Peterson: Coffee power isn't invincible

I like coffee just as much as the next person, but I have my limits. I’m one of those people who think coffee can be too hot.

When I was president of the coffee club at work, I drank a pot of coffee a day. Lead by example.

The truth be told, I was a self-appointed president, which made me kind of a dictator – a benevolent one, however. No vote was taken, no strong-arm tactics were employed. There were no demonstrations of support or defiance. I simply took over.

While president of the coffee club might look good on a résumé and the power I wielded was substantial, it really was a thankless job. People avoided me.

Not because I was dictator, but because I was collecting the coffee levy. Coffee beans might grow on trees, but money doesn’t. And to buy coffee supplies – coffee itself, powdered creamer and filters – I needed cash. A couple of dollars from each person in the club.

You would have thought I was asking for their last dollar. You would have thought I was shaking them down. But to curb their craving for caffeine, they had to pay. Usually, once a month. A couple of dollars for a bottomless cup of coffee was the best deal going around.

The power I referred to was substantial but never invoked. If club members didn’t pay up, I simply would not buy the coffee, and people would have to face the day without caffeine. And no one wanted that. That was the nuclear option. The workplace would have been up for grabs, and I would have been the convenient scapegoat.

I made sure we always had money to buy coffee. It was my sworn duty.

Surely while I was president of the coffee club, I was over-caffeinated. It didn’t affect my sleep or give me the jitters, but I got to thinking that too much of a good thing is bad for you. I believe in moderation as the cure to or prevention of most ills. And somehow too much caffeine wasn’t good.

So I cut back on my consumption, eventually – and this was a long-time-coming eventually – I was down to one or two cups a day. I drank water instead.

There was the time I experimented with decaffeinated coffee. I don’t think there was a reason for it, I just thought I would try it to see what happened. And it made a difference.
I went through withdrawal, although I didn’t know it at the time. I just had a headache, a constant, low-grade one that lasted for two weeks no matter how much pain reliever I took. There was no shaking the headache. Then it went away.

It wasn’t until much later that I put two and two together to realize that I had a decaf headache. Good thing I didn’t know, too, because I would have started drinking regular coffee for medical reasons. Not that I would admit to being a coffee junkie.

I went about a year drinking decaffeinated coffee, but switched back to regular because I noticed decaf left a nasty coffee ring around the inside of my mug. It was even more pronounced when I used a Styrofoam cup. I wondered what kind of ring it was leaving around my stomach, so I switched back to regular and worked my way back up to becoming a caffeine fiend.

Those days have long since passed. I’ve been drinking just a cup of coffee a day for years now. The cup is really a mug, which is bigger than an 8-ounce cup by several ounces, but that’s OK.

Unlike my wife, I can’t drink my coffee piping hot straight from the maker. I’m not in the picture you see of someone cradling a mug of coffee in his hands on a cold winter day and sipping it while the steam rises. I don’t see how people do it. Hot coffee burns my tongue and throat. There’s no pleasure in that.

I have to let my coffee sit awhile until it cools sufficiently. If I’m ordering coffee at a coffee shop, I ask for about a half-inch of ice at the bottom of the cup to cool it for me. I’d just as soon drink cold coffee.

But you pay more for iced coffee than regular coffee, and I’m sure the coffee shops have their reasons, but if I want iced coffee, I’ll put a cube or two in it. I haven’t gone to those lengths yet, but the option remains open, which is hardly the example an erstwhile coffee club president should set.

• Dick Peterson, who lives in Woodstock, is a mental-health advocate. He is a freelance writer and a former Northwest Herald opinion page editor. He can be contacted at

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