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How Hard Is Giving Up Coffee?

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Photographed by Chiara Pinna
£1456. That’s how much I figure I spend on coffee a year and, if I’m really honest, it’s probably a low calculation. I drink it for that first sweet sip, the one that numbs, soothes, and reassures me that, even though bed is just a memory, the day will be bearable.

From the queues of haggard, grey-looking people in front of me, I know I’m not alone. As soon as the barista hands us that warm cardboard cup scrawled with an approximation of our name, we’re part of the caffeine club – sane, awake and in need of a breath mint half an hour later.

Whether you’re knocking back an espresso standing at a counter-bar or warming yourself up with a double-shot caramel latte, the majority of us have a caffeinated coffee at some point during the day. In fact, according to the British Coffee Association, we drink around 70 million cups a day.

A survey by Visa Debit found that in the UK, we spend an average of £2.09 a day on caffeinated beverages, reports the Mail Online. Perhaps this financial commitment is why, this January, fewer of my friends did dry-January and instead focused their efforts on a coffee-free month. Or perhaps it was how it left them feeling.

Everyone knows that caffeine isn’t great for you. It's one of the most easily available and cheap mood-altering drugs on the market. The opium of the masses. It’s easy to get addicted – it keeps you alert and gives you an energy boost.

Frida Harju, a nutritionist, explains that too much coffee can leave you trembling. “It can also cause sleeping problems or make you feel stressed. It’s also very addictive, giving you adrenaline exhaustion, which makes you reach for another cup.”
A study conducted by staff at the John Hopkins Medical School found that it’s even possible to develop a tolerance to caffeine – if you drink more than 750mg over the course of the day. An addicted coffee drinker would struggle to properly function without coffee and would suffer from piercing headaches if they tried to give it up.

Tamara Bannister, a 26-year-old lawyer, experienced the tremors first hand, deciding to give up caffeine after she got severe heart palpitations at work. “My days were very long. Typically I’d be at work for 17 or 18 hours, because that was the culture. It wasn’t uncommon to sleep at our desks! My quality of sleep was utter crap so I used to power through the day with five or six cups of coffee."

One day she felt palpitations. “My heart just sped up fast and I had to sit down really suddenly.” She told her boss and went to the doctor. Her doctor advised her to give up caffeine and get more sleep. “Easier said than done, but I took her advice giving up coffee. It was hard at first; a week of headaches, feeling jittery as hell, but soon enough I was weaned off coffee. I miss the smell, and iced Frappuccinos on a hot day, but otherwise, I haven’t had a palpitation since I gave up.”

Our lives are busy. According to the Office of National Statistics, UK workers spend longer at work than almost any other country in Europe. We have busy social lives, are sleeping less, and are having to live further away from our workplace to save money, which, in turn, means we have to spend longer on the go. For those burning the candle at both ends, caffeine can feel crucial.

So is giving up coffee always as easy as Tamara's experience? Edie, an illustrator, explained how she’d gone cold turkey a few times: "It’s always the same. The first few days I feel fine and then day three the headache kicks in. That lasts for about five days and then I’m fine. Though without coffee I do end up falling asleep at 7 or 8pm every night.”
Holly Hadfield, 26, on the other hand, really loved coffee before she gave it up due to a health condition, but she didn’t find it all bad: “I got into tea - loose leaf, home brewing, crazy herbal varieties and tisanes rather than just buying Twinings bagged lemon and ginger. It gave me back that process of brewing which I missed from coffee.”
Drinking caffeine during pregnancy is sometimes frowned upon, as it takes a baby far longer to metabolise coffee than you. So how do you cope without coffee when you’re forced to give it up while pregnant? Ellen Clements, 25, says: “On the occasions I've quit (including pregnancy) I've had to firmly teach myself that getting enough sleep and eating lots of healthy things (and multivitamins) is a good way to replace the alertness that a coffee gives me."

Caley, who is currently pregnant, agrees. She says: “Pregnancy makes you give it up, or at least cut back a lot. The hardest thing is realising it's in everything. Like, do I want to have one cup of coffee (single shot) that would take me to my daily allowance, or would I rather allocate it to chocolate? Such is my predicament.”
Harju recommends swapping out tea for coffee first of all. “Firstly, start by reducing the amount you drink. If you need a morning coffee, start with swapping what you drink in the afternoons with less caffeinated drinks such as green teas. Step by step you should opt for teas rather than coffee, and a healthy herbal tea or why not experiment with other hot drinks such as herbal coffee? These will hopefully distract you from the urge to get a coffee and will help your cravings for something hot to drink. Eventually, you might find that you crave coffee less and less.”
It’s people’s perceptions that seem to bother non-coffee drinkers. Drinking coffee is very Catherine Deneuve - hair flung back, gunning down shots of carefree adrenaline and dancing in Monaco until dawn. Not drinking coffee can seem, well, a bit drab. Laura says: “Once you've given it up you get used to it and don't need to cope at all. The harder thing is social situations when people ask why you don't want a coffee and give you strange looks when you say you don't drink it.”

Caffeine has a whole bunch of benefits, from being high in antioxidants and endorphins to simply doing a wonderful job of helping you do your work. But drinking as much coffee as we do probably isn’t sustainable, for either our wallets or our bodies. Frida Harju says: “Once the adrenaline rush from the coffee has worn off, you will feel twice as tired as before.” Tired or not, I’m off to buy a bag of peppermint tea.
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