What’s the buzz, tell me what’s happening

The New York Times’ Barry Meier looks at the evidence and concludes that “energy drinks” are just a really expensive way of purchasing caffeine.

A 16-ounce energy drink that sells for $2.99 a can contains about the same amount of caffeine as a tablet of NoDoz that costs 30 cents. Even Starbucks coffee is cheap by comparison; a 12-ounce cup that costs $1.85 has even more caffeine.

… Caffeine is called the world’s most widely used drug. A stimulant, it increases alertness, awareness and, if taken at the right time, improves athletic performance, studies show.

… “These are caffeine delivery systems,” said Dr. Roland Griffiths, a researcher at Johns Hopkins University who has studied energy drinks. “They don’t want to say this is equivalent to a NoDoz because that is not a very sexy sales message.”

All that other stuff added to “energy drinks” — taurine, B-vitamins, “glucuronolactone,” etc. — doesn’t really do anything. It’s just, to quote Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory, “A recipe for very expensive urine.”

No sense splurging for the name-brand NoDoz, either. Get the generic kind, then cut ’em in half, and you’re in the range of 5 cents for 100mg, which is probably the cheapest “caffeine delivery system” you’ll find.

The problem isn’t that this is just “not a very sexy sales message,” but that swallowing a tablet is too stark a reminder that caffeine is a drug. Ingesting that drug via coffee masks that somewhat. All those B-vitamin compounds and herbal whatnots in energy drinks do the same thing. They’re just in there so we can pretend we’re doing something nutritional and wholesome rather than just finding another flavor for the delivery system for our preferred stimulant drug.

I’m not judging or condemning, mind you. Just comparing notes, one addict to another.

(P.S. The caffeinated drink mixes — Crystal Light, etc. — aren’t bad either at about 25 cents for 60 mg, if you’re OK with the aspartame. Target’s cheaper store-brand variety, alas, only seems to come in strawberry.)

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  • Vancouver’s kind of like that, too. In fact the West Coast climate from Vancouver to San Francisco seems oddly uniform except for a latitude-dependent average baseline temperature for any given day in the year.

  • arcseconds

    What I think I’m addicted to most about coffee is the ritual of making it.

  • arcseconds

     I’ve met a ex-German-design-engineer-now-turned-hippie-and-living-on-the-beach towing a thing like that behind his car. 

    Watching him work it is like something out of Metropolis with a bit of Willy Wonka thrown in :]

  • Cathy W

    That’s one of the things that makes tea into a stress reliever for me, no matter whether I’m making Tension Tamer or Morning Thunder. The act of getting up to make a cup of tea usually interrupts any stress-related thought cycles – the part of my brain that was running in circles, screaming and shouting is now making tea instead. Microwave water. Watch for boil. Pour water over tea. Optionally, watch awesome convection currents in clear glass mug revealed by colored tea extracts. When I sit back down with the cup of tea, the brain-circling is dealt with enough that I can approach my problems from a more constructive angle.

  • P J Evans

    And the bad news is that coffee as a plant is very sensitive to climate change. Too much heat, not enough moisture, few (or poor quality beans). The crop gets a little worse, nearly every year.

  • Arresi

     Hey, we resemble that remark. (Michigander, or should it be Michigoose?) Warmish and wet today though. 

  • Arresi

    Yes, but how does that egg tea taste?

  • EllieMurasaki

    I remember hearing about a wedding where the key line was ‘I now pronounce you Michigander and Michigoose’.

  • EllieMurasaki

    If one is accustomed to enjoying a cup of tea with a scrambled-egg breakfast, probably not half bad. I ain’t trying it, though. Given that there’s scrambled egg involved, it’d be a horrific waste of perfectly good tea.

    …no, brain, we are not brewing several cups of tea in a little saucepan just to experiment with tea-poached egg.

  • AnonymousSam

    Well, that’s a change from the cold and dry I’ve been hearing about. In twenty odd years, I never saw the weather do anything consistent — except be consistently terrible most of the time. My favorite was a day about fifteen years back when it was unseasonably warm all morning, even before the sun was really in the sky. It was… sometime in January if memory serves, so everyone was shedding heavy coats and unbuttoning sweatjackets, trying to get comfortable.

