Caffeine, by Michael Pollan (audio)

Well this is apropos, listening to a book on the history and science of caffeine while doing my own experiments with the stuff. This short book – what’s the novella equivalent of nonfiction? – discusses how the human race discovered and spread caffeine in the forms of coffee and tea across the world, and how that spread changed our culture and biology. Coupled with that are Pollan’s own experiments with caffeine abstinence and re-introduction.

A couple thoughts on this book. First, it could have been much longer and encompassed a whole hell of a lot more information. I’ve enjoyed most of Pollan’s food-history books in the past and this one felt like it barely skimmed the surface of the subject. I suppose that’s what you get for a two-hour long audiobook. Because of the short length, I didn’t learn nearly as much as I would have liked. I’d hoped to use this as a supplement to my own research into caffeine, but other than a few facts about bees and caffeine-infused nectar, I didn’t really learn much. It was definitely beginner’s nonfiction.

Second, I’m not sure I react to caffeine the same way as most people. Pollan described his reaction to caffeine after three months without it as an insane drive to go-go-go. It reminded me exactly of Alice’s reaction to coffee after a week without it in What Alice Forgot. I’ve never had any kind of intense energy or drive to do stuff after drinking caffeine, not in the beginning, not after going without it for longer than normal. I thought that was just something that happened in fiction, to be honest. It was interesting to hear about this happening to someone in real life, especially as it apparently happens to Pollan every week as he tries to abstain every day except Saturday. Do you all experience caffeine as a jolt or rush? I’d love to hear about those experiences. I find that quite fascinating. For me, drinking a cup of coffee is no different than drinking a glass of water or a cup of orange juice. (Or a cup of decaf coffee, for that matter.)

Altogether, I’d say that this book was okay. Could’ve been better/more, but I did get something out of it.

About Amanda

Agender empty-nester filling my time with cats, books, fitness, and photography. She/they.
This entry was posted in 2020, Adult, Prose and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Caffeine, by Michael Pollan (audio)

  1. To be honest, I’m with you. Drinking a cup of coffee is like water. Doesn’t affect me…except when I go to a local coffee shop where they grind it themselves. When I get more than one there, I’m on edge all day. Luckily, I don’t go there very often and have the coffee Kim makes me.


    • Amanda says:

      The only time I feel it affect me is when there’s just too much coffee concentrated in one cup. Example: On Christmas, my brother and I both wanted a cup that afternoon, so my stepmom was going to put on the french press for us both. Now, when I use a french press, I use four scoops (about 24 grams) for the entire pot. I use three scoops (18 grams) for my pourover. The two taste roughly the same, except the press has thicker coffee due to coffee dust that gets through the sieve. Now, if I use the pourover to make two or more cups of coffee, I can continue to use the same grounds as long as they haven’t been sitting.

      But my brother, who should know better because he has a post-doc in math, assumes that you need to put in new grounds for every cup you make. He doesn’t take into account factors like time spent brewing or water-to-grounds ratio in pourover vs french press. He thought we needed to put four scoops for each cup of water in the press. And since three of us were going to have coffee – including my dad – William wanted to use TWELVE SCOOPS. Holy hell. I managed to talk him down to eight, which I knew was still too much. And it was. It was like drinking 16 oz of pure espresso. I didn’t feel any increase in energy or anything, but my muscles, especially in my face, were vibrating extremely fast and my heart was racing. Next time, I’ll make the coffee…


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