Category: Lifestyle

What does coffee taste like?

Lifestyle Personal

What does coffee taste like?

Or why I love good coffee, and how you can learn to love it, too.

TL;DR: Check out this coffee tasting wheel from Counter Culture Coffee – there’s more than bitter/burnt in coffee flavors!


I’m a coffee lover. It’s the second fact I put in my about page, after “I write stuff.” It’s a big part of my core identity.

I didn’t start out liking coffee. My grandma let me take a sip of her black Folgers instant coffee when I was a wee lass, and I hated it. I went through my teens and early twenties convinced I’d hate it forever; I’d try it every now and again, but it just tasted bitter and gross to me. Ugh. No way.

Then came a holiday gift from my employer in 2005: a $25 Starbucks gift card. “What am I supposed to do with this?” I asked myself. “I hate coffee.”

Well, fortunately for me, 2006 was the year I started shifting my mental paradigm to try to view things I didn’t enjoy as opportunities for growth. So instead of focusing on how I didn’t like coffee, I’d take the opportunity to try a bunch of sugary latte drinks from Starbucks – for free – to see if I might find something I liked.

Surprise! If you put enough sugar and milk in a thing, my mid-20s self was all over it. Cinnamon dolce latte became my go-to, but I tried a variety of hot and iced coffee drinks and found I actually enjoyed several of them. Yay! I became a regular Starbucks visitor. You might say it was my gateway coffee.

In 2007, I attended Camp Unleashed in the Berkshires with my dog, Ben. It happened to fall on an unseasonably cold and rainy autumn weekend, and I was under-dressed and under-prepared to stay in a cabin with no electricity and no heat. I had to buy a pair of sweats from the camp store, and I was cold for most of the weekend. One morning, in a desperate attempt to get warmer, I poured myself a cup of coffee.

At this point, I was still convinced I didn’t actually like coffee. I knew that the sugary Starbucks drinks weren’t representative of “real” coffee, and the time or two I’d tried it at a restaurant, I did not enjoy it. So without even tasting it, I doctored the coffee at camp with a ton of sugar packets and cream. But when I took a sip, it wasn’t the unpleasant, too-bitter drink I expected. It was tasty. Aside from having too much sugar. Huh.

I poured myself another cup a little later in the afternoon, and this time, I put in less sugar. Expecting to cringe, I took a sip… and it was tasty. How was this possible? What had happened?

By the end of that weekend, I was looking forward to every cup of coffee I poured. I’d completely gotten rid of the sugar, and had even enjoyed a cup of coffee black, but found I liked it best with a splash of cream or half-and-half. How was this possible? I remarked upon it to the woman who ran the camp, and she told me the name of the coffee company in New York that supplied the roast.

A little Internet research later, I found a website for a roaster that talked a lot about their roasting methods, their beans, and even recommended some brewing options. This was a whole new world for me. Coffee could taste good? Good coffee was tasty?

Thus began my slippery slope into coffee snobbery.

At this point, I’ve worked my way through basically every home brewing method. I’ve settled on the AeroPress with a metal filter as my preferred brew technique, although I like a good French press, too. I temp the water, brew using an inverted technique favored by baristas for optimal extraction, and have upgraded my coffee grinder repeatedly over the years to get to a good burr grinder.

When paired with good coffee beans, this setup gets me deeply flavorful coffee with all kinds of different tasting notes, depending on the bean. This right here is why I’m writing an app. Not to give too many details, but I want to figure out (and keep a record) of what I like, which will also hopefully help me figure out what to buy when I’m considering something new.

What does coffee taste like?

My entire slide into coffee snobbery started because of the revelation that coffee actually tasted like something, other than burnt or bitter. It wasn’t just a vehicle for caffeine delivery, acceptable only when heavily adulterated by sugar and milk. Coffee, on its own, has all kinds of different tasting notes, depending on the bean, where and how it’s grown, how it’s processed, how it’s roasted, and how you handle it at home.

