Welcome to Caffeinated Anonymous

How a U of T student has to stay caffeinated to keep up

Welcome to  Caffeinated Anonymous

I had a rough morning last week. I woke up feeling extra groggy due to the lack of sleep I’d received the night before: time that I’d spent reading all night, as the typical student does. I felt like a mess — partially because I was. I kept hitting snooze and, before I knew it, I got out of bed with only 15 minutes left to get ready.

I frantically got dressed only to end up looking only half put-together. After a long morning commute where I nearly fell asleep on the subway, I realized that I even managed to forget a book for my English tutorial. I was in desperate need of an energy boost, and I knew that only one thing could bring some positivity to my catastrophic morning — a cup of coffee.

Pre-caffeine, I’m tired, unmotivated, and quite the ‘Negative Nancy.’ I’m a dysfunctional student struggling to remain focused and stay productive. However, after that first sip, it’s an indescribable feeling — a jump-start of euphoria.

Even holding a cup of coffee in the morning makes me feel untouchable. Crossing the street and blending in with the crowd, many of whom are also cupping their own forms of caffeine, I feel like I’ve been integrated into society. I feel at ease with this strange sense of camaraderie, all because of a cup of coffee.

We never stop and evaluate the way we feel after we have a coffee; we simply just know how we feel, and we know that we feel good. For me, it’s like an instant rush of satisfaction — like a warm hug from the inside out. I’m satisfied, relaxed, and most definitely have way more energy than I did rolling out of bed in the morning. All of a sudden, I’m ready to go to tutorial, with or without To The Lighthouse in hand. I’m ready to get my work done. I’m ready to do it all.

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

My history with caffeine

I found a love for coffee about three years ago, after excessively buying drinks from Starbucks following my jump on the iced coffee bandwagon. It wasn’t long until I’d tried nearly every single coffee on the Starbucks menu and every coffee creamer under the sun that I realized I’d been consuming unnecessary — and frankly expensive — amounts of caffeine. It got to a point where I would drink at least two coffees a day and consider it a normal daily routine, until I realized the effects it was having on my health.

I thought it was normal to feel shaky and full of energy all the time. Then one day in the 12th grade, I burned out completely after drinking four cups of coffee to stay up and finish an essay. At that point I realized that consuming caffeine was consuming my entire life — I wasn’t sleeping properly, I relied on it to be more productive, and I felt the impacts on my health. Though I tried to ignore it, I experienced chest pains, headaches, and often was left feeling jittery for days at a time.

Back in high school, caffeine was both an excuse for me to spend my money and to stay up late finishing my assignments. I’ve found myself in the same situation ever since I got to U of T, but it has manifested slightly differently. I’ve integrated caffeine into my routine so seamlessly that I hadn’t even realized it until writing this piece. High school was a walk in the park compared to university. If only 12th-grade me knew that instead of having only one essay due in a semester, university-me would have three essays due in the same week.

The other day I’d actually been prepared for one of my tutorials for my Canadian literature class. I enjoyed a nice medium double-double coffee from Tim Hortons, survived my 9:00 am history lecture in Lash Miller Chemical Laboratories, and was ready to receive the participation marks I’d strategically prepared to earn. But once I’d taken my place in the classroom, I was trembling throughout the entire tutorial. Those answers I’d prepared weren’t put to use, and instead, I just sat there, lacking the confidence to speak, and afraid of embarrassing myself in front of upper-year classmates.

It was ridiculous — I knew exactly what I was going to talk about. I had done the readings, and I’m not one to hide my opinions, especially when it comes to literature. It was only later that I realized the anxiety came from the medium double-double.

Caffeine has become an integral part of my daily routine: each morning typically begins with a coffee. I’ve found that, beyond being able to stay up late to finish assignments, all this caffeine has affected my health. It’s gotten to the point where, sometimes, it can hinder my life and my ability to interact with other people, beyond the point of trembling in tutorials.

