On Cafes, Off Caffeine
I walked into the cafe, undoing my scarf as I opened the door. Diesel is one of three cafes in the Cambridge/Somerville area (that I know about) operated by the same company. They each have their own distinctive style; Forge is light, airy, and appeals more to people who like browsing for coffee accoutrements (using that word, most likely); Bloc 11 is set in an old bank and didn’t check where the name might have come from; and Diesel is filled with industrial furnishings, with reclaimed wood for the stand-up sections at the back. It is a bit dark, and always full of people. Today was no different.
I’ve visited Diesel twice this month. Earlier this year, I was here maybe twenty days out of thirty. I would ride my bike over in the morning, grab a coffee, and stay for three or four hours while I coded away. The baristas would know me by name, and I wouldn’t have to be asked to fill out the automatic receipt when they took my card. Today, I ordered a small decaf coffee, and, as far as I can tell, no one recognized me.
I am writing this now, standing up at the back, because cafes are a staple of nomadic life. For the past few years, they have been the backbone of my existence. It’s been shocking for me to learn this: cafes aren’t everything.
Before, I would move to a city and immediately begin scoping out the best ones for working. When I was still a student in Scotland, I had a blog at the now-defunct edinburghcafes.com where I would review cafes for their plugs, their wifi, and their coffee. I would go on to do this for myself in each city I moved to; Saarbrücken, New York, Geneva, Malta, San Francisco, Chiang Mai…
This past month, I’ve turned the idea that I need cafes on its head. I’ve realized that I go to cafes for one thing - caffeine. Without it, I don’t need them. In fact, they are detrimental to my ability to focus.
I dropped caffeine as part of a month-long cleanse in order to get to know my body better. I had a notoriously bad diet: I would generally drink three or four large cups of coffee a day, heaped with sugar, and eat lots of sweets to get me through the day. I would crash in the afternoon. So I gave up dairy, gluten, sugars (natural and artificial), alcohol, legumes, starch, you name it.
As a result, I’m slowly learning more about myself. Learning I may not be able to eat half-rotten avocados is nowhere near as shattering as the realization that I can actually get more work done at home, sitting at my desk, for hours on end. I can focus better.
It took me so long to learn this, I think, because cafes are where I would meet people. They’re where I would be able to get that much-needed human element into my day. Nomadism is lonely. There were months where I saw few friends; at least once, I left a country entirely because I felt like I couldn’t find a community that I liked. Cafes would help make that easier. So, I would go to them all of the time. It was part of my identity.
But when I have a good community - a few friends, family - I don’t really need them anymore, no matter how much I said I did. Truth is, I don’t even need this decaf coffee I ordered. And now that I’m not anchored to them as part of my workflow, I feel a sense of freedom - from the costs, the noise, the interruptions - that I didn’t expect.
I like that. I’m not saying I’m going to give up going to them all of the time - I, too, get stir crazy. But just knowing they are an option is something worth knowing.
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