Adrenaline Days (Part 3): The Buzz

Caffeine is cheap at home, but the markup is so much higher once you're out in the world. At my school, they charge a dollar for a cup of tea. You're sure as heck not paying for the service--you get the cup, fetch your own hot water, and then you get the teabag of choice before hitting the counter to pay for it all. If you didn't buy the teabag and just want hot water, they actually charge for that. Nowadays supermarkets stock iced tea packets that don't require hot water, just a receptacle and water from the water fountain, but who wants iced tea when it's Fall or the dead of Winter?

If you have access to hot water, it's easy and cheap to supply your own caffeine, but unfortunately, hot water isn't always available. Sometimes tea isn't strong enough and you need that double shot espresso to stay awake in class or through boring meetings...I know how that is, I've had to sit through both. Sometimes we're far away from home and need to find a place with wi-fi access to get work done, and buying caffeine is an incidental cost; you're essentially paying for a work space. Today's post, my friends, covers situations where we're forced to pay for caffeine.

1) Fast food places are by definition cheap, but the long lines are unappealing when you're in a hurry. Vending machine coffees are passable as far as the buzz is concerned, but the taste is pretty bad for the price (75 cents to a dollar). I think there are better alternatives: a lot of bakeries and mom-and-pop convenience stores sell coffee for 50 cents a cup. I usually hold off on caffeine until the mid-afternoon, so I haven't bought coffee from bakeries in the morning, but I think it's a sensible, efficient place stop when you want to grab breakfast and also something to save for an afternoon snack.

2) If you have a long drive and can't stand cold coffee, bring your own thermos. Some places are willing to serve your coffee in your thermos, but if not, fill your thermos when you get back into your car.

3) If you're cheap and plan on camping out at a coffee house in order to get work done, the question is how much coffee or tea you'll be buying. You want enough to last throughout your stay, but then again, it would be a waste if you ordered a huge cup of coffee and have to stop drinking after a few sips because you can't handle the buzz. Your options really depend on how tired you are and what your caffeine tolerance is, and how long you plan to stay there.

Why is it important to take both tolerance and work time into consideration? If I'm tired to begin with and think I wouldn't be staying there for long, I'd usually get a small cup of the strong stuff. If I ended up staying out longer and ran out of coffee, I'd buy a cup of the regular coffee. Because of my miscalculation, I'd end up spending extra on coffee: both cups added together is more expensive than if I got 1 cup of a bigger size. Think about it: a small cup of the strong stuff at Starbucks is about $3, and the bigger sizes are anywhere between a quarter to 75 cents more. It's obviously cheaper to get the bigger cup rather than 2 separate cups, but you'll only save money if you're going to drink it all.

If you're going to work for a long time, a bigger cup (of whichever intensity you can handle) is better. Don't forget to pace yourself, though. My venti green tea latte kept me lucid throughout the night when I had to get my paper done. Contrast that with another occasion when I got something from the Coffee Bean, drank too fast, and ended up bouncing off the walls, unable to concentrate.

4) If you're going to be at the coffee house literally all day, you have to eat sometime. The food is often expensive there, so if you can find a nice hidden corner, bust out your own food. Be discrete about it, though--don't bring food that obviously don't mesh with what they sell. Stick with packaged danishes or muffins, or if their selections are broader, you might be able to get away with sandwiches or prepackaged salads. I'm not particularly encouraging this behavior, though...it's not healthy being stuck in one place for an extended period of time. It's probably better to work, go somewhere else for a meal, then come back; in this case, the cheaper strategy is to buy a cup of the cheap stuff for each half of your work session.

Not a particularly enlightening post, I know, but a dollar here and a dollar there does add up, so I hope these tips will help you keep those dollars where they belong: in your pocket.

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