Posted on Sep 21, 2015
Posted in Writings


I wouldn’t say that my life is significantly worse since I decided to give up caffeine. Kind of in the same way that I wouldn’t say my life is better now that my limbs have all fallen off. Though I now happily don’t get the shakes and an adrenaline-fueled surge that makes me feel like I’m either about to save the world from fire breathing dragons or have a nervous breakdown resulting in behaviors normally reserved for the second day of menses: fetal position, possible whimpering, definite consumption of over-the-counter-drugs. It just started to affect me in ways I couldn’t have foreseen in my 20’s. I fully blame the post-30 aging process. Not that I miss the occasional Diet Coke or Fanta. Those were always second-tier beverages for me. But coffee. Oh rich, aromatic, sometimes frothy but always life-affirming coffee. How I mourn thee.

I sat Shiva after the death of my relationship with coffee. I’m not Jewish, but formally devoting a whole seven days to my grief just seemed like the right thing to do. It was a long week. I eulogized its scent. I memorialized its taste. What would mornings even be now? Was it worth waking up to find out? Sunrise to me was now a reminder of my loss. The various coffee making devices I’d collected over the years, the mug shelf, the leftover Lavazza, even the milk carton. All painful reminders of a life that was no more.

I’d traipse down into the kitchen and suddenly the whole room was a foreign concept to me. Like crossing a border into unknown lands my kitchen had become a vast landscape of sights that no longer made sense to me. Everything’s purpose seemed to relate directly back to the consumption of coffee. The bread was for eating in between sips of coffee. The toaster for toasting the bread that was eaten in between sips of coffee. The spoons for stirring the milk that went into the coffee. The window for staring out of while sipping the first coffee of the day. The dishwasher was for washing the coffee mugs and the coffee-stained recipe books were almost too much to bear. My favorite room in the house had become my prison.

Several weeks carried on like this until I realized that I would actually have to confront the terrible truth of things: that I would be living a decaffeinated life. I used to judge this kind of “decaf” lifestyle. The people who’d forego the real stuff and instead settle for a lesser version of it, and in turn, a lesser version of life. Or so I thought. I didn’t want to extract the flavor out of my life! But I started slowly, sauntering down to the high street and carefully deliberating which café it’d be at that I sold my soul to a cup of decaf. I chose the least populated and therefore one with the least amount of witnesses to this crime of desperation. It was dreadful, of course, but it didn’t kill me. And that was a start.

I continued much in the same way for a year and eventually found the establishments in London whose decaf didn’t taste like home roasted tar. By the eleventh month I’d even begun to perk up at the thought of a hot cup of milky decaf. Things were going along swimmingly. I was tremble and anxiety free thanks to my new lifestyle and I had an extra spring in my step. Which was surprising, given the lack of caffeine and all. But then something happened. I moved to Vietnam. And all hell broke loose.

Coffee in Vietnam is as ubiquitous as Hipsters wearing flannel ironically in Brooklyn. You might say that coffee is ubiquitous everywhere nowadays, but as one of the world’s foremost coffee growing regions, this place simply doesn’t run without it. As Vietnam’s economy continues to grow and it races its way into becoming a middle-income country, the exhaust fumes it leaves behind are made of pure caffeine. Try asking someone in Vietnam for a Grande Decaf. Just try. I promise the look you’ll receive will be a mix of confusion and utter disdain at the thought of it. What the hell is decaf? Is what I’m sure they said to me in Vietnamese the first time I stooped so low as to ask. Decaffeinated simply doesn’t exist. Asking for decaf coffee in Vietnam is the moral equivalent of asking for a pint of Guinness in Ireland “but please could you hold the head?” The foamy head is its essence. Asking to remove it of its essence is an act of treason, an act of such crude and incomparable stupidity that you’d be lucky to escape a swift and uncomfortable deportation. It’s embarrassing, and you’re a disgrace for ever having uttered the words. That’s what it’s like trying to live a decaffeinated life in a proudly caffeinated place: Fraught with danger and the constant threat of accidentally shoving your foot into your caffeine-starved mouth.

Total abstinence from coffee-related products and non-caffeinated beverages (there’s only one, water) were my only options. Not only would I never know the pleasure of Vietnam’s world-renowned beans, now I couldn’t even moderately enjoy the fake stuff. So as not to feel too sorry for myself I started to compile a list of things I’m grateful for that I am allowed to consume, but I only got as far as 1.) Bagels with cream cheese and 2.) Bacon. But then quickly remembering that I no longer drink coffee and therefore no longer eat breakfast, in protest of the former, my list was redundant. With no concrete reminder of reasons in my life to carry on, I was back to being a very well-hydrated crybaby.

But then something else happened. Just as I was becoming the very worst version of myself and an utterly impractical kind of being that rests all of her life’s happiness on a commodity crop, another kind of drinkable plant species was placed before me. A coconut. Its shell expertly macheted off leaving a small hole on top from which to place my straw. I took its fibrous husk in my hands and brought it closer. It was full to the brim with its water. Cold and subtly flavored it passed through the straw and into my consciousness. It was refreshing, it was hydrating, it was energizing. And drinking it felt badass in a Katniss-Everdeen-meets-Bear-Grylls kind of way. Why hadn’t I thought of it before? It was sold on every street corner and was cheaper than even water. I could buy them in cafes and restaurants I could buy them on the beach. Things were looking up. No I couldn’t put it in a Styrofoam cup and clasp my cold hands around it during the Winter, but I was now living in Vietnam so who was I kidding. With 90% humidity and a mean annual temperature of 90 degrees, making the switch to a cold drink started looking a whole lot like self-preservation to me.

A month has gone by and Coconut Water has become my everything. Between that and regular ole’ water I am now the most hydrated person in Ho Chi Minh City, or perhaps, the world. My bathroom breaks are inconveniently often and sometimes carrying a large coconut shell down the road doesn’t feel quite practical, but it works. I still have moments of weakness, and sometimes when watching the condensed milk being poured by the barista into a steaming cup of Arabica beans I have to stop myself from running at full speed towards it mouth open and tongue hanging out. But those moments are becoming fewer and farther in between. Luckily for the baristas.

The way I see it, this is only the start of a sacrificial-themed thirties. The killing off of habits that once worked for me and now no longer do. The beginning of a long road of things I will need to either stop doing or start doing in order to improve my well being as I ease into this fourth decade of life. No caffeine. More exercise. Less ice cream. More night cream. Less Netflix. More burpees. It’s all happening. I’m still young but I’m not. Not really. Caffeine was only the tip of the iceberg. And my slowly aging body is the Titanic. I just hope Rose leaves me some damn room on the makeshift raft.

copyright Annie Oswald