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

Caffeine and your mental health 

Braden Martyn, a second-year U of T student majoring in molecular genetics and biochemistry, told me that he also introduced caffeine early on in his high-school years.

“I started drinking coffee more ritually in grade 10 because I’d get up earlier for school,” he said. “I’d see a lot of people drinking coffee and think, ‘Huh, coffee seems nice.’ Then it became a ritual for me around mid-high school.”

When Martyn faced stressful situations, his coffee use grew. “I don’t know how many cups I’ve had in a day [maximum], but I swear it was five or six and I was tweaking during exams,” he said.

To my surprise, I never thought of the many harmful effects that caffeine has on the mind and the body. An article in Pharmacological Reviews noted that caffeine is the most widely used stimulant today. Theoretically, this does make sense, seeing as though most people have a coffee or tea in the morning in order to feel more awake.

However, there’s a line between getting a jump-start in the mornings and overdoing it on caffeine. Even when I did get caffeine jitters, I’d often mistake them for feelings of anxiety. In high school, I once had a major essay to write and I was stressed out. I recall spending seven to eight hours at my local Starbucks to finish this essay. Three coffees and one completed assignment later, I was left restless.

I thought that the constant shakiness came from being anxious about finishing the paper, when in reality, I’d been a victim of ‘caffeinism.’ Caffeinism is when high levels of caffeine consumption cause a slew of negative symptoms. A 2015 study revealed that very high levels of caffeine consumption are predicators for high levels of stress, anxiety, and depression.

Because I had consumed more than 600 milligrams of caffeine, my anxiety levels were through the roof, which explained my inability to stop shaking as well. This can be an endless feedback loop in the situation of university: a heavy workload leads to more stress, which then feeds our need for caffeine to keep up, which can compound our stress even further if we experience caffeinism.

Since caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant, it also affects many parts of the body. I noticed this a few weeks ago: I’d gotten a coffee before lecture, as per usual, but I ended up spending the entire class in discomfort because I felt a sharp pain in my chest.

Throughout the day and later that evening, I’d taken the liberty of trying to drink more water in hopes that the pain would go away. Unfortunately, it didn’t. That week, I drank little to no water at all, which meant that my body was dehydrated. Caffeine stays at its peak level in your blood for anywhere between 15–45 minutes, and it takes about 10 hours for half the amount ingested to be eliminated from your body.

With all of its potential side effects of high blood pressure, anxiety, heartburn, and more, overconsumption of caffeine comes with its risks. However, it’s unlikely that the high levels of caffeination in university students will drop any time soon.

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

Pressures of being a U of T student 

As we all know, being a student at U of T can often be overwhelming. Everyone is stressed out about something or other: while some students feel pressure to maintain a good GPA, others may be more concerned about costs such as tuition and transit.

“Doing a double major in molecular genetics and biochemistry… that’s really tough,” said Martyn. “I have to take courses that go in depth about biochemistry and biology and different processes in the body…  It’s just a lot to know.”

“I do feel like there’s a lot of pressure to do well, especially in such an environment that fosters a lot of really intelligent people.”

No matter what faculty you may find yourself in, there’s a guarantee that you’re spreading yourself thin to finish your readings, review lecture notes, get a good amount of sleep, maintain a social life, and remember to eat. But that’s just student life for you — we’re all stressed out because we want to do well. On top of this, the costs of going to university at U of T just add to the pile of pressure.

“To me, it’s more so that I’m paying a certain amount of money to study here, so it’s more pressure to work harder because tuition is so expensive,” said Maya Martin-Spisak, a second-year student studying history and linguistics.

Personally, the fact that I’m studying at U of T means there’s an added pressure to succeed, considering we’re studying at one of the best universities in the country and paying thousands to be here. There’s no doubt that we’ve resorted to coffee, tea, energy drinks, or any other caffeinated beverage of choice in order to complete assignments and stay on top of our work. Though resorting to caffeine isn’t exactly the healthiest option, it’s something we will continue to do, because you don’t truly know the student struggle until you haven’t survived the day using two iced coffees and five hours of sleep.

