Bored with drip coffee? Has that triple shot of espresso ceased to deliver a reliable jolt? You may want to check out the robust world of alternative caffeine delivery systems, from eating whole beans to literally inhaling the stuff.
From Kaktovik, Alaska, comes Spazzstick, a caffeinated lip balm dreamed up by Richie Holschen, a local police officer who thought he'd tackle two of the long-shift polar cop's greatest foes — chapped lips and exhaustion — with one tube. Holschen once stirred a spoon of pure powdered caffeine into his morning cup of coffee "without realizing how much it was. It was the equivalent of 10 pots. I was rather awake the rest of the day." One application of his lip balm equals a sip of coffee.
Last month saw the debut of Le Whif, the brainchild of David Edwards, a professor of biomedical engineering at Harvard. You put a thumb-sized cylinder in your mouth, draw a breath, and enjoy a burst of aerosol-ized espresso — the caffeine equivalent of a sip. It takes just 10 puffs to empty the cylinder, so you're more likely to use it as a caffeine supplement — "part of the coffee life," as Edwards puts it — than turn it into your new morning ritual. Still, since it dissolves on your tongue and is absorbed directly in the mouth, Le Whif's caffeine reaches your bloodstream faster than liquid coffee. Spazzstick, according to James Coughlin, a food toxicologist, is similarly effective, because lips have a particularly delicate skin barrier.
And what of mainlining pure, unadulterated coffee? On a recent morning at a café in Brooklyn, Daniel Humphries, a 32-year-old coffee consultant, conducted a blind taste test — of whole roasted beans. There was the Illy Dark Roast ("almost like dirt"), the Starbucks Ethiopian blend (no "popping acidity"), and the pre-ground Dunkin' Donuts Dark Roast ("ashy...faded"). The winner was a Peruvian single origin from "third wave" roaster Counter Culture. "Smells fantastic," Humphries said, with notes of "lemon" and "toast with honey" and a "juicy flavor."
In America, bean eating is limited to a few eccentrics who show up in Internet forums with an occasional confession ("I love eating coffee beans, especially when I'm pissed off"). The grit is unpleasant; more important, perhaps, a whole bean delivers its energy payload slowly, Coughlin says, like an extended-release pill. "It's gonna take a while for the acidic conditions of the stomach to degrade the shards and extract out the caffeine."