I’ve been pondering this for years, and have slowly learned more about what I like (largely due to Counter Culture Coffee’s excellent tasting notes, info about the beans, and the occasional limited edition set of beans processed in different ways). I’ve learned that I prefer washed beans over honeyed or sundried beans. I’ve learned that I prefer light roasts, because I enjoy tasting more of the natural flavor of the beans. I prefer citrus or chocolate tasting notes, although I enjoy trying a wide range of coffees.

In other words, it turns out coffee has a diverse range of tasting notes, just like wine tasting, when you start with a high-quality bean that has been roasted and brewed well.

This is why I was super psyched to see Counter Culture Coffee’s Coffee Tasting Wheel when I browsed their site recently for some new beans. I love that it gives coffee enthusiasts language to help identify and discuss what they’re tasting. It’s a great tool to start figuring out what you like.

In thinking about coffee tasting notes as you drink it, you also get a more mindful coffee drinking experience. That was my biggest revelation when coming back to coffee after my caffeine detox a few years ago: mindful coffee drinking was amazing. Actually thinking about the taste, enjoying it, savoring it – that got me into the moment like few things do. I don’t know about you, but I definitely need more things in my life like that; things that inspire me to stop thinking about my to-do list, or what’s going on at work, or that book I’ve been reading, and just be present in the moment.

So yeah, if you’re at all interested in coffee, I encourage you to take a look at the tasting wheel and start thinking about – and enjoying – the coffee you drink. And the next time I talk about how I love coffee, maybe now you’ll understand better how I got there, and what loving coffee means to me.

My social media withdrawal experiment

Lifestyle Personal

My social media withdrawal experiment

In the past few years, I’ve gradually trimmed down my social media exposure. In the past month, I’ve eliminated social media almost entirely. Why take such a drastic step, and how do I feel about it now?

Making the easy cut

It started with Twitter. Every time I opened it, I ran across posts that made me feel depressed or angry or frustrated; usually some combination of the above. Not only was I wasting time there, but it was making me feel some very unpleasant emotions.

Seemed like a no-brainer to quit. At this point, I still have an account there, but very rarely use it. I no longer have the app installed anywhere, and am not logged in from any of my browsers. Aside from occasionally checking there for updates from some of my favorite content creators, whose Twitter handles I have memorized and browse to directly, I don’t really interact with it.

You know something? I don’t miss it.

Waffling over Facebook

The other social media site where I spent time regularly was Facebook. I was super torn about my time there. I’m really unhappy with Facebook as a company. I feel that the org does a lot of harm, in a variety of ways. I’ve wanted to stop using Facebook for years.

On the flip side, I’ve also felt compelled to maintain an account there. It’s where I do a lot of interacting with IRL friends. I’ve used it to stay in touch with a lot of family members who I don’t regularly talk with. I’ve used it to connect with and stay connected with interesting people I’ve met at various events. I’ve reconnected with some of the folks I knew in high school, and it’s been fun to be in touch with them again.

I’ve also used it to stay in touch with local and special-interest events and communities. There are several local groups I’ve been a member of in Facebook, as well as a group of folks who are doing ambulance-to-RV conversions, a motorcycling group where I was once an active member, and groups formed around events and classes I’ve attended.

I use it to discover local events here in Vermont. Many local small businesses don’t even have their own websites; they create Facebook pages, and that’s where you have to go to find out about hours, daily specials, and events. I really enjoy attending local events as a way to connect with my community, and I want to support local small businesses – so I’ve felt like I need that touchstone with them, and the only place I can get it is Facebook.

Finally, I’ve used Facebook for work. My publishing empire has pumped a lot of money into Facebook ads, which drove a majority of my sales and newsletter signups. When I was advertising regularly, Amazon’s ad platform was not as robust and not nearly as effective; I don’t know if that has changed in the past few years. I stopped advertising when I fell behind schedule in publishing new books, but I’ve always intended to get back to that when I have the time, so I rationalized that keeping Facebook was required.

