My Personal Caffeine Experiment: The Setup

I’ve spent the past week drinking some pretty, uh, mysterious cups of coffee.

Well, not coffee, per se — I’ve been drinking Americano, which is made by adding hot water to espresso. It’s my favorite coffee-like beverage.

I’ve been drinking cups of Americano at Alabaster, my favorite downtown coffee shop, for almost a year now. According to Alabaster’s baristas, Americano has less caffeine than traditional drip coffee and less acid to boot. It’s a pretty solid choice, then, for us anxious GERD-y types who insist upon drinking a coffee beverage.

But I’m not here today to simply espouse my love of Americano or of Alabaster. (Although, really, I do love both.)

I’m here to tell you about my experiment.


I’ve always connected caffeine intake with anxiety. And why? Well, the books and the news stories and the internet tell me it’s true: caffeine intake can increase your anxiety. It increases your heart rate, which, in turn, could even produce panic in someone like me who finds a rapid heartbeat to be a triggering sensation.

When I first began getting panic attacks when I was in college, I wasn’t very mindful of my caffeine intake. I drank tea, I drank coffee, and I drank caffeinated soda with every meal. (Thanks, all-you-can-eat-or-drink college cafeteria!)

Over time, however, I began to wonder: how much does caffeine affect my anxiety level and my panic frequency?So, during my last year of college, I decided to quit caffeine cold turkey. I stopped drinking coffee altogether, started drinking decaf tea, and made the switch to caffeine-free sodas.

This is when my two-week withdrawal headache began. It was a pain, sure, but at least I only had to deal with the headache for about 12 hours per day — because my body felt so incredibly worn out that I slept for the other 12 hours of the day.

I stayed caffeine-free for about a year.


As time went on, I began experimenting with caffeine here and there — especially in grad school. After all, I was competing with other students who took ADHD stimulant medication to write papers about complex theoretical communication models — I needed something to give me an edge, right?

From then until now, I began using caffeine strategically instead of mindlessly. Need to read a book for comprehension? Have a cup of black tea. Need to do some brainstorming? Perhaps some green tea. Need to write a paper or a blog post? Coffee.

Still, I minded and monitored my consumption. Always hyper-vigilant, I could distinguish between the physiological effects of green tea (low caffeine) versus black tea (moderate caffeine) versus coffee (high caffeine).

Or so I’d claimed. But to what extent did my knowledge of consuming a certain amount of caffeine affect my body’s reaction to it? In other words, if I know I’m drinking a highly-caffeinated product, am I more likely to feel a buzz than if someone had misled me into merely thinking that I was drinking a highly-caffeinated product?

Or what if I don’t even know the caffeine content of what I’m drinking? What then? How would I react? Would I be able to discern caffeine content by my physiological reactions? By my mood? By my energy level? By anything?

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.

Stay tuned for my coffee-drinking notes and predictions — but for now, I want to hear about you!

My Personal Caffeine Experiment: The Setup

Summer Beretsky

Summer Beretsky enjoys writing about her experiences with anxiety, panic, and Paxil. She had her first panic attack as an undergrad at Lycoming College and plenty more while she worked toward her M.A. in Communication from the University of Delaware. She contributes to the World of Psychology blog here on PsychCentral and has written for the Los Angeles Times. You can follow her on Twitter @summerberetsky.

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APA Reference
Beretsky, S. (2012). My Personal Caffeine Experiment: The Setup. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 21, 2019, from


Last updated: 14 Dec 2012
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