From memory, there are approximately six independent coffee shops within the first block of my local High Street – usually packed with neighborhood hipsters hot-desking on their laptops. Good job I’m a coffee fan – although I’ve had some caffeine driven highs and health lows along the way. At worst, I was relying on it as a prop to energise me through a busy lifestyle with lots of deadlines. But not even nauseating caffeine withdrawal headaches, or the jittery, edgy feeling of having had one cup too many could change the way I felt about a good cuppa when I was in the throes of my habit.
I put it down to a Proustian relationship I developed with it as a young girl. There happened to be a traditional coffee roaster in the town I grew up in (a rare thing in the 70s, pre Starbucks and Costa) and the ritual, the smell and pure luxuriousness of it all reminds me of going to there on Saturday morning with my mum and dad. If we could get a seat, my sister and I would tuck into toasted tea cakes while the adults sipped little cups of steaming dark smoky brew. As I got older, on holidays to Spain I developed a taste for creamy, sweet cafe con leche; when I was at fashion college in London in the 80s our tipple would be frothy cappuccino in the Italian cafes of Soho. Soon, coffee was my daily treat – a stimulant and an emotional comfort blanket to get me through the day.
Trouble is, as we all know so very well, we can have too much of a good thing. And while I’ve met some people with really serious coffee habits – several cups a day as opposed to my 2-3 at its height – I began to realise that my using it to fuel my energy levels was unsustainable. Typically I’d buy one on the way to work to kick start myself in the morning – then I’d need an after lunch booster and then another as a lift at the four o’clock slump.
Sure, the stimulating effects of the coffee would make me feel alert but also nervy and edgy in an already stressful work environment. No wonder – it charges the system to produce the stress hormones cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline. This in turn was affecting my digestive system along with the acidic nature of rich cafe noir or Americano (I tried them all!), so my tummy often felt fraught with gurgles, knots and general upset. Of course, the habitual accompaniments – the AM almond croissant; PM chocolate brownie didn’t help.
In the end though, I didn’t have to force things – after starting to be more in tune with myself through daily yoga and meditation, it was as if my body naturally turned away. For a while, I could no longer even bear the smell of my beloved drink. Instead, I was actually happy to start the day with hot water and lemon or fresh herbs I had to hand – to my surprise, it tasted good and felt nourishing. Plus, without the flat whites and cortados, I no longer needed the overly sugary sweet treats – although my sweet tooth remained, it became more easily satiated with naturally sweet in season fruits, dates, or good quality chocolate. Believe me, I’m no flag waving raw eating vegan, but actually feeling the benefits of eating whole foods and not relying on stimulants allowed me to get my system back into balance.
The truth is, we’re finding out that coffee has some amazing benefits. An article published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) at the end of 2017 concluded that drinking 3-4 cups of coffee a day was associated with health benefits such as lower risk of cardio vascular disease, stroke and coronary heart disease. It’s encouraging to know that health and wellness experts such as Sanjiv Chopra, MD a physician, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, and his wellness guru brother Deepak positively encourage coffee drinking. Sanjiv cites it as an aid to preventing diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, cirrhosis of the liver and cognitive decline.
I’m glad to hear it – these days I’m rediscovering my true love of coffee from a balanced place. I don’t need it, but definitely enjoy every sip I have. There’s nothing I like better than to join the hipsters at the latest coffee place to sample the newest brew – coconut coffee being my current favourite. It’s usually coconut milk, coconut oil, espresso and a little sugar and salt – I first tasted this in Bali where it was being sold as ‘yogi coffee’ for a hydrating, energising after class booster. Or it can be a cold concoction, condensed milk, coconut ice cream and espresso an exotic Affogato – rich and delicious as a dessert. My rule is to not have coffee as an energiser first thing especially on sn empty stomach, but definitely as part of a leisurely brunch; or I might have it as a lunchtime dessert so that it’s not too late in the day so it hijacks my sleep. That way I can enjoy its riches without the downsides.