The rise of Slack

While also maintaining my Facebook account, I’ve been gradually joining more and more Slack groups. I’m currently a member of eight Slack workspaces, which have a combined membership of over 20,000 people. That’s a lot of conversations.

  1. It started with a Slack workspace for work in 2016.
  2. Then, one of the folks at work spun off a Slack for an open-source project he started, which I joined to help with that project, and also to stay in touch with friends there.
  3. I got involved with another project with this friend – a volunteer emergency management association group – which has another Slack workspace.
  4. I heard about a leadership Slack from another person at work, who said that’s where stays in touch with his friends, and thought I’d find a lot of interesting conversations there.
  5. From there, I found out about a women-in-tech Slack in one of the hidden backchannels.
  6. One of my friends on Facebook pointed me at a Slack group for technical writing.
  7. In addition to the Slack workspace my current gig has, they also have a Support Slack where I’m a member.
  8. Kay and I started our own Slack for collaborating on projects among ourselves, and with our friends.

All told, that’s a lot of conversations to follow. I’m in a handful of channels in most of those Slack groups; as many as 10 to 12 in one or two. That’s a whole lot of information for one person to consume, while also working a regular 40-hour work week and trying to have a personal and social life. I hate to say this, but it’s almost enough to make me miss Facebook’s helpful algorithms that attempt to surface the content I’ll find most interesting.

A lot of these Slacks are of interest to me, personally and professionally, so I’ve been drowning in trying to keep up with them. I’d remove one or another from some device, but end up adding it back, or just looking at it on another device.

Acknowledging the problem

I was checking in on these social platforms several times per day. I’d attempt to keep the check-ins to a few minutes each time, but sometimes I’d get sucked into longer conversations – that seemed really interesting and important – and then realize I’d lost a half hour or an hour at a time. Gone.

After my rafting incident, I was really struggling to figure out what I was doing with my life, where my place was in the world, and whether I was doing what I really wanted to be doing with my work and my time. All of this deep, heavy thinking, combined with poking around these social platforms as I flailed and indulged in some escapism, meant lost productivity. As I bill hourly, and saw fewer hours logged per day, I began to realize this was becoming an issue.

The proverbial nail in the coffin was a rather innocuous point of crotchety-old-woman ranting that raised a startling awareness. Someone in one of my Slack groups posted in the Main channel one afternoon: “Just wanted to shout out that it’s my birthday today, whoop whoop!”

This is hugely poor Slack etiquette; pretty much all of the members of a Slack are in the Main (or General) channel. It’s meant to be used for things that might be of interest to the entire Slack, or to ask about where to discuss things if you’re uncertain which channels are appropriate (depending on the Slack – some Slack groups have a separate channel for that). So this person was basically blasting out to 6,200 people some totally self-indulgent and uninteresting fact in what was a blatant attention grab.

I was not amused by this, but was amused by my own observation that it was an attention grab, so I went and posted about it on Facebook. And as I was writing the post, realized that my post about this person’s post was essentially the same thing, but on a much smaller scale. “Hey, I made this pithy observation about human hubris, look at me.”

I did call myself out in the post as I was writing it, but posted it anyway to demonstrate the irony. (And because I try not to self-edit when I realize unflattering things about myself… we all have those things, and sometimes it helps to connect to someone else’s humanity through them, and/or realize similar things about yourself.)

When I realized that, though, I started thinking more about the performative aspect of social media. I regularly post about what I’m up to, or experiences I have, because (I think) the people I’m friends with want to know what’s going on with me and enjoy hearing/reading it. But there’s certainly a performative/attention-seeking aspect to it that made me uncomfortable. And then I realized that if I’m truly friends with those people, I’ll talk with them outside of social media, and can share updates in a more one-on-one way. And if I’m not truly friends with those people, then what am I doing wasting my time performing to them/reading about them?

I know there’s a lot more complexity and value to social media, but this series of realizations, combined with the fact that I was demonstrably losing productivity by billing fewer hours, meant it was time for me to take a serious look at my social platform usage.

