Life

Drinking The World’s Strongest Coffee Is Sure To Leave You Grateful For Your Patient Loved Ones

A little more than a week before Super Bowl 50 trolled the nation with the Carolina Panthers’ imploding offense and #Puppymonkeybaby, the I read an Associated Press report about a small coffee company based in Upstate New York that snagged a 30-second advertisement spot during the big game. Death Wish Coffee — the purported makers of “the world’s strongest coffee” — won a small business competition put on by Intuit QuickBooks. As a result, the software conglomerate produced the 11-person company’s ad and paid for its commercial airtime during one of the year’s most-watched television programs.

The news about the ad and the ad itself, which aired during the third quarter of the Super Bowl, informed millions of non-Upstate New Yorkers about its 200-percent-more-caffeinated-than-regular-coffee brand. But by the time I stumbled across the AP article announcing the spot — which featured a viking ship struggling against a stormy sea and soaring down a waterfall into a coffee drinker’s mouth — I’d already pitched this article to my editor. Why? Because my girlfriend had mistakenly posted a meme about Death Wish Coffee’s frightening product on my Facebook news feed, and being the at-least-one-pot-a-day guy that I am, I wanted to try out a cup of the stuff for myself.

The indirect, three-way conversation between my editor, my girlfriend, and me went a little something like this:

ME: I HAVE TO TRY THIS.

GIRLFRIEND: Please don’t do this to yourself.

EDITOR: This is amazing! Do it! But yeah, don’t hurt yourself.

ME: I LOVE COFFEE.

GIRLFRIEND: Please don’t die.

EDITOR: I’m so stoked! Seriously, though, don’t die. Lawsuits are a nightmare.

Was I actually supposed to be worried? Just because the coffee’s name implied that its makers were in touch with their mortality didn’t necessarily mean that anyone would (or could) die from drinking the stuff. And considering my daily average for coffee consumption, I figured my body already possessed a well-fortified resistance to whatever Death Wish Coffee might throw my way.

Even so, I decided to dig a little deeper into the notion of “caffeine overdose” before diving into my first pot of Death Wish.

coffee beans en masse for death wish coffee article
Shutterstock

Several species of coffee beans are cultivated by farmers the world over. It’s a major cash crop, after all, so the more beans grown, harvested and roasted, the better. The two most prominent candidates are Coffea arabica, or Arabica, and Coffea canephora, or Robusta. The former accounts for 75 to 80 percent of all coffee bean production and consumption across the globe, whereas the latter comes in at a distant second place with 20 percent. Arabica coffee contains a smaller amount of caffeine than Robusta (0.8 to 1.4 percent compared to 1.7 to 4 percent), but their beans are self-pollinating and therefore easier and cheaper to cultivate.

That, and most American coffee and espresso drinkers tend to prefer Arabica’s friendlier, more accessible taste. They tend to think Robusta is too burned, and its texture too rubbery, but this is precisely why traditional Italian coffee makers prefer the bean. Sure, its higher caffeine percentage helps with making finer espressos, but the main appeal comes from the formation of crema — the initial, thick liquid that results when brewing the much stronger drink. Once mixed with the rest, the heavy crema floats to the top and settles. This provides baristas with the foam-like substance on which they draw their designs — though its primary function is to give authentic Italian espresso its stronger, more abrasive tastes and textures.

Why is it important to know all of this before trying Death Wish Coffee? Because founder Mike Brown and his roasters use both Arabica and Robusta beans to ensure their coffee’s ridiculously high caffeine count. In 2012, Brown experimented with the recipe that eventually became the company’s signature brew at Saratoga Coffee Traders in Saratoga Springs, New York. “Customers would come in asking for the strongest cup of coffee,” he told the New York Times in a recent interview. “I wanted to mess with them a little bit.” Despite the roast’s overpowering intensity — or maybe because of it — Brown’s blend was a hit.

With this due diligence complete, I contacted Death Wish Coffee’s customer service manager, Kane Grogan. We discussed their product and Uproxx’s desire to test it out on my person. Grogan loved the idea and graciously sent me a complimentary bag, as well as some swanky merchandise. Also, bubble wrap. Lots and lots of bubble wrap.

