• The Good: Engaging overview of the history, science, and economics of coffee
  • The Bad: Limited discussion of tea, despite the generic title “caffeine”
  • The Literary: Lots of references to add to your reading list

Caffeine: we drink multiple doses in our daily coffee or tea, and let our children consume it in the form of soda. In a little over two hours, Michael Pollan discusses history, science, and economics of the most used drug in the world in this February Audible Original.

One of the things I love about Pollan is his personal investigative style for a story. In How to Change Your Mind, Pollan ingests multiple hallucinogenic substances. In Caffeine, he quits caffeine cold turkey, then reintroduces it all at once after three months, sharing his personal experience along the with the research. The history of caffeine in human history is good, but the material isn’t new to me, having read and previously reviewed A History of the World in 6 Glasses.

The science highlighted is great and includes both the direct effects of caffeine on the brain, as well as some indirect, with many individual studies referenced. Did you know bees prefer caffeine-spiked nectar? Many studies support the conclusion that daily caffeine intake correlates with a reduced rate cancer and heart disease and Parkinson’s. At this point in the short reading, I felt pretty good about my daily caffeine consumption. But when sleep experts discuss the detrimental effects of any caffeine, and Pollan adds in the global economics of coffee production, I began to contemplate giving up caffeine entirely.

In the end, Pollan comes back to the idea that caffeine is drug we need to recognize as such. He reintroduces coffee into his own life after three months, hoping to use it only periodically for maximum benefit, but slides down that slippery slope into his daily cup. The thing is, your daily cup gives you a little lift, but mostly the feeling you experience is the suppression of withdrawal since the metabolism of caffeine is nearly identical with the chemicals related to our natural circadian rhythms.

My only gripe is the lack of discussion of tea. Tea has less than half the caffeine levels of coffee, and the ritual of tea is far from a culture of addiction. What are the pharmacological studies surrounding tea? What are the modern economics of tea production?

For such a short book, I highly recommend to any Audible subscribers who contribute to the estimated two billion cups of coffee consumed every day!