Going cold-turkey

Right, then. It was clearly time to curtail my use of these social platforms; at least, temporarily. I decided on an experiment: I would deactivate (but not delete!) my Facebook account, and remove several of the non-work Slacks from my devices.

I’m down to four Slack groups on my main computer – the two work Slack groups, the one with my friend’s open source project (where I interact with those friends for a weekly meetup, and otherwise the traffic is non-existent, because it’s only about 50 people), and the Slack that Kay and I set up for ourselves/our friends on projects. We regularly use that one to share code and work-related tips and tricks, so keeping it alive seemed useful, even when we also have Messenger to communicate (and our offices are literally next to each other).

I have two additional Slacks on my phone; the one for the volunteer emergency management association, and the one for tech writers. Shortly before I started this experiment, I volunteered to help set up and run remote meetups for the tech writing group, so I still need to be available there when the other organizers ping me. I’m set to “Away” there, have notifications other than direct messages turned off, and try to only check it outside of work hours; maybe while drinking my morning coffee, or during the evening while waiting for the dogs to come inside.

My laptop still has all of the Slack groups, but I basically don’t use Slack on it anymore; it’s the machine that sits next to my chair in the living room, so I can use it if I want to poke a project in the evening. I don’t pick it up unless I’m doing something specific, which does not include random Slack browsing.

My initial thought was to try this for a few days, or maybe a week, to see how well it worked out. I wanted to see if I could regain some productivity, and maybe some free time in the evenings. I wanted to see if I could live without Facebook, which would mean being more disconnected from my local community.

It has now been about five weeks since I pruned my social platforms and deactivated my Facebook account. I have not, even once, been tempted to reactivate my Facebook account. I have not felt like I was missing some form of enrichment by not participating in conversations in my pruned Slack groups.

Aside from the initial compulsion to check the things in the first few days after removing them – which made me realize how habitual it had become to poke Facebook and these Slack groups – I haven’t really noticed it being gone, except that I now have more time to myself. I couldn’t even remember how long it had been since I removed them; I had to look up an event that was happening around that time to figure out when it was.

My one – slight – regret has been that I didn’t announce my intent to deactivate Facebook prior to doing it, and leave it active for a few days, so my friends would know what happened and could reach out to me in some other way. I didn’t want to do the whole dramatic “I’m leaving Facebook” thing if it didn’t stick, and I really thought at the time it would be an experiment I’d try for a few days or a week, but I’d then reactivate Facebook. A few friends have noticed my absence and reached out to me, and I felt bad that they were worried or that I hadn’t clued them in.

At this point, I’m leaning toward making this the new normal. I like the extra free time. I like not having to worry about whether I’m missing an important or interesting conversation. I like not having to remind myself that differing political views do not inherently make someone less worthy of respect. And I like not feeling like I’m someone’s product, and knowing I’m not silently condoning Facebook’s moral bankruptcy and commoditization of its users’ personal information by continuing to use it in spite of my reservations.

Still “leaning toward,” though… not quite ready to go all-in and actually delete my Facebook account, versus its current deactivated state. Leaving it sitting there, deactivated, is kind of like a safety blanket. I know I can go back if I change my mind. I don’t want to now, but I don’t know what might happen in the future.

What if I want to reach out to the people there again? What if my husband dies, for example, and I feel isolated living here in a small community in Vermont and want to reach out to my friends across the U.S. as a way of coping? Or what if I decide to change jobs, or career trajectories entirely, and want to reach out to my personal network to find out about opportunities or share new business ventures?

FOMO is what has kept me connected to these social networks, and FOMO is what’s preventing me from making the break entirely and deleting the Facebook account. Maybe some more distance from this break that started as an experiment will make it easier to pull the trigger and make it permanent.

