Not my cup of tea

It used to be that I wouldn’t drink coffee past five or so in the afternoon, because the caffeine would keep me up at night. Every once in a while I’d make the mistake of ordering an espresso or something like that after dinner, and come two or three in the morning, I’d lay in my bed, staring up at the ceiling, wondering why it’s been taking so long for me to fall asleep, all while my heart felt like it was trying its hardest to escape the confines of my chest.

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But I’m at the point now where I can drink coffee whenever I want. Which, coincidentally or not, happens to be every waking minute of the day. My caffeine intake used to be something that I’d monitor pretty carefully. I’ve had the unfortunate experience of overdoing it, and the resulting caffeine-induced panic attack left me careful not to exceed three cups in a row.

I’m not worried about that anymore. I get up in the morning and make myself a pot. Sometimes my wife will pour herself a cup, and I although it would be nice to say that I’m thinking of her, that I’m making extra coffee in case she’d like some, really I’m just brewing as much as my machine will make at once.

Maybe she’ll have a cup, maybe not, it doesn’t matter. That whole pot is just a warm-up. I’ll down everything over the course of an hour, an hour and a half, and then I fill it up all over again. This I’ll just leave on the warmer for as long as the machine will run without automatically turning itself off, usually something like three hours.

I’ll be downstairs and I’ll have a cup. I’ll make a sandwich and I’ll have another. I used to be really picky, if not a little pretentious about my coffee. I’d buy whole beans from select markets, I bought a coffee grinder and insisted that cups be brewed individually, throwing out words like oxidation in regards to a recent grind, all nonsense I’d read about on the Internet and convinced myself was all necessary for not just a perfect cup of coffee, but for the whole experience. It was an experience.

Now I’ll come home from work and I’ll see that quarter pot of room temperature coffee left out from way earlier in the day. Whatever, I’ll turn the warmer on, maybe even microwave a cup if I need a super immediate fix. Coffee beans, I don’t really care where they’re from, a gourmet roaster, sure, Dunkin Donuts, sounds good. Really I’m just looking for convenience, pure bulk. This means giant bags of vacuum packed beans at Costco, or loose by-the-pound roast that I’ll shovel into a brown paper bag from a giant bin at the grocery store.

I just want to have a lot of it, whatever it is. Because every once in a while I’ll be in the unfortunate situation where I really want coffee, but I don’t have any. Like just right now. I don’t know how it slipped my mind, but I was out on Long Island visiting my in-laws, and I knew that I needed to get some more coffee on my way back. But I didn’t. And I needed some.

I weighed my options. It was late. Did I feel like walking around to the myriad Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts by my place? Which one might be open at this hour? Should I go to the grocery store and buy some beans? Or would that turn into a full-blown shopping trip? What were my options?

Maybe there was some emergency coffee lying around somewhere, some Folger’s Crystals, something. In the back of one of the kitchen cabinets, I found a sealed box of tea bags, earl grey. Would this help? Could I get what I get out of coffee by drinking a few cups of tea?

It was worth a shot. But everything about the tea making process took forever. The waiting for the water to boil. The waiting for the tea to steep. The waiting for the boiling tea to cool down somewhat. It’s so much easier to press a button on the coffee maker, like I don’t have to be conscious of each painfully long step.

And then I finally got to drinking my earl grey. What is that taste, bergamot? It’s like citrusy and floral. It’s not unpleasant, but it’s nothing like drinking a cup of coffee. I’d never tried tea with milk, but I figured it was worth a shot. It made the drink a little smoother, but I don’t know, it wasn’t like a cup of coffee with milk.

I finished that cup and poured another dose of hot water over a fresh tea bag. Nothing bothers me more than watching someone try to make a second cup of tea out of a used tea bag. Sure, it turns brown, but there’s no way that whatever’s in that cup is anything close to a full-strength cup of tea. It’s like, if I ran hot water over some used coffee grinds, I’m sure I’d get something, a cup of hot brown liquid, but nothing that I’d like to actually drink.

Toward the end of the second cup, I started to feel it, the buzz that started in the base of my neck, shooting subtle pulses of pleasure and relief as it spread upward around the top of my skull. I was seriously worried, because even though I know tea has caffeine, I didn’t really expect to feel anything. It’s like, I drink Coca-Cola, but I never detect even the slightest hint of caffeine.

But no, this was good. I was enjoying this. Everything was going to be OK. Would I change my daily routine and maybe add tea to the mix? Of course not. This was a desperate times, desperate measures emergency maneuver, nothing more. Still, I couldn’t deny that a part of me was enjoying it, just ever so slightly. I felt like Captain Picard, after a long day, I’d walk into my ready room and tell the replicator simply, “Tea. Earl grey. Hot.”

But yeah, tomorrow, definitely I’ve got to get more coffee. A lot more. No, even more than that.