I had come to believe that I was immune to the stimulating effects of coffee. This idea was developed and confirmed while I was in university, when potloads of coffee could not keep me awake and studying long into the night. Only later did I come to realize it was due to the crushing boredom of reading academic papers.
As I got older I noticed that late afternoon or evening coffee consumption often lead to restless nights. It wouldn’t keep me awake when I wanted it to, but on calm and uneventful nights it would make me ever so jittery when I should have been dozing off under the flannel sheets. A few times I found myself in front of the television at 4:00 AM, trying to bore myself into somnolence.
This wouldn’t be a problem if it were not for my day job. After all, I’ve done some of my best thinking and writing during those long dark and quiet hours of the pre-dawn morning. But life and responsibilities are such that I cannot easily follow such a bohemian schedule.
As such, I now rarely consume coffee after 1:00 PM. I’ll make the exception of a short espresso after a tasty weekend meal — because an espresso has less caffeine than a regular cup of joe and the wine consumed during the meal usually blunts the espresso’s edge.
Yesterday I made an exception to my afternoon rule. Around 2:30 PM I decided to stretch my legs, so I ambled over to Indigo, the big bookstore in Place Montreal Trust. The coffee from Indigo’s café is one of the better choices in the area, so I decided to indulge. I ordered a small cup of their Sumatra dark roast (which is, incidentally, Fair Trade, although their milder brew is not).
The coffee was delivered in a plain white paper cup, as it should be. It was freshly-brewed, hot but not scalding, and smelled delicious. It also tasted very strong — stronger than usual in fact.
Two hours later I was consumed by that dark and somewhat frantic thirst one feels when one has consumed a strong diuretic — a carbony parching of the stomach and esophagus. I had also been to the washroom twice.
By the time I got home I felt a bit closer to normal, but was ever so slightly disoriented, still thirsty, and still needed to pee every half hour. After dinner I grabbed a beer and went upstairs to work on a Web site for an hour or two. Then I came down, had another beer, and watched 24 (probably not the best thing to view when you’re trying to calm yourself).
Later, in bed, I turned out the light at 1:00 AM, even though I felt I could have read through the night. I lay in the dark, wide-eyed, trying to think about calm things. Eventually I fell asleep, but I awoke six or seven times during the night, my mind a kaleidoscope of half-thought thoughts, each time feeling like I had just been shot from a cannon.
I finally got up at 8:00 AM, feeling — surprisingly — not nearly as bad as I had expected to.
I don’t know what they put in that Sumatra dark roast, but it sure knocked me into tomorrow. I’ve had that brew many times before without this effect (although it came close once or twice). I don’t know if it was just a particularly potent batch, or if it combined with something else in my system (but what? One cup of coffee in the morning and pasta and salad for lunch), but it will likely be some time before I have another afternoon coffee. Unless, of course, I develop a sudden desire to sit up all night pondering the darkness of the human soul and all that. But not as long as I have my day job.