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Death by Coffee – what’s your Programming Drink?

It’s just so stereotypical to think of computer programers drinking coffee all day, working late into the night. Caffeine is a stimulant, it reduces drowsiness and restors alertness, it also increases the capacity for mental and physical labor. So yes, myself and all other developers at the office regularly go out for coffee each morning, before diving into coding for the rest of the day. What’s interesting is that RirianProject’s excellent article on ways to improve your brain power recommends against caffeine use.

Coffee and other drinks containing caffeine help students consistently score higher on tests. Since caffeine restricts blood vessels in the brain, it isn’t clear what the longer-term effects may be when it comes to your brainpower. So instead of coffee breaks try gingko biloba and gotu kola herbal teas. Ginkgo biloba has been shown to increase blood flow to the brain, and improve concentration.

I decided to investigate further. After all, as an Engineering student, I recall drinking caffeinated beverages until Physics started to make sense, just in time for exams. Wikipedia paints a scary picture:

Caffeine is a drug that in large amounts, especially over an extended period of time, can lead to a condition termed “caffeinism.” Caffeinism usually combines physical addiction with a wide range of unpleasant physical and mental conditions including nervousness, irritability, anxiety, tremulousness, muscle twitching (hyperreflexia), insomnia, and heart palpitations.

Yieks! No wonder my nutritionist keep on telling me to cut down. This stuff could be deadly. A mid-sized cup at Starbucks (”tall”) contains 279 milligrams of caffeine – that’s lethal at 34 cups. I need to find myself a new drink.

SOBE black tea

Following the original article’s suggestion – “So instead of coffee breaks try gingko biloba and gotu kola herbal teas”, I went looking for drinks with such ingredients. SOBE’s Black Tea has caught my attention.

  • GUARANA 50mg
  • CAFFEINE 48mg

The most notable ingredient is Ginkgo, as it’s mainly used as a memory enhancer. Additionally it improves blood flow, protects against oxidative cell damage, and more. Of course, just as with any other herbal suplements, it could be no more than a placebo effect.

So what is your “programming drink”? When it comes to crunch time for coding, studying, or writing exams – how much coffee do you drink, or what do you replace it with? Let me know!

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  1. Posted by humanalog | December 10, 2006, 6:36 pm

    Carbonated beverages mostly, though that might change now that I’ve seen all the side effects.


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  2. Posted by James H. | December 11, 2006, 1:44 am

    Lately it’s green tea, with a hint of mint. Alternatively, plain old water works pretty good.

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  3. Posted by Nils | December 11, 2006, 4:57 am

    Well, I don’t program, but I’ve had plenty of caffeine driven stress moments at work. I once had a near OD on it too with a friend of mine (years ago at uni). Must say that was weird and scary (wide-open eyes, looking around the room like some agitated ostrich). I guess that Ginko thing actually is worth looking into, but coffee, well, it’s just so great, isn’t it?

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  4. Posted by Shawn | December 11, 2006, 1:41 pm

    I usually down a bunch of coffee, but there is also that energy drink they sell at compusa….ballz. I don’t even remember what is in it, but wheww, deadly

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  5. Posted by Tony | December 11, 2006, 3:17 pm

    Thank you for the comments :)

    Nils – that’s scary. Though it’s interesting to know that someone actually nearly ODed on caffeine, it’s a serious warning to start watching your own consumption. Thank you for sharing.

    Shawn – you’re thinking of Bawls. It comes in a nifty blue bottle, is popular among gamers, and “The manufacturer claims that their caffeine is 2.5 times stronger than other caffeine”.

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  6. Posted by Martin | December 11, 2006, 9:48 pm

    I just do lines of cocaine. I can be awake for days and not even know what city I’m in.

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  7. Posted by Tony | December 11, 2006, 10:28 pm

    Classical “Martin” comment. You’re going to singlehandedly account for my Google PageRank of -1.

