Decaffeinating a coffee fiend

Circa 2012. A 30 year-old yogi switches her default hot drink from herbal tea to freshly ground, black coffee.

An odd choice, perhaps, but one I made and stuck with for a few years. Now I'm saying a painful farewell to my friend Joe.

Coffee makes a regular appearance on my Instagram

Coffee has an interesting reputation. A quick Google and you'll see plenty of articles extolling the virtues of drinking the stuff. It makes you smarter... it reduces risk of diabetes, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's... it can help prevent liver and heart disease... it can improve your running and endurance... According to Google, coffee will save your life.

But there's also an argument that coffee isn't all that. We all know what it's like to realise, too late, that we've had a bit 'too much' - that jittery feeling that can only be cured by guzzling a bucket of water and waiting it out. Yoga teacher Beryl Bender Birch insists that caffeine is "hell on the adrenals and liver." It can dehydrate you, and leave you fuzzy-headed and dependent. More than four cups a day is linked with higher mortality under the age of 55. Plus, if you're pimping your coffee with syrups, cream and sugar, you're probably getting the calorie content of an entire meal... According to Google, coffee will kill you.

So, what can you do, other than listen to your own body and make a personal, common-sense judgement: coffee (like everything else) in moderation, or cut it out.
My turning point was when I realised drinking coffee was making me an anxious person. I've considered myself all sorts of things over the years, but never someone suffering from chronic anxiety. One day it hit me that coffee was contributing to stress and exhaustion, rather than helping me get through a day with focus and energy.

Then, during a particularly stressful weekend, I ordered a decaff at a Starbucks drive-through. I was amazed how great it tasted without my chest screwing up in a knot. That day, I made the decision to take a break.

Ohh, it's been hard. I see coffee as a treat. It's associated with relaxing with loved ones in coffee shops, or taking a solitary walk. I think of coffee on sunny weekend mornings when I don't have any plans, and can sip a cup of Joe while reading Runner's World, listen to music and plan the day stretched out ahead of me. It's only a drink, but its smell, taste and caffeine hit are wrapped up in memories of good times, me-time and endless possibilities.

But, yes, it is only a drink - and there are plenty of great, healthy alternatives. Here's some I've been trying:

1) Decaff. Ok, this is cheating, I know. Plus, the chemical process often used to remove caffeine is pretty gross. But it's on stand-by for those treat days. One cup though.

Sample tea pack from Pukka. Try them all!
2) Black or green tea. Not caffeine-free, but they have lower doses and can help wean you off. While everyone raves about yerba mate, it has about the same caffeine content as coffee so not great if you're cutting back.

3) Chicory 'coffee'. Available in most health food stores. Roasted chicory is probably the closest you'll get to a naturally caffeine-free coffee substitute.

4) Red tea or Rooibos. This is my favourite, because it's so versatile. Naturally free from caffeine and a good alternative to black and green tea. Somehow it's refreshing enough to perk you up in the day, and soothing enough to relax you at bedtime. You can literally drink it anytime of the day, with or without milk. It's also low in tannins and I find it helps reduce inflammation so great after a run. All-round winner for me.

5) Every other herbal tea under the sun. Funny how I'm reverting back to my hippy days of herb tea. There are hundreds of variations and brands of herbal tea, so trying new hot beverages suddenly seems more exciting than your same cup of coffee everyday. This week's favourite is Calming Moon by Mighty Leaf Tea, a blend of licorice and fennel.

Maybe one day I'll meet up with caffeine and we'll be great friends again, although I'll be limiting my intake. If nothing else, cutting out caffeinated coffee has made me more hydrated because I'm drinking healthy alternatives, and has opened up the interesting and massively diverse world of tea once more. Try it for a couple of weeks and feel the difference.

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