The first time I drank coffee was high in the mountains of Italy on a skiing trip with my family as a teenager. Each morning before our lessons, we would bundle downstairs to breakfast in bulky salopettes and thermals for eggs, pastries and hot chocolates. My Dad would order deux espressi per favore and tipping a sachet of sugar into each, would throw back each espresso like shots at a bar. I was curious, sleepy from hours of skiing and early nights, and tried one, sans sugar. Within the week I was hooked on black coffee, less so the skiing.
When we returned home, I started drinking coffee before school, convinced it would make me feel more alert for double periods, testing subjects and those *torturous* free periods. I’d cool it a little with cold water and gulp it down before running for the school bus and if I missed my morning cup, the school’s Nescafe vending machine was just 50p away from a coffee hit. Years later we discovered everything on the menu was decaf, my morning hit nothing but an imitation.
It wasn’t until university that my coffee addiction really took hold. In my halls of residence, I kept a kettle, mugs and coffee in my room so that all I needed to do was reach slightly out of bed to turn the switch and I’d have coffee ready in minutes before a 9am lecture. While most students discovered Red Bull, I drank my black coffee and Diet Coke, possibly up to eight cups a day to fuel the hangovers, all nighters and seminars. And who needed to dirty teaspoons as a student when I could simply eyeball how much I needed by shaking the jar into a cup? If I measured it out, each would have been at least four teaspoons thick.
So when my GP sat me down six months ago and told me to quit caffeine for health reasons, I didn’t quite realise the impact it would have on me, both physically and mentally. I walked out of the surgery and straight into the nearest Tesco, stocking up on peppermint tea, decaff coffee and later caffeine free Diet Coke. I walked back to work and from that day, I didn’t touch caffeine again. At the time, going cold turkey was a great idea but in reality, this chain-drinking coffee addict should have taken weaning myself off a little slower.
The headaches were the worst, thumping against my brain as I sat at my desk, desperate for anything but paracetamol to take away the pain. I became so sleepy that straight after work I would doze for hours. Walking into the kitchen with my little tub of decaf coffee made me feel sad when I saw colleagues preparing French presses, using Nespresso capsules or clutching Starbucks cups for their morning hit.
I won’t lie, it was tough to give up the dark stuff but I concentrated so hard on the alternatives to break through the withdrawal. Where once I couldn’t see a morning without coffee, a cup of decaf began to satiate my morning ‘craving’. It may not have a physically effect, but mentally I feel more ready for the day with something that resembles an old routine. Caffeine free Diet Coke in it’s golden cans began to taste nice ice cold from the fridge and I became diligent at looking at wrappers and ingredients to see what I could and could not drink or eat. As boring as it sounds, my energy levels returned when I started exercising more, taking up high intensity pilates classes. Even tipsy in a nightclub, I remembered lemonade wasn’t filled with caffeine and changed my vodka coke order. Quickly, life without caffeine became second nature to me.
It’s hard to break a habit and while black coffee obviously isn’t as addictive as other substances, it would make my heart rate skyrocket, make me jittery and keep me awake at night. Thankfully those symptoms are a thing of the past and I feel so much better for it. And aside from tiny ingestions of caffeine in chocolate, I’ve kicked the caffeine habit for six months now, which most of my friends are pretty surprised at given my 13 year coffee drinking career. So while I may miss that morning coffee and the scent of a fresh pot in a percolator, I simply appreciate the smell in every coffee shop I visit before asking ‘do you do decaf?’