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  8. Posted by ZeroPaladn | December 13, 2006, 12:01 pm

    Holy S***. Me, I have a cup ‘o java every morning. Other than that, unless I’m pulling an allnighter at a friends, nothing. At my friend’s house though, we have tons of stuff.
    – Jolt (caffine)
    – Beaver Buzz (caffine + other herbs)
    – Red Bull (caffine)
    – Red Rain (caffine)
    – Sobe (tons of good stuff for ya)

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  9. Posted by Craige | December 26, 2006, 12:06 am

    Well, it used to be caffeinated energy drinks, but I think that’s about to change. I may do some research on Ginkgo biloba, and if my findings confirm yours, I’ll probably start looking for an assortment of drinks containing it.

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  10. Posted by Gnorb | January 29, 2007, 3:54 pm

    XS energy drinks. They come in a bunch of flavors so I can drink one based on my tastes at the time, my favorites being the Green Tea (non-carbonated) and Grape (which comes in a decaf). For the ones that don’t have caffeine (they have like 4 or 5 flavors that don’t) all the energy comes from the massive amounts of B vitamins, the usual culprits like taurine. Good for fat writers with high blood pressure who are trying to lose weight. (I wrote a tiny bit about them here. Do a search for “green tea” to find the link to info on the page.)

    Of course, there’s also black tea and Arizona “Diet” green tea, both of which have caffeine, however.

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  11. Posted by swollenpickles | March 12, 2007, 5:27 pm

    I “need” a cup of coffee to get going in the morning. Without it, I function like a zombie, but with less personality.
    Wouldn’t the other stimulants have similar long term effects to coffee though?

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  12. Posted by Tony | March 12, 2007, 6:40 pm

    Nice analogy :D

    Every stimulant has a potential for long term effects, one’s body gets used to it. I suppose that ultimately, moderation is the key. It might be a good idea to alternate between coffee and some other drink of choice every so often, as to not let yourself develop a dependency on ether.

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  13. Posted by Crocker | March 19, 2007, 5:51 pm

    Red Rain is what i turn to during those long days planting trees it also does wonders on the rugby field, i’ve experimented with many energy drinks and red rain was hands down the best i’ve come across, probably not all that healthy but i’m always drinking tons of water to flush the caffiene and other stuff out.

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  14. Posted by Jon Armstrong | April 5, 2007, 11:56 pm

    Normally I used to take a coffee in the morning, but now I’m usually going for a walk before anything else and then I’ll grab a basic diet soda and then a bottle of water…. but then it’s usually Red Rain or Bawls…Red Rain preferred.
    I share the apartment I’m in with a convenience store downstairs and the owner’s already agreed to cut me a deal on the Red Rain. :P

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  15. Posted by Rick | April 7, 2007, 10:20 pm

    I like working my way through different kinds of fair trade organic coffee, but I limit myself to two cups of that a day — after a while, you just start to feel like a brown water receptacle. Powerful tea made Russian-style is a nice change (see http://home.fazekas.hu/~nagydani/rth/Russian-tea-HOWTO-v2.html ) as is yerba mate (a traditional South American drink — the closest approximation I can make to its taste is a mix of green and oolong tea. http://guayaki.com/ )

    I pretty much take a pass on bottled soft drinks — for me, the sugar slump seems to outweigh any stimulant effect the caffeine in them might have. I made an exception for Jolt White Lightning (grape soda), but now that I’m back in Northern Ontario I can’t seem to find it anywhere.

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  16. Posted by Tony | April 7, 2007, 11:37 pm

    Rick, that’s a good point about the sugar crash of soft drinks, definitely something to consider.

    I actually originally come from Russia myself, I even remember that Russian style tea. Good stuff, though somewhat more involved in the process.

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  17. Posted by momop | January 18, 2008, 12:51 am

    I know it’s old but still

    My drink is Dr. Pepper and I think I’m addicted

    (had 2 bottles and a can today and still wanted more)

    It’s so refreashing and tasty and yum

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