Investing in good equipment

Business Coding Lifestyle Personal Writing

Investing in good equipment

A younger, more innocent me bought a 13″ mid-2014 MacBook Pro on closeout in early 2015. My main tasks for my computer at that time were writing documents in word processors (Pages) and using CMSs to create and publish content. I thought I might do some light video editing of travel videos for Corporate Runaways, but didn’t have much need or desire for a powerhouse machine. I had an external monitor for additional screen real estate, and mostly used the laptop screen for reference material.

Fast forward to 2019. In the past few years, I’ve started doing docs-as-code in conjunction with a few open source projects. From the open source project side, this has involved setting up local development environments on my machine, and running apps locally so I can document them. From the documentation side, this has involved using static site generators to create doc sites from files (markdown, mostly). My work needs have definitely gotten more intensive.

Then, this spring, I dove into Swift. When I decided to learn to code so I could write an app I want to use, I took a gradual approach. I worked through some Swift Playgrounds stuff on my iPad, and then read a book or two about coding and Swift. I brainstormed the data structure for my app, and made UML diagrams. Eventually, I took a couple of online classes on Xcode and Swift.

Between my technical writing work and my app development, my 13″ laptop + external monitor had begun to feel cramped. What had once felt sufficient for doing marketing writing in a single window, with maybe a reference window alongside, had now become a nightmare of overlapping windows and constant swapping. I wanted more screen real estate so I could have multiple windows open for reference and working simultaneously, and I wanted those windows to be bigger.

But mostly, I wanted Xcode to not just laugh at me when I attempted to compile things, or – even worse – not have Xcode sputter when I attempt to Auto Run a Playground so I can see how things are working as I code.

One of the classes I took involved working in Playground files on my machine as I followed the instructor’s videos. I had to keep pausing the instruction video to wait for my local Playground to respond to my inputs, while the instructor did the exact same thing in the video and then happily chugged along with his much more powerful machine.

It was clear. Xcode was a memory/processor hog, and I had too little of both. I’d been bumping up against those limits for a while now with my other work, but the app development pushed me over the edge. So it was time… time to upgrade my equipment.

(Don’t get me wrong – that little 13″ mid-2014 MBP did well to get me into mid-2019 without a hitch, and is still chugging along happily with less intensive tasks; it’s my “couch computer” now.)

I looked around at the options. I could get a newer, more powerful MacBook Pro. But I’d still have limited screen real estate, and that was chafing more and more. Also, I essentially never use my laptop as a laptop these days; I work exclusively at my desk, with my Kinesis Advantage2 keyboard and my external monitor setup. Could it be time to go back to a desktop, when I still remembered fondly the liberating joy of going from a PC tower to my first laptop back in the mid-2000s? It seemed like such a step back, it was hard to fathom.

But the more I thought about it, the more it seemed to make sense to get a desktop again. I never use the laptop as a laptop. I could get better CPU/more RAM significantly cheaper with a desktop. And then I could have another big monitor, giving me the screen real estate I’ve been craving.

I decided to go back to a desktop. I clearly didn’t need a powerhouse like the newly-announced Mac Pro, so I wasn’t going that route. I looked at the Mac mini; a capable little machine. I looked at the iMac, with its beautiful monitor. I looked at the iMac Pro – nope, that’s more than I need.

Waffle. Research external monitors. Waffle. Spec out both machines to a level that would support my current needs, plus some future-proofing. Cringe at the price tag. Waffle some more. Deal with some stupid imposter BS because my husband is the experienced web dev, and how could I justify spending that much on a setup for my less-intensive work + dabbling in Swift development; an entirely self-driven project that may never make me a penny?

Eventually, I drove the hour to the nearest Apple store to see an iMac in person. And then I sat myself down and gave myself a pep talk about giving myself permission to invest in my skill development. Maybe I’ll get more heavily into coding as a tech writer. Maybe I’ll love developing in Swift so much that I’ll pivot to Mac app development. Or maybe I’ll write this app, but then decide that coding isn’t something I want to pursue beyond that. I won’t know unless I give myself the room to develop those skills and see what happens, but it is 100% OK to invest in my career potential.