It’s crazy to me that coffee, something most people rely on, could have such an impact on my entire life. Up until this point, I’d seen caffeine as a way to unite with friends, as a beverage to accompany my last-minute essays and poor time-management skills. Though I’ve had my negative experiences with caffeine in the past, and will likely go through a few more in the future, I’m able to understand that too much caffeine is never good, since I understand the potential side effects it will have on my body.

In the same way we find ourselves cramming in assignments last minute, consuming one too many cups of caffeine isn’t any better. Doing both of these at the same time just ends up being overwhelming, and we’re completely burned out afterward.

At the end of the day, caffeine is really just a socially acceptable drug that’s only meant to be consumed in moderation. So maybe, every once in a while, remember to put down your coffee, and drink some water in your lecture. At the end of the day, we have to remember to put our well-being first.

Saving and skimping in Toronto this summer

Using Ka Wei, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and Caffiends to your advantage

Saving and skimping in Toronto this summer

Toronto is a city of opportunity, and with opportunity comes temptation. A 15-minute walk anywhere south of Bloor will lead you past fine dining and food trucks, cafes and bars, book stores and record shops — all of which will tax your willpower, strain your attention, and ultimately drain your wallet.

It’s a battle I know all too well; after popping off in the early days of September like some sort of pudgy, pretentious Drake, my lifestyle caught up with me, and I was forced to reform. I sought out the advice of my smarter, thriftier friends, and scraped by for the next five months on eggs, sriracha, cheap coffee, and handouts.  

That episode let me in on one of Toronto’s best-kept secrets: with some luck and resourcefulness, the city can be liveable — you just have to know the right spots.

For food, fifth-year Clara Rutherford recommends Chinatown’s big-time produce vendors: Ka Wei, Hua Sheng, and Lucky Moose. Stocking up on cheap, nutritious grub like kale, beans, and rice will keep you full throughout the day, while dashing into a hole-in-the-wall bakery, like Mashion Bakery on Baldwin and Spadina, is great for loading up on banana bread or pork buns, says Rutherford.

However, flying around these crazy, mosh-pit produce markets can be stressful. The employees blur past you, prefer cash, and have no time to chit-chat. But when you can find a kilogram of quick oats for $3, it’s a trip worth taking.  

On your way back from Hua Sheng, scoop these up and throw ‘em in the freezer: meats, bread, produce, sriracha, whatever. Each are savoury, cheap, and will let you save up some money for your nights out.  

Another food tip: after 3:00 pm, the CityMarkets across town sell ‘enjoy tonight’ products; food that they’re forced to sell because it will ‘expire tomorrow.’

If you’re planning on hitting the town, fourth-year architecture student David Suskin recommends pre-gaming with some cheap alcohol. Pabst Blue Ribbon is always in vogue, while some of the grimier Ontarian wines are sold for around $7. After loosening up, Suskin and I recommend storming into Wide Open, Sneaky Dee’s, the Madison Pub, or Ein-Stein — of meme page fame. All boast cheap beer, and the latter has free cover on Friday and Saturday.

If you’re feeling some cheap coffee after your night out, avoid hitting the more bougie Toronto areas, like Yorkville, Queen West, and King Street. Instead, slip into Caffiends. This tiny, student-run cafe, based out of a shoe closet in Old Vic, sells coffee at a dollar per mug, and offers up one of the best atmospheres in Toronto.

There are other great, inexpensive dives on campus, too. Recent graduate Arielle Mantes recommends Trinity’s The Buttery or Victoria’s Ned’s, but with a few caveats. The drinks there can be pricey, Mantes says, so make sure to bring a reusable mug and tea bag with you to skip the line and cut costs.

If you’re really down and out —think early April, trapped at Robarts, snow on the ground — you can always go to Starbucks. If you’re a Starbucks Gold member, you get a free drink on your birthday. The good news is all it takes to become a member is an email and a few spare minutes to sign up, so make sure to pop by on your birthday for that free drink.

