Zach Dyer is a writer living in Saint Louis. He did his thesis research on coffee farmers in Southern Mexico. Since then, he has visited coffee plantations in Costa Rica and Mexico as well as roasters and cafés across the U.S. He blogs about coffee for Gut Check every Wednesday.
I am not addicted to coffee. Oh, I can see your eyes roll as I type this, but it's true. I don't get a headache if I miss my morning cup; I'm not agitated or moody or completely lethargic without it. I am, however, always up to prove someone wrong about my coffee habit. So when a friend dared me to drink only one cup a day for a week, I agreed.
For a little bit of context into the bet, I drink between three to five cups of coffee a day. Not a venti sized cup, just a regular Joe's eight-ounce cup. This isn't the craziest amount of coffee someone could drink, but it's significant.
(As a side note, I drink enough coffee that I used to argue with my incredulous dentist that I wasn't a smoker on account of the brown stains on the back of my teeth. But that's another post...)
Physically, I was up to the task. Mentally, though, it was a greater challenge than I'd expected. It wasn't the will power so much as the pressure to make my one cup really count. I could feel my brain wrestling with the calculus as I drove past a café on the way to work or saw a fresh pot in the office. Would this be the best time to have it? What if I got called away, and it ends up going cold in its paper cup, deep brown stains bleeding up the seams?
The decision was always a carefully calculated cost-benefit analysis as to whether or not this was indeed the ideal moment to enjoy coffee.
Daniel Schwen, Wikimedia Commons
Tar pit or office coffee?
As I showed up to work on the first day of my challenge, the first thing I said with certainty was, "I'm not going to waste my one cup on that."
"That" was the office drip coffee, a cloudy black liquid slowly burning itself down into a miniature La Brea tar pit. If I have to take the risk and drink this kind of coffee, I'm very superstitious about where I can find the best cup in the building. I'll often go out of my way to get my coffee from the one machine I can usually trust for its relative freshness and taste.
(And no, you don't get to hear where it is -- that's what makes it my machine.)
Overall, though, the morning cup wasn't too hard to pass up. No, the real game started after lunch, around mid-afternoon. This is my favorite time to drink coffee, when I "need" it the most. I could just wait till I got home, but my evening coffee isn't as satisfying as the mid-day cup. With no consistently dependable option in the office, I decided to leave the office once a day, go to a café and get a good cup of coffee.
After a week on only one cup of coffee a day, the bet gave me an interesting perspective on my coffee consumption: the better the coffee, the less I drank. You might think that the better the coffee, the mor
e I would drink. However, I realized the more bad office coffee I drank, the more unfulfilled my taste was, driving me into a vicious cycle to drink more in a subconscious search for better coffee. Days like this, I might have three of four cups of coffee at the office and not have any of the satisfaction that comes with one good cup of coffee. When I left work to get a good cup of coffee, I didn't have the urge to drink any more coffee in the afternoon or even in the evening sometimes.
As with all things, when it comes to good coffee, quality over quantity.