I stopped drinking coffee for a week. Here are the unexpected results.
I love coffee.
No seriously, I really love coffee.
I actually think that if you cut open one of my veins, I’d probably bleed brown.
It got to the point where, at my previous job, the highlight of my day was the 10 am trip to the café across the road. After drinking half my coffee by 11am, I would get incredibly sad. So, I’d refill my cup with hot water so that I could nurse the rest of my coffee until 12pm.
In other words, I spent two hours of my day drinking a cup of coffee.
I’ve loved coffee since I was about 17 years old, when I discovered that drinking a cup of coffee would increase my abilities to focus during class.
Now, for over a decade, I average about two cups of coffee a day. One as soon as I wake up, and the other in the afternoon to counteract the mid-afternoon crash.
And no, I’m not one of those new-age hippies drinking matcha lattes or buttered coffees. I like my coffee straight up – black.
This is what I look like if I go a morning without a coffee:
And this is what I look like after I’ve had my morning coffee:
I’d been hearing more and more about how coffee ‘borrows energy from the rest of your day’ and that people who don’t drink coffee don’t experience a mid-afternoon ‘crash’.
In fact, most of the really high-energy people I know don’t drink coffee at all.
I was intrigued.
I wanted lots of energy like them.
Strangely, I couldn’t find many scientific studies confirming these beliefs. Nonetheless I thought it’d be an interesting experiment to go a week without drinking coffee to see how it’d affect my energy levels.
Here is what my typical day looks like in terms of energy levels:
Now, it’s not just the caffeine boost from coffee that I love – I really love the taste and smell of coffee.
So, instead of cutting out coffee altogether, I decided to make the experiment a little bit easier by only focusing on cutting out caffeine.
(The best experiments are the ones you complete.)
This meant I allowed myself to drink de-caffeinated coffee in place of my regular cups of coffee.
Coffee is also a social activity – we have meetings or catch-ups over coffee. So instead of being one of those weirdos who orders a green tea at a café instead of a coffee, I was one of those weirdos who ordered a decaf coffee instead.
So here’s something I didn’t expect.
Cutting out caffeine had no positive effect on my energy levels.
I still had an afternoon crash and, in fact, my overall energy levels were lower.
They looked something like the red line below:
I was a bit baffled with these results, so I decided to visit the academic literature on coffee to see what the scientific consensus was.
One of the most extensive reviews of scientific studies related to coffee was conducted by Pourshahidi et al. in 2016.
They analysed the results of 1,277 studies on coffee and found that moderate, regular coffee drinking (i.e. 2-3 cups a day) by healthy individuals was either mostly benign or mildly beneficial.
In other words, they found that the benefits of drinking coffee far outweighed the risks.
Of course, establishing causality between coffee and the benefits/risks was a problem, but the key takeaway is a couple of cups of coffee a day are probably not going to pose any significant risk to your health.
Similarly, a couple of cups of coffee a day probably won’t affect your energy levels throughout the day either.
So, with this brutal experiment over, I’m looking forward to returning to my two-hour morning coffee sessions.
 Pourshahidi, L. K., Navarini, L., Petracco, M. and Strain, J.J. (2016), A Comprehensive Overview of the Risks and Benefits of Coffee Consumption. COMPREHENSIVE REVIEWS IN FOOD SCIENCE AND FOOD SAFETY, 15: 671–684.