    Then around 12 in the afternoon, Michigan suddenly remembered what month it was supposed to be and whack, the temperature dropped by at least twenty degrees and there were blizzard conditions all that evening.

    My favorite winters were the ones where it would snow once and then just be frigid and bone-dry for weeks, so the same snow never melted and eventually started to turn very gray and ugly from car exhaust and boots day in and day out. Couple those years with the miserable gray sky and I’m surprised depression rates didn’t rise higher than they did. :p

  • P J Evans

    kind of like eggnog without milk or alcohol – I think. (Not an eggnog person.) It’s actually pretty good when it’s hot; the egg flavor is more noticeable as it cools.

    I use a paper cup for it.

  • P J Evans

     That’s one reason I use chai tea. I’m not crazy about spiced tea, but it works with the egg and the sugar. (The egg is actually pretty much teeny particles that you don’t notice. And thoroughly cooked.)

  • banancat

     I genuinely like the taste of 5-hour energy.  It’s really citric and kinda gritty and has a weird sweetness.  I almost never drink it though because I’m pretty sensitive to caffeine.

  • Lliira

    How many Michiganders or displaced Michiganders do we have here, anyway? It seems to be a statistically unlikely large concentration.

  • banancat

    I do think there is one aspect to energy drinks though: the placebo effect.  The expectation of a boost probably has as much effect as the caffeine, just like the expectation of getting drunk is a big factor in how fast someone’s behavior changes when drinking.

  • B

    In general, I gather that caffeine isn’t usually dehydrating — in people who drink it regularly it apparently has little diuretic effect, and to actually dehydrate someone (as opposed to just hydrating less than the equivalent amount of water would) it has to cause a greater increase in urination than the amount of liquid in the beverage itself.

    E.g.: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/caffeinated-drinks/AN01661

    Of course, if you start talking about doses dramatically larger than you get from, say, a few coups of coffee that could be a different story.

  • B

    Much as I love caffeine, I wish there were generally a wider selection of decaf tea.  A nice cup of tea is sounding very nice right now, and while I love herb teas, too, it’s not quite the same.  But I’d be up all night!

  • renniejoy

    When I make decaf, I add half a teaspoon or so of cinnamon to the grounds; it gives it a little kick – and tastes completely wrong (to me) with fully caffeinated stuff.

    Not exactly what you are asking for, but it mitigate the flatness…

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    You mean “coffee”.

    (We’re pretty snobby about our coffee down in these parts)

  • Lori

    Raises hand.

    Born and mostly raised in Michigan, but haven’t lived there since I was about 20. I am now living close enough to the state line that I go to the movies in Michigan though (on the rare occasions when I have enough time to see a movie in the theater.)

    It does seem like there are a lot of us around.

  • ReverendRef

      Oh yeah . . . I’ve got my additions and/or vices.  It’s just that caffeine and nicotine aren’t one of them.

  • Ooh, I love tea and eggs and bacon in the morning. :D

  • Ooh, I love tea and eggs and bacon in the morning. :D

  • A Viescas

    You expect boosts with coffee too, so energy drinks don’t really have an advantage there.

    I think the main thing is the high concentration of caffeine contributes to the sensation of an immediate rush, rather than coffee which gets into your system more gradually. (also mentioned briefly in the NYT article)

  • Kaleberg

    I was reading the label of some caffeine tablets at a drugstore a while back. Among the warnings was “Not intended as a substitute for sleep.” I can imagine.

    My favorite was a Vogue columnist, from back when Vogue (under Vreeland and later Mirabella) was the intellectual’s  fashion magazine, commenting on a caffeine product with “the poignant slogan: when you don’t have time for coffee.”

    I’ll go for the real thing.

  • AnonymousSam

    Well, Michigan’s economy has been in a really bad way for quite awhile now. Depending on the area, it goes back further than the recession, but George W. Bush certainly didn’t help. While I was in college, a group did a poll to determine the top reasons why anyone had left the state, and the number one by a large margin was “seeking employment opportunities.”

  • Nicanthiel

    I got a book for Giftmas that has about a hundred different recipies for dishes made with tea as an ingredient, whether brewed or dry, for any meal of the day. It’s awesome.