My Personal Caffeine Experiment: The ResultsMy guesses were no better than pure chance.

Over the span of one week, I enjoyed six cups of Americano — all on different days, of course, or else my heart would explode — at my favorite local coffee shop. If you missed my last two blog posts, here’s the deal: the coffee shop’s owner thought I couldn’t distinguish between a caffeinated Americano and a half-caffeinated Americano.

But I begged to differ. I know my body, and I know its reactions to caffeine. I bet him that I could indeed tell the difference. And so, the great week-long blind experiment commenced: all week, the baristas prepared cups of Americano for me without letting me in on the secret of which beans they’d used. I drank each cup and took notes.


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.


Cup #6 (Friday): I think this one is definitely caffeinated. I have an elevated heart rate and a decreased headache. A bit of excitement, too. I took headache meds earlier, ones that contain caffeine, so I might be improperly not teasing them apart enough. Still, at this point, I’m so confused by all of this that I’m just going to guess that this one’s fully caffeinated.

Prediction: FULL CAFFEINE.

Actual: DECAF.


Well, I started off pretty strong, no? I had three correct guesses in a row followed by three incorrect ones. I’m pretty excited that I was able to detect the decaf curveball on day #3 (because, after all, I was expecting only two options — either a fully-caffeinated beverage, or a half-caffeinated beverage). But the very same curveball threw me for a loop on the final day.

I’m not much better than a coin flip.

So, what does this all mean for me? Well, I think I overestimate my body’s ability to detect caffeine. There are so many variables in any given day that can effect my physiological arousal — not just caffeine, but sleep, weather, exercise, travel, perceived stress, illness, and so on — that it’s pretty difficult to detect when coffee alone is the culprit.

Ever consider conducting your own blind caffeine experiment? If so, let me know in the comments — and please leave a link to your post if you blog about it!

Creative Commons License photo credit: Alice Barigelli


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