Coffee Culture Shock: Adventures in Over-Caffeination

Not so long ago, I could have Greek coffee whenever I fancied a cup.

There was frappe, that sweet, Nescafe-based mistress. Whipped into foam and combined with milk and sugar, she packed a punch. Nescafe doesn’t mess around–at least not when you add as much as the Greeks do. Meant to be consumed slowly, one of those suckers gets you raring to go for a whole day. One of my first faux-pas in Greece was to down a frappe too quickly, which made one of the Balkan students I was with say, “We don’t drink it like milk.” Right he was. Once I shrugged off my American coffee landscape, littered with to-go cups, I realized the joys of drinking coffee slowly. It’s not just about tasting each sip more fully. There’s also something so devilishly self-indulgent about spending that much time doing something like drinking coffee. When consumed slowly, with sunglasses on, the well-made frappe will slowly trickle into your system, caffeinating your bad self at a steady pace.

(The effects are only intensified by a beach setting.)

A frappe and a book on the beach, in Halkidiki in June.

And then there was–my love!–Greek coffee. Where frappes were fun when out with friends, the Greek coffee and I had a more meaningful relationship. Think of Greek coffee as strong espresso with the grounds still in the bottom of the cup. I took mine “sketo,” which means without sugar. Bitter, sultry and rich, sipping a sketo Greek coffee is an intense experience: you sit, you sip, you brood, you sip, and suddenly, you’re more awake than you’ve ever been in your life.

A Greek coffee, in the Areopolis plateia in May.

By comparison, the popular American drip coffee seems so… weak. It’s just not as strong. Hell, we drink it with cream. We drink it fast, we drink multiple cups (the average American coffee consumer drinks 3 cups per day), and we take it with us in disposable cups wherever we go.

I’d like to think that this contrast was part of what led to my caffeine-induced breakdown this week.

On Tuesday, I was drowning in schoolwork, English 101 papers, and the general stress that comes with starting a new chapter in one’s life. I hadn’t gotten a paycheck since April, I hadn’t been running in weeks, and though it was the start of the second week of school, I was already feeling the effects of the slow build-up of sleep deprivation I was beginning to accumulate.

What was my strategy to combat this awful set of circumstances?

Seven. Cups. Of coffee.

I don’t even know how it happened. I had my morning cup (or two), took a break while responding to student papers to get another cup (or three), had some more in a meeting and got another cup for my afternoon office hours… and suddenly, my system was experiencing what can only be described as a wild, no-holds-barred orgy in caffeinated hell.

It started off just fine. Great, in fact! With my morning cup(s), I slowly felt myself transition from a bleary half-person into a genuine ass-kicker. Going to school? YEAH! Wearing a teacherly skirt? BAM! Riding the bus? WOO! I arrived on campus, happily smiled my way through a meeting with a student, and sat down to get some work done.

Sure enough, after responding to a few student essays, I felt that surefire eyelid-droop hit. It was only eleven or so. But, what the hell, I thought! I’m workin’ hard. I’m doin’ my thing. I’m rockin’ my teacherly skirt. I deserve a little bit more coffee!

Ah!, eleven-AM naivete. Little did I know what a dark fate awaited me that afternoon.

By 4:00, after the seventh cup had disappeared down my ultra-caffeinated gullet, I had actually managed to caffeinate myself full-circle. I had long passed through the happy-alertness-and-rainbows stage. Remarkably, I managed to drink coffee until I was a bleary half-person again.

Akin to paralysis, the seven-cup stupor is a fearsome foe. Staring at my computer screen, I couldn’t even decide what I should be working on. Once I finally chose a task, there was no staying focused long enough to get anything done on it at all. My eyes felt like they were burning, and right behind them lurked that characteristic caffeine-induced feeling of Exhaustion: Ultra-Alertness Edition.

Frustrated, frazzled, beyond tired, totally not myself and nearly crying in my cubicle, it was like I was an emotional drunk: I naturally decided that I have no friends in Boise (not true) and am terrible at my new job (not true). Thank goodness my fellow TA friends were there to talk me down; who knows what metaphorical or literal alleyways I would have found myself wandering down if not for their good sense.

Since then, I have made a conscious effort to limit myself to two cups per day, and it’s worked just fine. There have been no seven-cup stupors, no bleary half-personhood past seven AM, and no caffeine orgies in my system. For the rest of the week, I remained calm and happy in my new surroundings with my new friends.

But if you see me walking around campus in the morning, just know I’d rather be drinking a Greek coffee. 🙂

Στην υγειά σας,

Kate

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About wrap me in phyllo dough

travel addict. greece-obsessed. grad student. bottomless pit.
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4 Responses to Coffee Culture Shock: Adventures in Over-Caffeination

  1. Just reading this gave me a caffeine buzz. A few years back friends gave us Folgers. They were moving and gave us a box of food they weren’t taking. We still have it. It’s good for a little coffee kick in brownies and clearly we don’t make enough brownies! I love a good espresso, Turkish coffee can be quite good. No cream or sugar for me.

    • TURKISH coffee? Blasphemy! Kidding. I like Turkish coffee too. As for my drip, I do take it with cream, but no sugar. It’s a texture issue for me–it just feels so thin without cream! I’ve never had Folgers, but the Nescafe they use for frappe in Greece is a special kind of instant coffee Nescafe makes specifically for Greek frappe.

  2. Pingback: Coffee or Tea? The Battle For the Great British Drink | IdeasByBlog

  3. hahahahaha… the coffee in our Lit department lounge is free. And unlimited. Two words that I am sure touch your graduate school soul to the core. I love that you filled an entire, interesting post with nothing but coffee. A testament to writing skill and worth of subject!

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