So I pulled the trigger, and got a beautiful 27″ iMac. And it isn’t the entry-level iMac, either; it’s closer to the top tier, to give myself room for growth.

And you know what? It is frigging delightful. It’s so fast. And the screen is so beautiful. It’s a little painful to use it right next to my old external monitor, which isn’t even 4k; the resolution drop and seeing visible pixels is a little jarring looking back and forth. I expect I’ll upgrade that, too, soon. But my tech writing work has been much more hassle-free with the extra screen real estate, and staring at text on a retina-resolution screen is delightfully enjoyable.

So here’s a reminder, if you need one, too: investing in good equipment is an important part of taking your professional life seriously. This is mission critical for remote workers who don’t have office-supplied equipment. I see a lot of remote workers sitting on their couch and typing on a laptop keyboard; that’s a good way to ruin your hands, your back, your posture, and reduce your efficiency and output. (Trust me, that’s how I started out with my remote work back in 2007.)

Yes, I am extremely privileged to be able to spend the money on an Apple device; I know you pay a big premium for their products. And I know that not everyone has the financial freedom to invest in big, splashy monitors and professional-quality office equipment; especially for folks who are the sole breadwinners, or supporting family members. But it is worthwhile to put money aside and invest in the equipment you need for your career, in whatever form you’re able and whatever that equipment looks like for you.

I am very much enjoying my new setup.

My strange caffeine detox journey

Lifestyle Personal

My strange caffeine detox journey

If you know me at all, you know I’m a devoted coffee snob. I have an AeroPress at home and a second one at the office where I’ve been contracting for almost a year. I have not one, but two expensive burr grinders so I can always brew from fresh beans (one at home, one at the office). I temp the water before I brew. (Different beans extract ideally at different temps – I generally prefer anywhere from 85C to 95C depending on the bean, but 92C seems to be about my sweet spot.) And I buy rather expensive single-source beans from a local roaster.

So it came as a big surprise to my friends and family when, leading up to Memorial Day Weekend, I announced my intent to do a caffeine detox.

It started as my attempt to give up diet soda – I’d usually drink Coke Zero at lunch and dinner, and sometimes extra Coke Zero throughout the day. I know the chemicals in that stuff are going to kill me someday, so I decided I wanted to stop drinking it. Soda entirely, really – the diet stuff is full of chemical crap, and the non-diet stuff is jam-packed with unnecessary sugar, and I really don’t need any of that in my life. Plus, I lost a bunch of weight when I stopped drinking soda in 2005, so I thought it might be a good way to jump-start a healthier lifestyle again.

When I was thinking about it giving up soda, though, I realized I’d gotten entirely too accustomed to drinking a lot of caffeine, period. I’d start my workday with a latte. I’d have Coke Zero at lunch. I’d have a latte or a mocha mid-afternoon when I started feeling sleepy at the office. I’d have Coke Zero at dinner. Sometimes, when we’d eat out, I’d have a coffee with dessert. Basically, caffeine every few hours from morning ’til bedtime. I thought: “You know, while I’m trying to clean up my soda-drinking habits, maybe I should just stop drinking caffeine entirely. Just for a little while. Get through the withdrawal, and then drink less of it when I start drinking it again.”

So I did.

I planned to start over Memorial Day Weekend, because I’d have an extra day off and I knew I’d have massive headaches due to the caffeine withdrawal.

I was right.

The extra day off wasn’t really enough. I ended up working at home for a couple of days once the weekend was over. It wasn’t until an entire week had passed since I last drank caffeine that the headaches let up. And we’re talking migraine-level headaches for days 2-4, and then pretty bad headaches from 5-7. It was no walk in the park.

Week two was about feeling exhausted, all the time. I never really thought about what that must be doing to my body – how every time I started to get tired during the day, I’d just add some more caffeine. As a result, I had unconsciously programmed my body that whenever it sent me a sleepy signal, I’d just give it a chemical upper. I had completely messed with my body’s natural energy cycle, and it didn’t really know what to do once the caffeine wasn’t coming in again.