Everyone has their own strategies on how to get by in Toronto. Maybe you sniff out free food on campus: college societies and Frosh week are especially known for this. Perhaps you budget, prep meals, and fast through breakfast. Safe to say, there are hundreds of things you can do, and even more waiting to be discovered.

10 types of ‘coffee’ drinkers you’ll find on campus

Regardless of which category you belong to, make sure you use a reusable cup!

10 types of ‘coffee’ drinkers you’ll find on campus

1. “Rich with a Starbucks Gold Card”

Getting Starbucks before class is part of this gal’s daily regime. She never leaves the house without her makeup on fleek and a fire ’fit. She remains a loyal Gold member and you will never catch her drinking beverages that are not from the famous coffee brand. On her Instagram and/or Snapchat, you can expect to see lots of Tumblr-y pictures of her holding a Starbucks cup featuring her professionally-done nails.

2. “Poor but still has Starbucks Gold Card”

This type of coffee drinker shows up to Starbucks equipped with a backward baseball cap, sweatpants, and a raging hangover. Although they may not be rich, they’re nonetheless a Gold member — not because they are frequent buyers, but because they’re on top of those Star Dashes. In other words, you will only see them in line when there is a Double-Star Day or Happy Hour of some sort going on. Otherwise, they’ll usually go for the cheaper option.

3. “McDonald’s Coffee and Stickers Collector”

They are the most loyal customer of McDonald’s since the release of the $1 coffee. You will find them with an extra-large coffee almost every day — as long as the promotion still stands. In their wallet, you will also find a deck full of McCafé Rewards cards that collect stickers to redeem a free coffee after seven purchases. They wish that the $1 coffee would be offered all year long, because in their minds, McDonald’s is always the way to go for everything. Extra-large coffee and Junior Chicken? Who can say no?

4. “Blue Dragon’s Coffee After Working Out at AC”

Lululemon high-rise leggings, a short crop-top hoodie, and a high ponytail. You guessed it: she just finished a workout at the Athletic Centre and is now ready to cross the street to study at Robarts. Before she leaves, she grabs a coffee at the Blue Dragon café for a boost of energy. She’s hardcore. By hardcore, I mean she actually has abs.

5. “Keurig Kups”

This girl invested in a Keurig machine at the beginning of the school year and pre-makes all her coffees at home. She knows how to save money and will most likely meal prep all of her lunches and dinners. Every one of her friends think she is extremely well-adjusted and put-together and they go to her for advice, but in reality, she’s low-key a mess.

6. “Bubble Tea Squad”

No matter the occasion ­— whether it be a Robarts study session or a 6:00 pm lecture in Con Hall, you can expect to find them and their squad enjoying a bubble tea from either Chatime, Coco, or The Alley. It’s like they never get tired of bubble tea. Half of their Instagram stories are of them drinking bubble tea with friends or doing the bubble tea straw challenge.

7. “Loyal Canadian Timmies”

Starbucks, McDonald’s, Chatime — none of them hit the mark for this steadfast Canadian. This person is loyal to Tim Hortons, and they will either have a black or double-double to start off their day. Only Tim Hortons coffee satisfies their taste buds while still being gentle on their wallet. Whenever Roll Up the Rim is around the corner, they may increase their visits to twice a day. While everyone else complains that Roll Up the Rim gets progressively harder to win each year, you don’t really hear them rant. Why? Because they go to Tim Hortons everyday anyways; Roll Up the Rim is merely a bonus. Real Canadian, eh?

8. “S’well Water Bottle”

This is the healthy and fit girl who will drink gallons of water every day. She wakes up at 7:00 am to catch the sunrise and never misses breakfast before heading to lecture. Sometimes, she will make herself a smoothie in the morning to give herself an extra boost for the day. Oh, and if she has time she will either hit up the gym, meditate, or practice mindful yoga. Coffee? It’s bad for her anxiety.

