I have a headache. I moan to Carl about this, but he is not impressed."I don't believe such a thing exists." he says. This is because I have a caffeine headache, or rather, a lack of caffeine headache. I didn't sleep particularly well last night, and this morning I had to get up unhealthily early for me, rush round trying to pack everything up for the weekend, and then leg it to the station to catch a (late) train at 8.14. I did not get time to make coffee. Further more, as a conscientious, perma-broke student and ex-Nero employee, I flatly refuse to spend £2.25 for coffee from Costa at the station. My body cannot cope with this.

My addiction may well be psychological, but the effects are very physical. My head hurts, there is some serious pressure on the top of my skull. I have little energy, I am pale (in fact, I am reliably informed that I look dead) and I am very irritable.
This never used to be the case. My parents drank tea by the bucketful and when I was a baby, they used to give me a luke warm bottle of milky tea every day. Possibly as a result of this, I have never touched the stuff since. But I never drank much coffee either. I spent most of my teenage years being healthy and guzzling herbal teas and water. I probably should have stuck to that! However, at age 17, I got the second most boring job in the universe -data entry. An entirely sedentary life style, parked in front of a black screen with green text, typing endless addresses in over and over again, eight hours a day. The most interesting thing to do all day was to get up and wander over to the monstrosity in he corner, press a series of buttons and receive a plastic cup full of brown powder with metallic tasting hot water poured on top.
Sometimes the powder still floated, or clumped at the bottom until poked by an enthusiastic plastic stick. And woe betide anyone who dared request 'milk' - more powder, onl sort of off-white in colour, and seemingly even less soluble than the brown stuff. This was, apparently, coffee. Nescafe instant vendor machine coffee to be precise. It was foul. But it was hot, it had caffeine in it, it required moving from my desk occasionally, and as such, it was the only thing that stopped me turning in to a brain dead corporate zombie, gradually losing form and melting into the chair, just becoming a giant pair of fingers welded to the keyboard....

I left that job after six months, having put on a lot of weight, got repetitive strain injury from the keyboard, and the beginnings of a caffeine addiction. However, I also had enough money to go to Peru for the rest of the year. Peru produces a small amount of truly excellent, high altitude arabica coffee, but such are the ironies of global capitalism, they export all of it, and getting hold of coffee in Peru is difficult and expensive. Nestle produce something called Ecco, which is ground, roasted wheat and chicory. When brewed, it is brown and looks like coffee. It has no actual coffee in it, no caffeine content, but if you ask for 'cafe' in Peru, this is generally what you get.In short, I went cold turkey.


On my return from Peru, I started university. I did a lot of different activities outside classes including various theatrical endeavours. 'Show weeks' were notoriously hectic and doing 16 hour days playing with lighting meant a lot of coffee was consumed. Meeting friends in coffee shops became almost ritualistic, and anyone who has ever endured lectures on cranio-facial morphology of early hominids and phylogeny of various primates, or even quantitative methods for social scientists will know that at some points, major caffeine boosts are a medical necessity.


After graduating with no other ideas about what to do with myself, I started working in cafes and coffee shops. It was from these that I started to really learn about coffee. I initially thought that working with the stuff, day in, day out would put me off, but this has never been the case! All the different strains and varieties, all the subtleties of flavour that can be produced, all the different methods of brewing, filtering or extracting, all is fascinating to me. I am by no means a world class barista, but I am at least relatively skilled in the art, and I intend to continue learning.


So I am now doing my Phd about coffee, about the links between quality and wastage about the political effects of such a globalised industry. I've learned so much about its 'dark history' that I am s self-confessed coffee geek.


Coffee increases blood pressure, can lead to hypertension and anxiety attacks, has been linked to colon cancer and now apparently doubles the chance of miscarriage. However, it also protects against cirrhosis and other liver diseases, is a good source of fibre,keeps you alert and stimulated and kick starts your metabolism. It is the second largest legally traded in the commodity in the world, and the industry as a whole, from farmers to baristas, employs a hundred million people all over the world. For me, its a welcome addiction, an obsession, a career and a wonderfully dark love affair.

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Comment by Fede Cabrera on January 29, 2008 at 7:03am
Hi Bel,

I really enjoyed your article, please tell Carl that you`re not the only one suffering from "caffeine abstinence"!
I realized about my addiction to caffeine, a couple of years ago, after I finished my barista trainning (during those days my only ingestions were capuccinos) .
Today if I miss my morning coffee, I also feel serious pressure on the top of my skul.

If possible, I would love to read the work you`re doing for your Phd ...

Best regards,
Federico

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