Mural that shows different coffee brewing methods.

How I Curbed Caffeine Cravings in Coffee Crazed Vietnam

While Vietnam’s coffee allure may have pushed me into consuming more caffeine than ever, it also nudged me to give it up, at least for the last 19 days.

I have no immediate intention on stopping this cold-turkey endeavor. Still, the abstinance could be broken in an instant, as the option to have a hot, strong, bitter, black brew, always looms.

While I still get the desire, the cravings have waned considerably.

To be honest, I’d love a cup of hot Vietnamese, Cà Phê Đen (black coffee). The morning barista at Indonchine Cafe makes a warm, smooth cup. Not all of them do. As mentioned in a previous post, coffee is served ice-cold by default in hot, coastal, Danang.

To my right, I hear the barista grinding beans as my brain and fingers sync with the QWERTY keyboard. I wonder how many beans are being ground simultaneously around the earth.  

Experimental Approaches to Beverage Consumption

This anti-coffee approach is an experiment that I don’t want to stop on day 19, while the intent wasn’t to give it up permanently. But now, with this spurt of counter-consumption, I feel I’m learning more about this beverage, brain warmer, drink, drug, elixir, java, joe, mud or stimulant. Call it what you wish.

A few years back I steeped white tea leaves in lieu of coffee every morning for a few months. I sipped it during the early morning ESL class I had. The effect felt steadier. There weren’t physiological eruptions and disruptions that came from coffee. White tea was a smoother, less-nervy, elixir.

White tea is less processed than green tea; thus, has more medicinal effects. Unlike green tea, White tea is not well-known. Health gurus often mention how good they believe green tea to be, but most don't acknowledge the superior white tea.
A long tea tasting counter at a tea plantation, Newara Elyia, Sri Lanka.
Tea Tasting Table, Newara Elyia, Sri Lanka.

NOTE TO SELF: Research black, green and white tea and their medicinal effects. Empirically speaking, caffeine consumed in tea is healthier (especially for the nerves), compared to when it's consumed in coffee.

As my white tea habit morphed back into coffee consumption, a brewing boom was evident where I was in Saudi Arabia, a country of coffee aficionados.

A paper cup with art: a camel and a herder, next to a pot with fresh Chemex, slow drip coffee.
Chemex and a cute camel cup, Hafr al-Batin, Saudi Arabia.

With the advent of a world coffee explosion, and new cultural freedoms for women in that kingdom, coffee shops were popping up all over. I saw the swift development in front of my eyes.

For two semesters I had morning classes at the community college in the city. There were three new coffee shops across the street. I got into the habit of arriving with enough time get that hot, black americano, before class.

It sounds wonderful and it’s the total norm across the globe.

Is Coffee a Necessity?

Did I really need the cup to teach the class? Absolutely not. It was mostly psychological, although the thought of the warmth was comforting and there are clearly physical effects on the brain, and digestive system.

I’ve noticed that being in front of a class moving, talking, and interacting, naturally gives me more energy than a cup of coffee. The same goes for a walk in nature, or a yoga session.

On some mornings now a coconut helps. Going to the beach is a nice way to wake up, too. Walking or jogging in a forest or anywhere also provides a natural pick me up.

I love the idea of a brain-warming, fresh, black, hand-crafted beverage, especially while I’m playing the role of cyborg, connected to a laptop, or if I’m sitting down and having a conversation with someone. But, it’s day 19.

Through this experiment so far, I’ve deemed that coffee may be overrated for me.

I sip a coconut and lightly gaze around the café. Everyone has a coffee of some sort, while looking at their phones, and twitching a leg, hands or fingers.  I must have been doing some of these things too but I never noticed.
Holding a coconut with a straw, there's artwork framed on the wall behind me, inside Indochine Cafe, Danang, Vietnam.
Coconut in lieu of Cà Phê Đen at Indochine Cafe, Da Nang, Vietnam.

I think often:

I’d still love to be sipping on a cup of java while sitting comfortably with my machine. I enjoy the smell, taste, ritual and euphoria.

Back in Saudi I’d start hanging out in brand new coffee shops all over the northeastern city of a million people.

In the summer of 2020, stuck in country, there was no job to go to or virtual classroom to login to. Despite the hot temps and closed borders, the Arabian peninsula giant conducted business as usual inside its borders.

Many newly constructed coffee shops and cafés would be part of everyday life. I don’t recall having the thought of giving up coffee, or even slowing down.

Looking back, I didn’t need the coffee.

That summer I’d power walk through the desert every morning as the sun rose. The sunrises and cushioned sands gave me more energy than the designer coffee I’d drink soon thereafter, and into the afternoon.

Four camels and their humps walk under a rising desert sun.
Camels under a rising desert sun, Matraka, Saudi Arabia.

I was taught about Chemex and V60 drip. This method is eminent in coffee drinking.

While luxuriously sipping his own hand-crafted Chemex drip coffee, my Ugandan barista friend explained:

Chemex is the cleanest way to consume coffee.

At least I was drinking coffee in its healthiest form.

