Last week, I conquered the impossible. Okay, I may be exaggerating just a tiny bit, but for many, my feat seems truly unfeasible. Nope, I didn’t climb a mountain, go vegan (been there, done that), or run a marathon. I went a week without coffee.

With Thanksgiving coming up, I found it fitting to go cold turkey. I didn’t do it for any other reason than to test (or torture) myself, so in reality I could have stopped at any time. But my stubbornness knows no bounds, even when it’s up against crippling tiredness.

Here's how my hardheadedness kept me going.


I felt that faux sense of triumph that comes with the beginning of any new diet change. I made it to work without grabbing my regular medium coffee from the breakfast cart, and I even resisted the free bottomless coffee in the break room.

This first day, I didn’t even touch tea because I felt I was a superhuman who could avoid any beverages with ease.

That discipline high waned by the end of the day. After working eight hours, I was headed for the gym, but all I really wanted was to nap. Still, I knew I couldn’t give up on the first day, so I carried that determination over to the treadmill and got through a workout--caffeine-free.


Nope. No. Bad Day. The smugness from day one slipped away as I awakened from a night of little sleep and launched headfirst into withdrawal headaches. It was so bad that I did something I never, ever do: I bought tea. Lots of it.

I started with green tea, and immediately my soul was sad. Plain green tea is for people who hate themselves. My next cup was green tea with mango, which was only slightly better. The best by far was vanilla chai, a sweet, spice-filled tea that felt like a warm blanket. But I still would have drank shitty convenience-store coffee over anything at that moment.

I had 10 cups of tea that day, each cup bringing a gulp of caffeine-free disappointment.


Still had the headaches, but at least I got a decent night’s sleep. A friend next to me had a grande dark roast coffee, and I actually salivated whilst inhaling the strong, nutty aroma.

That day, literally six people had the same response to my week of abstaining: a “why?” matched with a face of pure horror. The best comments I got were, “Do you hate yourself?” and, “Blink twice if you’ve been taken hostage and this is a torture method.” It was a long day of questions and cravings and a lot of work.

On the upside, my meeting was catered by Chick-Fil-A. The Chick-Fil-A sauce could compete with coffee for a place in my heart. It wouldn’t win, but it’s an honor to be nominated.


No sleep + work at 8 a.m. = death. I wanted to grab the French roast K-cup sooooooooo badly, but instead, I grabbed one of the cookies that a coworker had made. The sweet butter cookies did not fill the void, but three of them did make me slightly happier.

That made me realize that coffee isn’t just about the caffeine for me; it’s about stopping myself from stuffing my face. The mix of bold coffee and skim milk with a drop of half-and-half, no sugar, tastes better than most foods. 

The taste is so good that I caved a tiny bit that night and ordered coffee ice cream at Serendipity (there’s an article on that coming soon). It was the closest I’d come that week to caffeine, and it was glorious. Creamy, sweet, rich, and silky--yet I still would have preferred a grande iced coffee, black.

Friday and Saturday:

These days marked the end of the withdrawal headaches. I felt fine, even with limited sleep, and only had one tea each day. I didn’t even have a coffee craving. Weird, I know.


The final full day without coffee. I survived, but barely. The temperature dropped to 40, and everyone knows nothing goes better with a chilly day than a nice cup of joe.

I braved the cold for yoga and then had to sit for three hours to get a tattoo, after which it was already dark and even colder, and trains were delayed, and I was miserable. I walked past three Starbucks on my five-block walk home from the train, and by the end, I would have even settled for the shitty 7/11 variety. I caved again and got a decaf, but it just tasted like more disappointment.

There was free coffee at the dorms, and without thinking I actually put my cup beneath the spout, ready for the hot dark liquid, but I stopped myself. I wanted my return to caffeine to be better than that.

As I got my orange spice tea, I dreamed of the coffee cup that would meet my lips the next morning for Monday’s breakfast: a French roast cup from a mom-and-pop shop on my way to work, with a chocolate croissant to reward myself for surviving the week.

The week wasn’t easy, but it was definitely a learning experience. I learned that withdrawal headaches hurt like hell. I learned that tea isn’t as bad as I thought. I learned that I really should get more sleep.

I learned that I can live without coffee, and moving forward, I will try to limit myself to one a day. I now know I can survive anything if I put my mind to it. I’ll keep that in mind as finals season approaches.

tea, coffee, beer
Breffni Neary

I too love lemon, but not more than coffee.