As you can see, I was very excited about the bubble wrap. Popping the stuff is one of my favorite, absentminded pastimes, and with the inevitable bubble wrap apocalypse on the horizon, I was happy for the welcome distraction. Besides, I was about to drink a cup of coffee containing roughly 200 percent more caffeine than your average cup o’ joe — I was going to need an outlet for my energy.

The plan was simple — get a decent night’s sleep on Friday, wake up at an adult-appropriate time Saturday morning and drink a single cup of Death Wish Coffee. I didn’t want to use my first cup to fuel a work day, nor did I want to drink it on a lazy Sunday with no plans. Saturday was for plans, basic things like buying a new vacuum, replacing some jeans, and attending a friend’s birthday party. All of these tasks were mostly harmless, so if the raging Robusta decided to send my overstimulated consciousness in unwanted directions, at least such a scenario wouldn’t occur while I needed to be productive.

Of course, it just so happened that I was also planning to spend the majority of the day with my girlfriend — the very person who 1) clued me in to Death Wish Coffee’s existence, and 2) didn’t want me to drink it. So, I took it in stride when she was annoyed by the fact that I brought my coffee over to her place on Saturday morning.

That very direct, two-way conversation went a little something like this:

ME: Don’t get mad.

GIRLFRIEND: Is that what I think it is?

ME: It’s already ground, so I won’t muddy your coffee grinder.

GIRLFRIEND: Why are you doing this, again?

ME: It’ll be fine!

GIRLFRIEND: I know, still, I’m not sure I want to be around you when you’re on mega-coffee.

I’ve long suspected that many routine coffee drinkers love the sugars, syrups and other sh*t that chain coffee shops throw into the cup as much as they love the actual beans. Not me. I prefer my coffee to be as black as my heart and as hot as the fiery depths of Dante’s inferno. Usually, I like to drink my coffee quickly, too, but seeing as how strong this cup was supposed to be, I decided to practice some restraint.

Have you ever felt light-headed after standing up? You take a few extra seconds to catch your breath, stars might appear in your line of sight, and your vision goes blurry, right? This is precisely how I felt about an hour or so after I’d taken my first sip. I was standing in the aisle of the department store, parked behind a giant shopping cart while my girlfriend discussed the merits of the various vacuums that were on display.

was paying attention to every single word she said. No, seriously, I was. Yet it felt like most of my five senses were heightened to such an alarming degree that I couldn’t keep a handle on any of the information being conveyed. While vacuums were being assessed, I was also balancing my checkbook, replaying a clip from Veep in my mind, remembering what I’d eaten for dinner 72 hours before, plotting what I would cook for breakfast 72 hours later, and so on.

I had a very active mental landscape, is what I’m saying.

If you’re thinking this all sounds like an exaggerated version of what Steve Carell’s character, Hammy, experiences in Over the Hedge, you’d be correct. To an extent. I really did try to accomplish all of those mental tasks (and more) while shopping for a vacuum, but my success rate was just about zero. The thing about heightened, caffeinated awareness is, you can never really focus on a single task long enough to see it through to the end. Or at least that was the case for me when my first cup of Death Wish Coffee kicked in.

Finding, trying on and purchasing new pants a few hours later proved just as overstimulating — though the effects of the brew gradually wore off as the afternoon went on. By the time we made it back to my girlfriend’s apartment, I found myself still unable to focus, but also unable to breathe too deeply for fear of releasing a massive yawn.

Of course, there was still the matter of the birthday party I’d promised to attend. It was the middle of the afternoon, we still had a solid seven to eight hours to go before we had to leave, and we were both worn out from my Death Wish experiment.

Perhaps a nap was in order. She suggested we take a break from the day. Maybe read, watch a show or a movie… All of these things were activities she was undoubtedly capable of, yet there was still enough caffeine coursing through my veins to disrupt all attempts at real stillness. I couldn’t focus on what I was reading or watching. So, I did what any bored coffee drinker would do and brewed myself another cup — the logic being that another infusion would be just what my mind and body needed to steady my nerves for the afternoon and the coming evening.

Our final conversation on the matter, which occurred while I was warming the kettle on the stove, went a little something like this:

GIRLFRIEND: What are you doing?

ME: I can’t sit still, but I’m getting tired, so I’m making another cup.

GIRLFRIEND: Um, it’s 1:30 in the afternoon.

ME: I know. I’ll be fine.

GIRLFRIEND: [inaudible]

ME: I’m sorry. I love you. Do you know where the filters are?

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