After leaving Saudi, I would go on to drink copious coffee in the production powerhouses of Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, Thailand, Laos, and now Vietnam.

Coffee barista in action inside 'Lao Lo' café, Luang Prabang, Laos.
A passionate barista and coffee consumer at his family owned Lao Lo Café, Luang Prabang, Laos.

After knowing the Ugandan, I’ve come across passionate baristas from these other tropical countries, too.

The Current Coffee Boom

Coffee-producing countries are taking full advantage of the stimulating drink phenomenon that has taken over the earth. The commodity helps tropical economies, provides jobs and is synonymous with socialization and work.

Coffee has cemented itself as a necessity for the majority of humans on earth.

A world wall map showing the coffeebelt, the earth's three coffee growing regions, all of which are between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn.
A world coffee map fills a wall in a café, Nong Khai, Thailand.

This is one of the more interesting wall setups I’ve come across. We see that the world’s coffee growing regions are between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. Essentially in our earth’s tropical zone(s).

I imagine we’ll continue to see more coffee artistry such as this as more cafés peacefully push coffee across the globe.

Coffee is the second biggest commodity after oil.

Between visits to the above countries, I was in the US staying with family. Upon returning from Arabia, I’d instantly realize that a family member was not immune to the world’s black elixir growth, either. The option of recently roasted and freshly ground, pour-over coffee in the morning, mid morning and afternoon, was not possible to turn down.

The smell, taste and feeling was stimulating, enjoyable and quickly habit forming. I would come to enjoy hand crafting it.

Prior to 19 days ago, I had been considering taking a break from this omnipresent, plant-processed beverage for about a year.

Recently in Laos I had coffee down to two days a week. On the other days I would drink a pot (plus full hot water refill) of either black, green or white tea.

A big glass of mixed fruit, a glass of water, a mug, and a pot full of white tea.
Fruit and a pot of white tea inside Naked Espresso Mixay, Vientiane, Laos.

Like China, Sir Lanka, India and Nepal, Laos grows phenomenal tea in its magical mountains.

Tea days felt smoother than coffee days. There were no droopy eyes from a caffeine crash.

Coffee has more caffeine than tea, while two pots of tea still pack plenty of caffeine. Drinking tea felt perfect all day, with zero fatigue and without coffee’s caffeine spikes.

Arrival in a Whole New Land, Vietnam

The first morning after arriving in Hanoi from Laos, I was talking to a local barista, who excitedly had me drinking exotic weasel coffee.

A vintage coffee grinder, a jar of 'Weasel' coffee beans and a jar of 'tradition' coffee beans on a shelf.
Weasel Coffee beans, Hanoi, Vietnam.

As I saw coffee shops at almost every step, my admiration for this ubiquitous drink didn’t need a boost to rekindle itself. I was spontaneously excited about this Vietnamese cultural newness. I’d never seen so many coffee shops in one area.

By looking at the grinder to the left of the weasel beans, we can deduce that coffee culture is not new here. This is easily assumed after walking around Hanoi’s Old Quarter, too.

Coffee and tea vibes have been booming there for years.

Outside, the small façade of 'Hao Cafe' with a view of two people inside.
One of seemingly endless, intimate cafés in the Old Quarter, Hanoi, Vietnam.

Days later I would be in Danang on the coast where the coffee culture is the same. In Vietnam, coffee consumption can bombard you if you let it. I did.

The Habit Intensified

Cà Phê Đen (black Vietnamese coffee) is an inexpensive staple in Vietnam. Along with plenty of ice, they typically add sugar. So I always had to remember to say:

Hot, no sugar, no milk.

If they don’t understand, get out your translator.

I got to the point where I would have three Cà Phê Đens per day, usually at three different establishments.

I enjoyed the routine. These little elixirs weren’t breaking the bank. At a sit down coffee bar, a Vietnamese black coffee typically costs 20 k Dong ($.87). Tipping in local coffee shops doesn’t seem to be a thing in Vietnam.

A glass of water and a glass of dark, black coffee on a tray sitting on a stool inside.
Water and bona fide, dark Cà Phê Đen from ‘Gear Café‘, Da Nang, Vietnam.

I noticed that I’d be wide awake till about 9 p.m. The caffeine effect was so constant that there were no crashes. In Vientam, I was taking in more caffeine than ever.

Still, from the heat and swimming in the ocean, I was tired and thought I was sleeping well. But I knew I’d never felt so awake all day, and it was from those three small, but incredibly strong, cups.

Vietnamese Coffee is Strong

Writing this is increasing my cravings. In a Vietnamese city, I’m surrounded by beans, grinders, drip gadgets, signs, and offers:

Come in, have some coffee.

Fortunately, most of these beverage shops offer fresh juice like lemonade, orange or pineapple juice. And many places have ginger tea and fresh coconuts on offer.

As cold black coffee is the default, some makeshift baristas are not used to making it hot. One day at a little local café that was new to me, the hot Cà Phê Đen I ordered came at room temperature. This enabled me to taste how strong Cà Phê Đen actually is. And it tasted like, mud. I tried but could only get a quarter of the cup down. It was beyond bitter and instantly produced a yuk face with each small, struggling sip.