I’d wake up feeling relatively ok. But by the time an hour had passed – when I’d normally be drinking my morning latte or coffee – my eyelids didn’t want to stay up on their own. I had NO energy. I just wanted to go back to bed. Mid-morning, I’d be dragging. But mid-afternoon, when I always tend to get sleepy, was the worst. I’d literally be staring at my computer, and no matter how much effort I put into keeping my eyelids open, they would not stay open. I never fell asleep at my desk, but there were times when I’d sit there with my eyelids closed because I just literally couldn’t keep them open. I’d give them thirty seconds and force them open again, or go for a walk to try to get some blood flowing and give me some energy. But I think week two was even harder than the headaches – I could barely focus, and there’s something really debilitating about just being exhausted all the time.

By week three, I’d gotten a little apprehensive about what was going to come next. Was it going to be headaches again? Was the perpetual exhaustion about to descend on me again? When neither manifested, I thought: hey, maybe that’s it. Maybe the withdrawal is done. I started thinking about when I might start drinking caffeine again, and what form that might take.

One day, in the afternoon, I was feeling sleepy and also craving chocolate, so I thought about getting myself a hot chocolate. I know hot chocolate has caffeine in it. I did some spelunking to determine how much. Turns out, it depends. Generally, anywhere from 5mg to 20mg of caffeine in a hot cocoa, versus 80mg to 200mg in coffee, depending on the bean and the brewing method. I decided that was benign enough, so I treated myself to a hot cocoa around mid-week during week three.

MAN, I felt that caffeine!

That hot chocolate tasted effing amazing. And I felt SO GREAT after I drank it. I felt like I could do ALL THE THINGS. My mood lifted, I had so much more energy and focus, and I was super productive for the rest of the afternoon.

That’s when I realized two things:

  1. Wow, the body really adjusts quickly to not having caffeine. I thought I’d barely feel it, because I’d been drinking so much caffeine before, but let me tell you I felt the results and was very aware that the caffeine was affecting me.
  2. Oh shit. This might be worse than I realize. If even a little hot cocoa makes me feel this way, I’m going to have to be damn careful about how I re-introduce caffeine to my life. Maybe I shouldn’t drink caffeine again at all?

I wrestled with that for a few days. On Sunday, about five days after the hot cocoa and a little ways into week four, I decided to try a latte from one of my favorite local coffee shops. I was going to be deliberate about it – we sat there and had breakfast, and I savored the crap out of it. It was one of the most amazing coffee-drinking experiences I’ve ever had. And I realized: mindful coffee drinking is even more mind-blowing than habitual caffeine consumption. (This was the latte in the picture at the top of the post. Yes, I took a picture of it. It tasted even better than it looks.)

The rest of that day was amazing. I was SO PRODUCTIVE. I did a million chores, and got a bunch of writing stuff done, and didn’t feel like napping at 3 o clock or any of the normal stuff.

Then, when night rolled around, I was still feeling pretty energetic when it was time to go to bed. I forced myself to lie down, but my brain wouldn’t shut off – I laid there tossing and turning for a couple of hours, just thinking about everything and nothing, because my brain was too busy for sleep.

The next day was rough. And I knew it was because of the caffeine. I could still feel it in my system 24 hours after I drank it. But by the time mid-afternoon had rolled around – around 30-32 hours post caffeine – I was crashing. I think most of it had left my system, and combined with the lack of sleep the night before, I was exhausted. I barely made it through the rest of the day, and I canceled my evening plans because I just didn’t have brain.

Then I started to wonder if I should really be drinking caffeine anymore. If one latte, drank first thing in the morning, could have that effect – should I even be ingesting this stuff, period?

But I enjoyed it so much. And I had felt so productive and focused.

When Thursday of that week rolled around, I was absolutely dragging. I woke up feeling really cranky and grumpy. I could barely keep my eyes open. I made a decision: I’m going to get a mocha this morning. I want the chocolate and caffeine, for the mood elevation and to help me wake up. Otherwise, work is going to be very unpleasant, not just for me, but for anyone who encounters me.

