It's a little over a year since I reluctantly cut out caffeine. The first few days of Caffeine Cold Turkey Week (as it was dubbed round my way) were unpleasant. My habit was replaced by a mild yet constant headache. This faded within a couple of weeks and with it the slightly jittery feeling I had become so familiar with. It all felt quite normal.
I was reluctant to switch to decaffeinated at first as I had always thought of decaf as an also-ran, a poor alternative to the real thing. Happily, I was wrong. There are some fine decaffeinated coffees around and although some friends have scoffed and claim they can tell the difference, clearly I am a coffee heathen – as I really can’t.
Actually, that's not entirely true. Although these things can be difficult to gauge I have enjoyed better sleep, a more manageable response to stress and I don't secretly crave the caffeine buzz.
Obviously that's due to the reduction from around 500mg caffeine at regular intervals throughout the day (that's six shots a day), down to a negligible amount. But am I missing out on anything else?
Coffee is a significant source of chlorogenic and caffeic acid, both of which have strong antioxidant properties (despite its name, caffeic acid is chemically different from caffeine and as such doesn't cause stimulation). Both acids are part of the same group of phenols from which the antioxidants in red wine and cocoa are also derived. Yet coffee still has an aura of being slightly bad for you. The only possible downside, however, is actually the amount of caffeine. A daily cup or two is fine; it’s when you get to four or five and use caffeine as a repeated energy crutch that there can be longer-term repercussions.
Chlorogenic acid has also been shown to play a role in blood glucose management as it influences the liver to produce less glucose (hence being available in capsules and touted in weight loss products). Chlorogenic acid is largely unaffected by the decaffeination process and so those of us that choose caffeine-free are not losing out.
Given that more we drink more than 70 million cups of coffee a day in the UK, one could argue that along with tea, coffee is one of the most significant sources of antioxidants in the British diet. Of course if you knock back seven espressos a day and then half a bottle of red wine in the evening, don't bother claiming that you’re doing it to get more polyphenols in your diet, because we all know better than that.
I picked up the wrong cup at a breakfast meeting this week and had maybe three sips of double espresso before I felt a wave of discomfort. My heart rate increased noticeably and my head started spinning; I sat quietly for a few minutes until it passed and then enjoyed the silent buzz of the caffeine for the first time in a year. How I’d missed it.
But I won’t be going back. I’d rather enjoy my decaffeinated double espresso with a dash of soy milk - several times a day, anytime I want, even having two, one after the other – than become a caffeine addict again.