That led to the enhanced clarification:

Vietnamese coffee is really strong.

I was finished with Cà Phê Đen.

My daytime affair with this staple Viet coffee was over. For a few days I ordered Americanos and drip coffees. The latter costs five times as much as Cà Phê Đen, but is an eminent cup.

It turned out that the muddy-tasting, room temperature, black coffee probably spawned a new era in beverage consumption, at least for the last 19 days. While I don’t plan on consuming coffee in the near future, I still get cravings every day as I smell it, and see others drinking it.

I can’t tell you how much I’d love a cup of coffee while sitting on my laptop. Instead, these days I’ve been drinking, orange juice, lemonade, pineapple juice, ginger tea and freshly opened coconuts.

Many establishments have smoothies but I’ve had issues with the no milk concept. Not including milk in a smoothie is an odd concoction to some, so to avoid any chance of being served calf milk blended with fruit, I don’t try to order smoothies.

Cow's milk was designed for calves, not humans. 

The Endeavor Didn’t Start Well

On the original first day I tried to stop, I’d finished a second smoothie bowl at Loving Vegan. AIong with a headache, I instantly felt the desire to sleep.

From Loving Vegan, I conviniently walked to XVIII 43 Factory Coffee for a designer, slow-pour drip, the best cup I knew of in Da Nang. It was also the most expensive; five-fold what I was paying for the mostly warm, dark, Vietnamese black coffee.

Me sipping smooth pour-over coffee inside a space with brick walls and windows.
One of my last cups of coffee at XLIII Specialty Coffee, Da Nang, Vietnam.

Oddly, the fist sip didn’t taste good. Maybe it’s because I’d broken my promise to myself. I was supposed to give up coffee that day. The rest of the cup tasted OK, not eminent like cups of this careful, hand-crafted quality I’d tasted there before.

I feel that last qualitative cup helped the transition to cold turkey since I’d just had one cup around midday.

Was that muddy, room-temperature robusta what ultimately got me to give up coffee? It was certainly a turning point.

Side Effects of Going Cold Turkey

Fatigue, sometimes severe, especially over the first few days.

• Uncontrollable yawning on occasion, every day for the first week.

• Occasional Headaches for the first few days.

Desire to clear my head with coffee.

Dreamy hallucinations during a massage on day 2. I must have been half asleep when I hallucinationed and had a pleasant illusion of being on a different earth. Otherwise, the therapy was relaxing and helped with the withdrawal symptoms.

A standard Vietnamese body massage is remarkable. This was the first time I’d had a massage with no caffeine in my system.

Perceived Benefits

Better night’s sleep I’ve been sleeping sounder. Whether it’s six, seven or eight hours, the sleep is more solid. I haven’t been waking up as much, and some nights not at all.

Anxiety level is down I’m not feeling anxious but there are times where I get irritated, like everyone else. Imagine, coming to a whole new country? Little things can be agravating, like someone picking their nose and then handing you a spoon that they’ve cradled in their palm.

Just two days after giving up coffee, I felt way less anxiety spawned from those little things. Any anxiety I have now is much milder. People who have gone from coffee drinking regularly, to quitting, may understand perfectly.

I feel the anxiety or nervousness I get now is only a fraction of what it was before going cold turkey.

Enhanced Clarity I feet an enhanced clarity while walking on the beach. It’s as if my senses are more open.

No chest palpitations Every once in a while I’d feel something in my chest, whether it was on the side of my heart, or the opposite side. In the last 19 days, I haven’t felt this.

No toe stiffening Oddly, one of my toes was awkwardly stiffining up or freezing on occasion. This hasn’t happened in the last 19 days.

Situational Coffee Drinking

A trend among coffee connoisseurs who want to wane dependence, is Situational Coffee Drinking.

To drink the stimulant situationally means to consume it when it benefits us the most. For example, if there’s a deadline, a presentation to give, or a long drive. These could be good times to indulge in a cup of black nectar.

Situational coffee drinking doesn’t warrant every day consumption.

Situational consumption is something I hope to consider since I enjoy a cup of qualitative joe, or smooth green and white tea, while I hope to never take up a daily caffeine addiction again.

While Vietnam somehow had me drinking more coffee and caffeine than ever before, this heightened abuse prodded me to call it quits for 19 days and counting. For me I believe it’s for the best.

Have you every tried to give up caffeine? Do you prefer life with or without it, or have you considered situational consumption? Leave a comment below, or continue the conversation on Facebook or Twitter.

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4 thoughts on “How I Curbed Caffeine Cravings in Coffee Crazed Vietnam

  1. Thanks for a well written and interesting account of your dance with coffee. Currently I drink two cups a day and am content with the habit .

    1. One thousand thanks, GEORGE, ‘Dance with coffee’ nice way to put it. I’d like to add to that and call it part of the ‘dance with life’. – – – I think we all have a unique relationship to coffee. While saying: ‘everything in moderation’ is a cliche, it fits coffee perfectly IMO.

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