A Re-negotiated Relationship With Coffee

Photo by  Clay Banks

Photo by Clay Banks

Exploring ways to be more present, joyful, and appreciative around a cherished drink.

I reaaaally like coffee.

A lot.

That first sip that caresses my innards and heats me up in all the right places…I’m giddy just thinking about it.

My experience around coffee is far more than just a physical one.

The substance benefits me in many ways: as an emotional comfort, a social lubricant, and even as an (admittedly paradoxical) relaxant.

But coffee, like any popular substance in the 21st century, has come under immense scrutiny despite all the benefits, tangible and otherwise, it brings.

And for good reason.

I think it important that we’re conscious of the things we consume, as well as how we’re consuming them.

For me, this becomes especially true with anything that’s even as remotely popular as is coffee.

The sacred bean is one of those things around which new information arises at a jaw-dropping rate.

It’s not so surprising, given that coffee constitutes a massive part of our economy. Global coffee sales eclipse $100 billion annually, and it was estimated that over 55% of adults in the US drink coffee daily.

It’s then not so difficult to realize that much of the “research” on coffee today, the research that either condemns or praises the stuff, may be skewed by the private interest that is at stake.

The contrast between such “findings” is hilarious.

Coffee is either a life-prolonging miracle nectar or a source of death and disease, with seemingly no in between.

I’m not here to conjure up conspiracy theories around the coffee industry, nor to concretely support one stance over another.

Rather, I want to explore the ways that we can be more conscious around coffee; by changing our relationship, as a collective, to something so widely used presents a massive opportunity to better the world around us.

Photo by  Mike Kenneally

Questions to Ask Around Coffee

For me, my relationship with coffee is defined on simple terms: what is its impact on my life, and what is the impact that my consumption has on others/the world around me?

When I ask myself if it improves my quality of experience, I make sure to best consider all the trade-offs inherent to everything we engage with.

Physical Well-Being

Coffee’s impact on physical health is a highly-debated topic that I’ve, in all honesty, found to be rather infuriating.

Arguments around this subject are often radicalized and un-based, largely ignoring the intensely subjective nature of what we put into our bodies.

My physical health, for example, is undoubtedly improved when I reduce my intake of stimulants. At the same time, however, I’ve found it benefits my physical performance in a number of ways, and I feel great if I balance my intake.

Others react very differently to coffee and caffeine; some are insensitive, some experience mental and physical clarity, some even experience crippling digestive issues.

We can rely, to some degree, on our intuition when assessing whether or not substances like coffee are good for our physical health.

One way I’ve done this is by experimenting with a temporary hiatus from caffeine and other stimulants, typically somewhere around a month in duration, followed by gradual reintroduction; this has been one of the most effective ways that I’ve found to most objectively assess coffee’s impact on my body, and also helps me to appreciate the substance a lot more.

The absurd amount of information on coffee circulating the inter-webs can be of tremendous benefit. I do my best and encourage others to explore vetted, evidence-based content supporting both sides of the coin (a few that I found useful: coffee’s pros and cons13 evidence-based benefits, and some drawbacks).

But its not just physical…

There are many other non-physical factors that are necessary to consider when I reflect on my desire to consume coffee.

The drink nourishes me, emotionally and mentally.

There are many mornings where I enjoy a cup outside in nature, most often with a loved one. Clutching that steaming bundle of goodness enhances my experience, and its in those moments where I really appreciate what I have.

It’s not a necessity, nor a dependency, so this enjoyment is something that carries a lot of weight when I decide whether or not coffee is “good” for me.

…speaking of dependency

Anything consumed in excess is something I consider to have negative impacts on someone’s well-being.

As a recognized behavioral stimulant and culturally habituated event, I think coffee has become a dependency, or addiction, for many.

And we can be addicted, in actuality, to virtually anything.

I, for one, was more psychologically dependent on coffee than I was physically.

While I didn’t experience the headaches, irritability or fatigue that are proven to result from caffeine withdrawal, I noticed that I suffered mentally when I made a conscious effort to curb my consumption of coffee.

Coffee was something I drank (ironically) as a relaxant.

It became something I thought I needed in order to work efficiently and effectively.

I also loved the social aspect of drinking the beverage.

It was these things that made it difficult for me to stop.

After several months of not drinking coffee or any other caffeinated substance, I felt a lot better (and again, this was only the case for me).

I became more mindful around how and why I lean on such stimulants. I became more grateful for them, and enjoy them more when I do have them now.

On that note…how are you drinking your coffee?

I’m most intrigued by the how’s around coffee (and any substance for that matter).

How I drink it, how I relate to it, how the world around me is affected by it.

I ask myself, at least as often as I remember to, where my awareness is when I’m drinking coffee.

Am I enjoying it, or am I craving the effect that I perceive it will have on me?

Has my coffee consumption become yet another mindless necessity in getting my day started, or a crutch on which I constantly lean?

I do my best to focus on sensation: feel the warmth of the mug in my hands, the trickle down my throat and the tingle in my belly.

I do my best to be conscious of things like how I make it, and what it is that I’m making.

…speaking of which, what is it that you’re drinking?

Bad coffee is bad for us.

Many of the studies that I alluded to earlier fail to consider the type of coffee upon which they are based (and this is another reason to take everything with a grain of salt).

Low quality coffee has been shown to often have a substantially larger mycotoxin content (coming from mold on the beans), which has been linked to several not-so-pleasant things like brain and kidney damage.

It’s important to be wary of things like poor quality coffee that tends to be far more toxic, and cheap blends that mix geographically diverse beans and thus amplify the likelihood that you’re coffee will have mold on it.

Environmental Considerations

How we consume coffee has a monumental impact on the environment.

Simply creating more awareness around this fact is an important step.

Part of my renegotiation with coffee has involved becoming aware and diligent about where my coffee comes from.

What communities am I supporting?

What does it take to get from plantation to my kitchen?

Reducing my footprint is tremendously important for me, and I found some wonderful resources that support this endeavor.

If you have any tips, insights, or comments about re-negotiating your relationship with coffee, please share them!