9. “U of Tears”

Needless to say, this is the true representation of U of Tears. This person is always at the library drowning in school work. They will almost never agree to going out on a Friday night because they just have too many deadlines. Naturally, they have no time to make themselves coffee. In fact, they struggle with basic hydration.

10. “Midnight Red Bull”

This person has probably lost count of how many Red Bulls they’ve had over their four years at U of T. While some were already corrupted by all-nighters back in high school, most of them were not introduced to Red Bull until the Clubs Carnival during Orientation Week. Ever since, they’ve been solely dependent on it during midterm and final seasons. What is life without Red Bull? Can’t imagine it. They’ll probably fight you if you try taking their Red Bull away from them. Better not risk it — just let them fly away.

The caffeine boost you probably need

A quality ranking of caffeinated products

The caffeine boost you probably need

Caffeine is one of the most popular drugs today. To fuel your midterm studies, here is a ranked list of commonly consumed caffeinated products based on caffeine content and nutritional quality.

  1. Pop

Coca-Cola contains a relatively low level of caffeine at 34 mg per bottle. It often isn’t enough for most students. Moreover, Coca-Cola has 35 grams of sugar, an overwhelmingly high amount that meets the recommended daily sugar intake level in just one can.

Regular Pepsi, Mountain Dew, and Dr. Pepper all have similar caffeine content and sugar levels. Diet pop drinks, such as Pepsi Zero Sugar, can contain up to 69 mg of caffeine per bottle.

Overall, due to its high concentration of sugar and relatively low caffeine content, pop should be a last resort when looking for an energy boost.

  1. Energy drinks

Energy drinks are highly concentrated with vitamins and minerals. However, they often lead to a sugar crash and potentially serious side effects like high blood pressure and hyperactivity.

Red Bull and Monster energy drinks, for example, contain up to 160 mg of caffeine per can and 27 g of sugar along with B-vitamins. Additionally, the 110 calories per can may cause weight gain if consumed excessively.

5-hour ENERGY drinks have zero grams of sugar, but 18 mg of sodium — enough to elevate your blood pressure. A slightly healthier alternative is the V8 Fusion energy drink, which has a lower level of caffeine than Red Bull and Monster at 80 mg per can, while containing a full serving of fruits and vegetables at only 50 calories.

  1. Commercially sold and specialty coffee beverages

Coffee may have potential health benefits such as improving cognitive function. Tim Hortons’ original blend has around 140 mg of caffeine for one small cup, while Starbucks’ short coffee has around 180 mg. Specialty beverages like cappuccinos, mochas, espressos, and Americanos contain around 70–150 mg.

While those beverages are relatively harmless, there are some extremely caffeinated beverages that should be avoided: a Starbucks Venti for example, may contain over 400 mg of caffeine, meeting the recommended daily dosage.

  1. Tea

Whether it’s hot brewed oolong or fruit-infused iced tea, tea is an affordable and healthy way to energize your body in the mornings.

Green tea is rich in antioxidants and has been shown to help lower blood pressure. Green tea from brands such as Tetley and Tazo only have around 30 mg per cup, but some brands, such as the Teavana Matcha Japanese Green Tea, can contain over 40 mg.

Black tea, like those under common brands of English Breakfast and Earl Grey, has around 40–70 mg per cup. For a stronger caffeine boost, Zest Tea Blue Lady, a flavourful black tea with an aromatic mix of citrus fruits contains about as much caffeine as a cup of coffee.

1.Traditional ‘homemade’ brewed coffee

Freshly ground and without extra additives or sugar, homemade coffee is the number one go-to in the morning and before an all-nighter. Brewing your own coffee is not only more affordable, but it’s a healthier option than buying out.

Typical brands like Nescafé, Maxwell House, and Starbucks VIA Ready Brew have around 90–200 mg of caffeine per cup. Lightly roasted, more finely ground beans may result in higher caffeine levels. Cold brewed coffee may have higher caffeine content and be less acidic than hot coffee. Depending on how it is brewed, it may be tastier and easier on a sensitive stomach.

