but keep in mind that we are not seasoned to this amount of caffeine and it will have a great effect on us. Additionally, we are journalists, not scientists. Whatever we experience could be 100 percent placebo effect and we would have no evidence to prove otherwise. With that being said, we begin our coffee quest. 

Alyson, Day 1: Starbucks Frappuccino – Coffee

For my first day of drinking coffee, I decided to start with something familiar: the previous day, I’d gone to the store and bought a few of my old Starbucks Frappuccino bottles (specifically the coffee flavor—look at her, being on topic). And yes, I’m aware that these are essentially nine fluid ounces of cream and sugar, but remember that I am a weak little beginner and actual coffee tastes yucky. I didn’t feel much of an effect, however I went to the arcade later that day and recall nearly breaking the button of the Spin N’ Win; I’m not sure if that was the caffeine or just the high from the gamble.  

Pearl, Day 1: Drip Coffee

To begin with, I drank a cup of apparently low-quality coffee with oat milk. My sister, an avid coffee drinker, rated it 4/10. I was surprised by how tolerable the taste was. After breakfast, I found myself motivated enough to do several chores I would normally procrastinate on. I noticed when I was still I could feel my heart beating in my chest, which was a bit off-putting. I was also a little dizzy and anxious. I crashed near the end of the day, but that could have just been my erratic sleep schedule.

Alyson, Day 2: Folgers Classic Roast Instant Coffee, Starbucks Frappuccino – Coffee 

I decided to up the ante on day two, busting out a new canister of Folgers’ instant coffee; little did I know this would mark the beginning of an arduous, slightly obsessive devotion: “You’re horrible, but I can fix you.” I was under the impression that I could handle the taste of black coffee, but soon found that I couldn’t even finish drinking it. For lunch, I brought another bottle of Starbucks cold coffee to make up for the little amount of caffeine I’d managed to keep down earlier in the day. For the remainder of my classes, I became completely infatuated with covering every available space in my notebook with drawings—to the point where I could feel people becoming annoyed with my loud, borderline-violent scribbling. 

Pearl, Day 2: Trader Joe’s French Vanilla Cold Brew

For convenience’ sake, I stashed up on cans of cold brew for the week so I wouldn’t have to figure out how to make coffee every day. I found myself shaking and noticeably more energetic than usual. I was somewhat overwhelmed, and couldn’t keep track of all the thoughts I had. I also felt more forgetful and distracted than usual.

Pearl, Day 3: La Colombe Coffee Draft Latte with Oat Milk

The beverage I drank today advertised itself as an oat milk latte in a can. It said the caffeine was equivalent to 1 ½ cups of coffee. The taste was a bit odd, but I finished it. At this point I had developed a habit of holding my hand out in front of me to see how shaky I was, and on this day it was more twitchy than shaky. Later in the day I had an upset stomach, likely because I neglected to eat breakfast with the coffee. I started to crash in third period.

Alyson, Day 4: Folgers Classic Roast Instant Coffee, 16oz iced coffee 

With no backup Starbucks and a laziness that eliminated any notions of driving to a coffee shop, I decided to give Folger’s a second chance. Only this time I poured a skosh* (*about half the jug) of cream and sugar in to offset the bitterness. I was feeling pretty proud of myself for keeping down my first full mug of instant coffee—just think, one day I might down a mug with as little as three cups of Coffee-Mate. At around noon, I decided to try iced coffee since that morning’s success was wearing off; the extra boost of energy would come in handy during an exhausting political debate with my die-hard capitalist uncle.

Pearl, Day 4: Trader Joe’s French Vanilla Cold Brew

On this day I found myself beginning to use the energy boost as an excuse to stay up later into the night. I had another vanilla cold brew and ate a banana with it hoping that would help. The effects were not as intense this time, but I was a bit more energetic than I would’ve been otherwise.

Pearl, Day 5: Mysterious Homemade Caffeine Concoction

My dad was kind enough to make coffee for me today with his alarmingly loud coffee machine. I only became aware of the intensity of this drink after texting him to ask. He apparently put two shots of espresso in it, which explains why it tasted more bitter than the other drinks I’d had. This was probably the most intense day for me. I was very shaky, dizzy, and had a fast heartbeat and lots of energy. I had more trouble focusing (though that may have been an excuse to avoid schoolwork) and found myself talking a lot. I also felt like the increased energy actually made my mood more positive than usual, which was nice.

Pearl, Day 6: Trader Joe’s Organic Cold Brew Coffee

The last cold brew I had was a bottle rather than a can, and it came as straight black coffee with some espresso in it. I combined it with some milk and sugar and went on my way. On top of the same old dizziness, shakiness, and forgetfulness, I noticed a sort of brain fog on this day. I crashed again after a few hours.

Alyson, Day 7: Folgers Classic Roast Instant Coffee 3x 

According to the NCA, the average American drinks about three cups of coffee per day. For the final day of the experiment, I decided to see what it felt like being the average American, accompanied by our favorite recurring character, Folgers instant coffee. As far as any notable effects, there wasn’t much of a difference besides the typical boost in energy/an improved overall tolerance for being awake. However, I do recall my sister telling me to shut up because I couldn’t stop whisper-singing the same four verses from “9-5,” which probably had to do with my pouring three cups of ambition.  

Pearl, Day 7: La Colombe Coffee Triple Shot Draft Latte

The last can of cold brew I had claimed to contain three shots of espresso, which frightened me into only drinking part of it. I was a little dizzy and distracted, but I had almost gotten used to the feeling. I got the random urge to go on a long bike ride which felt like a nice ending to this journey.

Epilogue:

Pearl: After my week of coffee consumption, I expected to feel some kind of withdrawal, but nothing notable happened. I went back to my tea and never looked back. I can see myself drinking coffee again if necessary, which seems likely seeing as I’ll be heading to college next year. Overall the extra energy was nice, but not worth the side effects. At least I now know that I don’t mind the taste in case I ever decide to take it up again. 

Alyson: On the morning after the experiment concluded, I found myself feeling saddened by the sight of my coffee-making setup. I had only been a coffee-drinker for a week, and yet it felt like part of me was missing. No longer could I berate my friends and family with the latest news of my caffeine crashes, or update them with my attempts to make Folgers instant coffee taste a little less like gutter soy sauce mixed with gasoline. Later in the day, I had a ruthless headache; my classes seemed to drag on forever. Whether this was the result of my sudden caffeine abstinence or just the way I normally felt coffee-free, I wanted no part of it. The next day, I had a heated debate with myself about whether I should swap my orange juice with gutter soy sauce for breakfast. Ultimately, gutter sauce prevailed. At the time of writing this, I’ve continued drinking coffee (nearly) every morning. Suffice to say, whatever conclusion I had written in my notes app prior to starting the experiment has been promptly deleted. My sincerest apologies to anyone I’ve disappointed or harmed with my misjudgments; life is just better with coffee.

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