It was a good call. That mocha was amazing. By the time I got to work, I was happy and chatty. (Mildly obnoxious, too – I announced to at least a half dozen people that I’d had a mocha that morning, and I even made it my Slack status. I had previously shared with people at work that I was caffeine detoxing, so I wanted to let them all know the good news when I started drinking it again. In retrospect, I may have been mildly caffeine-high.)

In the end, I didn’t regret drinking that mocha at all. I’d made a very intentional decision to have it, because I wanted it (and perhaps because I felt I needed it), and it had the desired effect.

Now here we are into week five. It’s Sunday, and I’ve just bought a mocha again. This is my third caffeine-based beverage in about four and a half weeks. (Well, really, my third in the last week, because that’s when I started drinking them again – last Sunday.)

I thought, when I walked up the street to pick it up, that I finally had it figured out.

I could have coffee-based drinks when I wanted them, and ONLY then. Not when I felt I needed them. Not when I was feeling sleepy, or tired, or cranky. Not out of any sort of craving or habitual need – I’d gotten used to lattes every morning, and again every afternoon/evening, and I don’t want to get back to that state. Only when I deliberately, mindfully, WANTED a coffee-based drink should I have one. I was pretty happy with that decision while I was sipping my mocha on the way home.

But now that I’m sitting here, typing this out and thinking about my reactions, I’m wondering if that’s really a good call. I made the decision to have a mocha on Thursday because I was cranky and tired and couldn’t keep my eyes open. Was it really that I WANTED it, or did I feel I needed it?

How much can I trust myself to judge the difference between want and need?

I don’t want to get back to a dependency state, because withdrawal was no good and it can’t be healthy for my body to be going through all that. The migraine-level headaches completely eliminated my ability to do anything substantive in days two through four. The exhaustion I felt during all of week two of my detox made me realize how I’d been putting my body through all kinds of crazy, unnatural swings with the sleepy/caffeine cycle. I feel like the caffeine was just masking the fact that my body was actually tired, and shouldn’t I be listening to my body? Isn’t that the whole point of mindfulness?

There’s also the fact that it feels wonderful to be so focused and productive when I drink caffeine. I feel like I get so much done. (I really do get so much done.) But it also just feels like a better mental state. And how is that different than any of the more serious, less socially-acceptable drugs? It feels like a slippery slope to me. Not that I ever have, or ever would, use “real” drugs – with my family history, that’s just not a thing that would happen. But in terms of how it affects the body, and wondering whether I can trust my mind when I’m making a decision about whether or not to have caffeine – all of the same psychology of addiction applies, I’m beginning to realize.

There’s the added complication that this coffee-consumption is tied into my identity as a writer. I love sitting at my desk, typing away and drinking coffee. It’s a really satisfying ritual. But how much of that is habitual?

And coffee helps me through those lagging cycles, where I want to stop and rest, instead letting me sit in front of my keyboard and just keep on working. But is that the healthiest thing? Shouldn’t I instead get up and talk a walk, or exercise, or nap?

Let’s not forget the fact that coffee and writers go hand-in-hand like peanut butter and jelly. It’s a huge part of the cultural identity of writers. If I stop drinking coffee entirely, does that mean I’m less a writer than other writers? It does feel alienating.

In short, this is a way more complicated question than I thought it would be when I stopped drinking caffeine on Memorial Day Weekend. The coffee detox was only supposed to be temporary – no more soda, but I’d go back to drinking coffee because I love coffee and I don’t have a medical reason not to.

But now, I have to wonder… is it really that simple? I’ve seen very clear signs of the physical effects, and I don’t think it’s such a straightforward question anymore. So I guess today, I’ll finish drinking this mocha, and savor it, and acknowledge that I have some thinking to do about whether caffeine has a place in my life long-term, and if so, how it will fit in.