Campus coffee showdown: Caffiends vs. Café 059

A non-coffee drinker compares two cafés on campus

Campus coffee showdown: Caffiends vs. Café 059

I don’t drink coffee. I mean, I do occasionally, but I don’t down three cups a day like the usual U of T student. My coffee consumption is all about looking busy or having something to do with my hands. I can stand outside a lecture hall sipping on a Tim Hortons double-double while scrolling through my Instagram and Twitter feeds and look as though I’m being productive. Walking to lecture with a coffee in your hand gives meaning to your stride. 

I like to think my taste buds are at least mildly refined, though, and that I can tell the difference between gas station sludge and a crisp Starbucks roast. But other than that, I know next to nothing about coffee. Most coffee is bad coffee to me. A good cup of coffee is dependent on factors other than just the taste. Everything from the ambience of the café where I bought the coffee, to the number of electric outlets available in the café can dictate my coffee-drinking experience. This week, I paid a visit to two student-run cafés on campus, Caffiends at Victoria College and Café 059 at the Daniels faculty. To determine which café is better, I allocated points based on a variety of factors.

The name:

Caffiends: Puns are great! 3 points.

Cafe 059: Edgy, has an aura of subtle sophistication, but it’s simply not a pun. 1 point.

Is the café popular?

Caffiends: Yes. Far too mainstream. Might even be most popular student-run café on campus. 0 points.

Cafe 059: You probably haven’t heard of it. It doesn’t seem to get much traffic either. 1 point.

Is the café pretentious?

Caffiends: Very cozy, despite its popularity. 2 points. 

Cafe 059: They don’t serve regular filtered coffee; only espresso-based coffee. Plus, their furniture consists of old coffee appliances. 0 points.

How much does it cost?

Caffiends: $1. That’s cheaper than Tim Horton’s and Starbucks. 1 point.

Cafe 059: $1. It’s a draw. 1 point.

How does it taste?

Caffiends: Not very strong, but it doesn’t leave a bitter after-taste. 1 point. 

Cafe 059: Likewise. 1 point.

How’s the temperature?

Caffiends: Just right. 1 point.

Cafe 059: Not sure — I think my tongue nerves were too damaged from the Starbucks I had the day before to feel the burn. 0 points.

Is the coffee Fair Trade?

Caffiends: Yes. 2 points.

Cafe 059: Yes. 2 points.

Barista’s political beliefs?

Caffiends: From the conversation I overheard about Donald Trump, I’d say the baristas were pretty on top of their game. 3 points.

Cafe 059: There was some chatter about Toronto and its boroughs, but nothing substantial. 1 point.

What kind of snacks did they have?

Caffiends: Their specialty is the butter croissant: cold and dense, but crisp on the outside. 3 delicious points.

Cafe 059: Bagel with Nutella. I didn’t buy one because I ran out of cash, but I already know what bagels with Nutella taste like anyways. 5 points.

Author’s reservations against café’s college affiliation:

Caffiends: I have a personal and completely biased grudge against Victoria College. Minus 3 points. But Caffiends is a student-run café, so they can have 1 point back for sympathy. 

Cafe 059: Neutral. I didn’t apply to Daniels, so they didn’t have a chance to reject me. 0 points. 

Availability of electric outlets:

Caffiends: I didn’t see any, but it was early in the day and my phone was doing just fine so I didn’t even need one. 0 points.

Cafe 059: There was one visible, but it was in use. It was also not near my table. And this time I really needed to charge my phone. Negative 1 point. 

Is there Wi-fi?

Caffiends: Yes. But it belongs to U of T. 1 point for the administration.

Cafe 059: The U of T network seems to be nonexistent here. An exclusive Daniels faculty network was available, but required Daniels credentials. This became especially frustrating when my phone died. It’s 2016, why is Wi-Fi a problem? Negative 3 points.

Final score:

Caffiends: 14 points.

Cafe 059: 8 points.

The U of T administration: 1 point. 

The winner: Caffiends

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