Archive for July, 2010

Confessions of a former bitchy barista

This was first published in the National Times on 6 July, 2010

I did something crazy, something so un-Melbourne, anti-social and mood altering that I am a changed barista. No, I didn’t pick up a habit; instead, I got off drugs.

With dispensaries lining each of our main drags, we are consistently putting caffeine in our systems. I indulged with an espresso eight times daily. Teetering on addiction I decided to give up coffee for seven whole days.

I went cold turkey and took away what fuels my lifestyle. This included of course coffee, chocolate, energy drinks, coke and all teas except the herbal varieties. I have been making coffee for nine years and through that time have not gone more than a day without the stimulant.

It wasn’t completely on a whim. The University of Bristol in the UK published a study earlier last month that found that we build a tolerance to caffeine by consuming it daily. Our morning shots are not waking us up; they are merely bringing us back to “normal”.

This I’ve heard countless times but never believed it to be true as I thought I was getting a buzz from my morning ritual. Yet my week without stimulation garnered a new opinion.

I got the first headache the second day in. It was probably one of the worst migraines I have ever had, only bed cured the sharp sensation pulsating behind my half-closed eyes.

Then nausea followed. I was “flu-like”, experiencing how the body reacts without using the classified drug. I was out of it and feeling terrible but at least I wasn’t irritable.

In fact, I was the complete opposite to irritable, which was second to headache on the uninspiring withdrawal symptom list. I was completely unfazed by any problem I encountered, I had adopted a new personality.

As I said, I make coffee for hundreds of people that all seem to know how to push my buttons. This has made me a moody little shot-pouring demon quite capable of throwing change back at customers after it’s been scattered on the counter. Yes, I was that kind of hospitality worker.

Yet after a few frail days and about 11 hours sleep each night, I had become so calm most customers probably thought I had jumped on the Mary Jane bandwagon.

The fog eventually lifted and I gained clarity. Being spacey probably added to my mellow demeanour but, after sleeping and drinking litres of lemongrass and ginger tea, I became productive.

The attention age has taught me how to multi-task and open endless tabs to bask in status updates and tweets. Searching the internet for crap and data is where caffeine makes its presence in the system most noticeable.

So I single-tasked. I stopped stalking Facebook “friends” while trying to conjure up witty one-liners to feed my Twitter followers. I did everything one task at a time with more focus than a one-armed calligrapher. My mind stopped jumping.

So there I was a calm, slow-talking, unstimulated being capable of holding a conversation on one topic instead of following tangent after tangent. This was me off caffeine.

I didn’t realise the effect it had had on me. It had never occurred to me that my consistent mood swings were related to the eight shots I was consuming. I was able to manage stress better and not fly off the handle when something went awry.

When day seven rolled around I was hesitant to have the first one back. I had already stood up from my chair proclaiming caffeinalism and herbal tea rehab seemed to balance me out. Yet in the name of science I got all dressed up and went to my local.

The study was correct. I went from aloof to jittery after a strong latte and for the rest of the day displayed an erratic bout of productivity. I cleaned, exercised, Googled everything and talked to everyone.

Habitual use was keeping me at a level where I didn’t feel the effects anymore. I had to get it out of my system to see what it really did. It gave me more energy than I had had for nearly a decade as my tolerance was re-configured. I have since scaled back my habit to one a day, which seems to wake me up yet maintain my new laid-back trait.

Although the eight shots were aiding my jam-packed life, I was rarely in good spirits and no one wants to get a coffee from a bitchy barista.

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