My Personal Caffeine Experiment: The PredictionsCaffeine is a tricky little substance. Sometimes, I’m scared of it and it ramps up my anxiety level. Other times, I love it — and it boosts my concentration and my mood.

So, I did a little experiment to see if I could predict the caffeine level in my favorite beverage at my favorite coffee shop just about every day for a week. From my last post:

To what extent would I experience the placebo effect (or even the nocebo effect) versus a bona fide reaction to the caffeine?

This is where the good folks at Alabaster come in. For the entire past week, they worked with me in setting up a personal experiment to test just that. Six cups of Americano. Six different days. Six different opportunities for me to blindly guess the caffeine content of each drink.


The day that Casey, one of Alabaster’s baristas, first introduced me to Americano, I tried (and failed) to go shopping at Target later in the day. I was a jittery (but not panicky) wreck. I felt ultra-caffeinated and a little goofy, and I was too spazzy to tick off items on a mundane shopping list.

So, I began ordering half-decaf Americanos instead: half caffeinated coffee beans, half decaffeinated coffee beans.

And it worked. I found the half/half combo to be perfect for me: it was enough to give me a little boost of energy so I could work, but it wasn’t enough to invoke the nervous energy that sometimes conspired with my nervous system to make me panic.

But recently, I got in a conversation with Karl, the owner of Alabaster, who said that I probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between half-decaf and fully-caffeinated Americano. The difference, he said, was so slight.

GAME ON, KARL. I promptly agreed to spend the week doing some blind Americano testing. I’d come in for at least 5 cups of Americano, spread out across the following week, and the barista would make either a fully-caffeinated Americano or a half-decaf Americano (without telling me!).

And then, at the end of the week, I would have to guess which cups were which.


The week’s almost over, and I’ve taken plenty of notes for each “blind” cup of Americano I’ve consumed this week. Later today, I plan to go in for my final cup and to compare notes with the owner and the baristas. For now, here are my predictions:

Cup #1 (Saturday): I ordered this cup around 3 p.m. to go. I was with my husband and my sister-in-law, and we were all planning on traveling about a half-hour away for dinner with my in-laws. I drank the coffee within about an hour. Because of the stress of traveling a half hour away (one of my panic triggers), I took one Xanax. Made it to dinner unscathed, but had a panic attack on the return drive — an unusual event for me if I’ve already taken a Xanax. Prediction: FULL CAFFEINE.

Cup #2 (Monday): Drank this cup around 5 p.m. in the coffee shop. I was already a bit jittery before drinking the coffee, but I was tired and needed to get some work done, and that’s why I decided to get the coffee. The coffee made me more jittery and my nose got very cold (a strange but usual symptom of anxiety for me). I felt many physical symptoms of anxiety while at the coffee shop as I did some prep work for a course that I’m teaching next semester. The anxiety kept growing, so I decided to leave. Prediction: FULL CAFFEINE.

Cup #3 (Tuesday): I’m not trying to judge by flavor, because I know that caffeine can’t really be detected by taste. But this cup just felt weak. I took this cup to go and went home to complete some work. By the time I’d finished half the cup, I actually felt sleepy! I’d taken a Xanax earlier that day, but this sleepiness is unusual even for Xanax. It almost felt like the coffee was spiked with Benedryl or something. After finishing the cup, I had no physical side effects (no jittering, no increase in heart rate) and I actually took a two-hour nap almost immediately after taking the last sip. Did they throw me a curveball? Did they give me a completely decaffeinated cup of Americano? Prediction: HALF-DECAF, or even FULL DECAF if someone threw me a curveball.

Cup #4 (Wednesday): This cup helped to relieve a mild headache. After drinking it, I was better able to focus on my task of grading some final papers for my marketing class. I felt sleepy after finishing the cup at the coffee shop, so I left and went home. My blood sugar got pretty low and I had to eat immediately after getting home — is that a sign that caffeine was involved? Doesn’t caffeine boost metabolism, which in turn makes my blood sugar dip more quickly? I’m confused by this one, especially because I didn’t have any jitters. Prediction: HALF DECAF.

Cup #5 (Thursday): This cup cured a mild headache, and while drinking it at the coffee bar, I was able to bang out a full chapter of reading and notes for one of next semester’s classes. I felt pretty energized, but not jittery. I felt calm — no anxiety, no stress. I feel like it gave me energy without all of the negative side effects usually associated with caffeine. I am thoroughly confused at this point and I can’t wait to find out the actual caffeine content of my drinks this week! Prediction: FULL CAFFEINE.

I’ll offer up my predictions for the final cup in the next post — and reveal which cups (if any!) actually contained caffeine.

Creative Commons License photo credit: JefferyTurner