Caffeine: An Illustrated Love Story

Being the adventures of a not-so-young man whose interests are writing, caffeine, and Beethoven. Actually, it’s somewhat difficult to recall where my love affair with caffeine began. I mean, I certainly remember being enamored of the glass-bottled Mountain Dews. I’m talking about these bad boys, not your modern stuff:

And I know my parents introduced me to caffeine at a relatively young age; hell, I couldn’t have been any older than eight years old when I had my first cup. I felt decadent and grown-up, but most importantly, I felt human, for lack of a better word. What I didn’t understand then is that I had (and have) ADHD, and while the drug helped me to focus better, as it does for most people, it did so in a quite different way. Sure, my alertness improved, but the resulting focus came because it quieted my brain.

At any given moment, I may have five or six different tracks of ideas running concurrently, and it makes any single-focused task incredibly difficult to achieve. Most days I write these blog entries in fits and starts, in between other projects or at the same time as other projects. Unless I have caffeine right before starting. When I do that, I can shoot right through and ignore the distracting thoughts that pop up at regular intervals. Okay, well not as much as when the doctor had me on stronger stimulants, but I didn’t care for the side effects there.

This, however, is not about my ADHD. Not directly, anyway. This is about caffeine and its glorious (and not-so-glorious) record in my life. Of course, writers have a long, storied history with the drug, enough that coffee and coffee shops are forever entwined with the romantic notion of a writer. Balzac, of course, was famously linked to coffee. According to his Wikipedia entry:

Balzac’s work habits are legendary – he did not work quickly, but toiled with an incredible focus and dedication. His preferred method was to eat a light meal at five or six in the afternoon, then sleep until midnight. He then rose and wrote for many hours, fueled by innumerable cups of black coffee. He would often work for fifteen hours or more at a stretch; he claimed to have once worked for 48 hours with only three hours of rest in the middle.

Some even blame his death on his coffee habit (dying from a deadly shot of espresso, the horror), but the evidence on that claim seems a little thin. Still, I don’t think I need to tell you about this caricature of the writer, whether good or bad. Hey, at least it beats the connection between writers and alcohol. I find that one to be particularly poisonous.

I do love a good cup of coffee, don’t get me wrong. I like it as dark as possible (French Roast is just on the lighter spectrum of acceptable), and I can even handle a good bitter cup from time to time. Once found a nice dark Jamaican roast at Whole Foods that…well, let’s just say I savored it as much as possible.

Unfortunately, my time with coffee seems to have passed, joining just one of many things that causes my tortured stomach problems. I’ve made the full-on switch to caffeinated soft drinks, and even limit those due to the caloric intake. But caffeinated soft drinks? The mind just whirls at the possibilities and flavors.

It’s hard to pin down exactly which soda first included caffeine. There are, of course, the famous old concoctions that combined caffeine and cocaine (there’s some alliteration for you) that started out as medicinal drinks. Coca Cola is the most famous of these, with “Coca” coming from the coca leaf, or cocaine, and “Cola” coming from the kola nut, which contains caffeine. Some people find this one hard to believe, but it’s true.

Oh, and side note, 7-Up once contained lithium.

Of course, my own history with caffeine begins in the early 1980s, and primarily focused on the major sodas, Coke, Pepsi, and of course, my favorite, Mountain Dew, which saw a few design changes over the years, wrapping back around to today’s Throwback design, which really doesn’t evoke the nostalgia for me that it might for others.

The caffeine front of the 1980s and 1990s really didn’t see to many developments, aside from your stray Surge or Jolt Cola, both of which I found overrated. Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the energy drink craze of the early 00s. Did I jump in? You bet I did. I tried all of the early ones, until it became absolutely impossible to keep track of the new brands…and, of course, finally realizing the amount of distressing new stimulants I ingested during that period. Really, I might as well have been a human guinea pig. I’m still not sure how some of those received approval; I recall a wildly racing heart and palpitations on several occasions.

That wasn’t quite enough to deter me, though. I simply became more selective, focusing on standbys like Red Bull and Mountain Dew’s energy drink line, Amp. What’s that? Mountain Dew flavors with twice the kick? Hell yes, sign me up. One of my particularly finest traditions during the mid-00s was to pick up a four-pack of these early on a Saturday when I dropped off my then-girlfriend at the Metro station. At seven in the morning. Yeah, I needed a little caffeine. My biggest problem laid in the fact that I drank all four during the day. Jittery mess by the end of the day? Oh my, yes.

These days I’m far tamer. I still love caffeine, but, having hit middle age of course my body can’t tolerate what it once did. With coffee ruled out, I’ve pretty much just fallen back to the old standard, the alpha and omega of my caffeine love affair, Mountain Dew. I find a bottle on the way to work each morning does me enough good. Any more and I start to feel uncomfortable. I miss the wild days, but in the end I know that this is better for me. Soon I won’t be able to drink any, and so it’s appropriate to carry out this kind of postmortem.

So here’s to caffeine, the incredibly addictive drug that should probably be federally controlled but stays out there in the wild to hook us into a lifetime of consumer addiction. I’m going to miss you.


Oh, just a quick reminder that my short story The Kayson Cycle is still free through Midnight tomorrow night. It’s peaked at #602 in free ebooks so far and hit #3 on the Westerns chart. Thanks to everyone, and for those who haven’t, check it out!

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  1. Coffee and coke – my buddies! It makes me so sad that I can’t handle much caffeine anymore without losing sleep at night. Aging sucks!

  2. I don’t drink soda very often because I prefer water much more, but I have to have my cup of coffee in the morning. I don’t normally drink more than that. There’s nothing I love more than to sit down in the morning while the sunlight filter through the window and sip at my coffee as I write. Love it!

    Will “The Kayson Cycle” be available on iBooks? I really want to read it, and I’ll download the Kindle app if necessary, but I’d rather keep all my books in one place. I’m OCD like that.

    • Hi Liz! Unfortunately, I had to agree to exclusivity with Amazon in order to offer it for free, so it won’t be on iBooks until April at the earliest. I definitely plan on getting it up there soon, along with my full-length novel. And I understand the OCD thing, I love having all my books in the Kindle cloud 🙂

  3. Hey, Jonathan. Interesting post. I used to drink a lot of Pepsi, but have curbed that back due to the expanding waistline. I started drinking coffee later in life in the early nineties, thanks to working around people who kept making it. Actually, what hooked me was the creamers. First it was Irish Cream, followed by my favorite, French Vanilla. I have 2-3 cups on the morning since I’m up at 3:00 am and in the office by 4:00 am.
    Mountain Dew in the morning, huh? Feel that burn!
    Take care,


    • I hear you on the waistline thing; I’ve cut way back and soon won’t have any at all. I think I’m having one last fling with the stuff…a good way to mark its exit. Man, I miss coffee, though. I just can’t take what it does to my stomach. Those creamers rock, even if I almost never put cream/milk in my coffee. Miss those too! I can still handle the random latte here or there, thankfully, but I suspect that’s due to it having so little real coffee.

      Well, Mountain Dew Code Red. That eases the burn a little 🙂 Have a great one!

  4. Somehow, I would have pegged you as a Mountain Dew guy 🙂

    I made it all the way through undergrad and grad school without developing a caffeine addiction. It’s like a miracle. Consequently, I’ve never developed a tolerance. A cup of coffee at 10am can cause me sleep issues that night.

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