I Switched to Decaf and Life is Suddenly Great

Paul Cantor
5 min readOct 13, 2018
“shallow focus photography of coffee beans in sack” by Tina Guina on Unsplash

Never been a big coffee person. Though I like coffee. Love the smell of it, love the taste, have drunk different coffees in all different parts of the world. In the fridge in my house now, there’s coffee from India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Turkey, Italy, Portugal, Hawaii, New Mexico, New Orleans, Puerto Rico and other places I can’t even remember. I buy it when I travel or someone gives it to me after they’ve traveled, and I don’t really spend money on a lot of things, I’m not a big souvenir guy, so coffee is one of the few purchases I’ll make.

And still — the coffee just sits there. Occasionally, I drink it. And I like it when I do, but the whole process of grinding beans, storing it, all that crap, I don’t have the patience. So it sits in the fridge and I mostly drink Maxwell House, Chock Full o’ Nuts or something equally as plain, whatever I can get in the grocery store that looks like something my parents or grandparents drank, and makes me feel unpretentious and not snobby about something as simple and, frankly, ridiculous as coffee. It’s coffee. Like, it doesn’t need to be a science project.

But lately I have been doing something that probably puts me even more at odds with the coffee world. Beyond drinking Maxwell House and store-bought crap that the purists wouldn’t drink even if they were in prison. I have been drinking decaf! I know, I know, why drink coffee if you’re going to drink that, and in brief, I’ll explain. Because it’s not that as if it was by choice, more a necessity, something I needed to do for my own sanity.

I have written before about caffeine withdrawal, how my struggles with it have, at times, turned me into what I can only imagine someone kicking alcohol or heroin feels like. A few weeks ago, I noticed that I was drinking a lot more coffee than I typically had been. Over the years, I’d usually have a cup in the morning, 12 ounces to fuel my day, and no more. But as my life became more complicated, more things to do and — frankly, more stressful — I began drinking coffee in more copious amounts. Two cups, three cups, four. Heck, I know some people who drink 8 cups. But for me, anything more than one is a lot.

And it would help me, this coffee, give me that little boost that I needed. But the more I drank it, the more I realized that it was kind of making me insane. I had begun drinking it to help me push through stressful times, times where I felt physically and emotionally drained. I just needed to keep my mind going, to keep thinking, because thought is what denotes being alive — and here I was relying on this drink, this drink that, for centuries, people had been drinking for these very same reasons.

But after a while, my mind couldn’t shut off. I would be up late, awake early, never falling into a deep sleep, that deepest of sleeps, the kind of restful, restorative sleep that actually allows you to function as a normal, sentient human being. And it was almost like a cycle, needing caffeine to prop me up all because caffeine wouldn’t let me get down. Then, during the day, my mind would race, I would be moody and irritable, almost like if I didn’t have just the exact amount I now required, things would be… off. I was basically an addict.

Which sounds silly, you know, being addicted to caffeine. It’s not like alcohol, drugs or cigarettes, the big three of addiction — there isn’t this sense that by being addicted to coffee you could be doing yourself harm. And so much of that is because alcohol, drugs and cigarettes lead to physical ailments. Alcohol causes liver problems, smoking causes lung problems, drugs cause problems with everything. But coffee — what does coffee cause a problem with?

As far as I can tell, it causes a problem with your mind. And that’s a hard thing to prove, hard thing to even address. The mind is such a complex thing, how it functions and the way it processes emotions, who can say — with any certainty — that drinking too much of something that is basically a lynchpin of everyday life is the cause of… anxiety. Nobody can. Take my alcohol, my cigarettes, my drugs, but don’t take my caffeine.

But the great irony in this age of anxiety is that we are all meditating, becoming mindful, trying to calm down. And yet we stimulate ourselves to no end, feeding ourselves information that is — if you pay attention to the news — basically insane, all while hopped up on a psychoactive stimulant, caffeine, that makes it hard to do exactly that which we so desire.

And so a few weeks ago, I began reducing my caffeine intake. In the mornings, I still had a cup of coffee. One cup. But the rest of the day I switched to decaffeinated. It was an interesting first few days; even dialing back to one cup from two or three was like being in a coma. I had headaches, nervousness, chills, nausea — I thought I was going to die.

But then, on day four or five, something unique happened. I suddenly felt incredibly calm and peaceful, as if a treadmill that was running in my head had been suddenly slowed. I went from a sprint to a walk and things made sense again; in the afternoons I was much less moody, in evenings far more tired, and at night I slept very deep sleeps, no longer lying awake fretting about all the things I needed to do, things that had not been done, an existential panic that seemed to come from somewhere I could not place.

Of course, this is a simple deduction, it could have been any number of things influencing me to feel those things, not just coffee but the very nature of life itself, changing as it does, from one season to the next, like waves, the ups and downs casting me about as if I were merely a passenger on a cruise ship lost at sea.

Still, we control what we can control. And things like diet, what we eat, what we drink, that we can control. Or, we can try. And — yeah, decaf coffee, what’s the point? Might as well just not drink coffee then; heck you can barely get a decaf anywhere, ask about it at a cafe and they’ll think you’re crazy. But fuck them and fuck that cafe. Decaf, man. Decaf.

Disclaimer: in the text above there are links to products which can be purchased on Amazon.com. In the event that you click a link and purchase a product, I — the author of this post, for which I have received no prior compensation — may receive a small referral fee.



Paul Cantor

Wrote for the New York Times, New York Magazine, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Vice, Fader, Vibe, XXL, MTV News, many other places.