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Navigating life in the decaf lane

It’s been many years since I’ve written about coffee – years since my doctor at the time said, “No more. You’re done with caffeine.” He might as well have shot me.

He took away my daily infusion for energy, clear thinking and well-being. I needed it every morning. I loved it, looked forward to it, and thought I couldn’t live without it. The intoxicating aroma of that deep, dark flavor lured me downstairs. Add the rich warmth of the first few sips, that comfortable, familiar picker-upper, going down … heaven.

Back when my son was a teenager, he informed me one morning that I was an addict. “What are you talking about?” I asked.

“Well, you have to have your couple cups of coffee every morning, like clockwork. Addicts are addicts, Mom. It’s no different than cocaine. Admit it, you’re hooked.” He got my feathers up. I had never considered myself an addictive personality, but I could see a bit of truth in his observation. It did not curb my annoyance with his blunt talk, though. Mouthy kid. Now an adult, he has his own special coffee mug and prefers Kona roast.

Because of that long ago Doctor, I switched to tea for years, and only one cup in the morning. I’d drink decaf tea in the evening, and occasionally treat myself to a decaffeinated cuppa Joe, feeling very guilty.

Years passed. A recent review of my health and prescriptions has allowed me to indulge in one cup of REAL coffee daily! My second cuppa is decaf. And that was the lead-in to my new guilty pleasure: Iced decaf in the afternoon. I’ve discovered that brewed decaf isn’t all that bad. Either that, or I’m lying to myself out of desperation.

Hey, what do I know about taste? I used to have a good palate and a great nose, but Covid side-lined them both. I now take my gustatory pleasures where I can find them. Coffee’s alluring bouquet is one of the reasons I most want my sense of smell back.

Every other day I brew a pot of decaf coffee and refrigerate it. If I eat lunch, it’s with iced decaf. If I don’t eat lunch, it’s a solo performance – just a tall iced decaf in a thermal cup that prevents the ice from melting. I can’t smell that pot perking, even when I’m standing beside it. But after I fill up that metal cup with the chilled java-lite, you could probably watch my eyes glaze over. And yes, I’m now addicted to my post-Covid habit.

We New Englanders have always drunk iced coffee… at least in my lifetime. Southerners drink sweet tea, their iced obsession, and many do so year round. But iced coffee is a standard offering in most restaurants in New England. Coffee ice cream is as basic a flavor there as vanilla and chocolate, and you can find coffee syrup on grocery store shelves, right next to Hershey’s chocolate syrup. There must be something in our Yankee genes that requires the nectar of the South American bean to get on with our day.

For years, when traveling outside home territory, I’d ask, “Do you serve iced coffee?”

The apologetic answer was always the same: “No, but I can make you some by just adding ice.” Fuggedaboudit. The result is always the same, a watered-down, tepid, weak sister to the real deal. I finally gave up asking, except in a coffeehouse.

Locally, I can order iced coffee at Starbucks, Tim Horton’s, and McDonald’s with confidence. But iced decaf? Well, Charbucks has 3 decafs out of an iced coffee selection numbering over 50. (Oh, and it is 23 miles from my driveway.) Timmy Ho’s does have iced decaf, and can expand that offering by adding a liquid flavoring. Eww. And Mickey D’s? Nada. The kind response was, “No, but I can make you some by just adding ice.”

On my recent trip to New Hampshire and Massachusetts, I stopped at the first Dunkin’ Donuts I saw, and asked if they had iced decaf. The answer was, Absolutely! All day, every day, all year round.” I must have looked particularly desperate before I broke into a huge grin. I ordered an extra large.

My next coffee craving to convert to decaf is a particularly New England dish, an old family favorite. I’m going to make coffee jelly (that’s Jell-o without the trademark). The jiggly dish of dark brown heaven is always topped with homemade whipped cream.

If you’re a coffee drinker, you haven’t lived until spoonfuls of this classic summer dessert slides down into your tummy. Now I’ll even be able to enjoy it after a late dinner without the usual sleep worries. It’s decaf. It’s dessert. It’s delicious. It might just become a habit.

Marcy O’Brien lives in Warren, Pa with her husband, Richard, and Finian, their apprehensive Maine Coon cat. Marcy can be reached at Moby.32@hotmail.com .

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