How (and why) I Quit Coffee


Spoiler alert: by drinking lots of tea. 

I’ve been trying to remember when my love affair with coffee began. Neither of my parents were coffee drinkers when I was a kid (we were more Coca-Cola people) – so coffee wasn’t a familiar thing I grew up around. I think it was in highschool. My best friend’s mom was a nurse who worked the night shift and kept a large pot brewing at all hours of the day. But she also kept pints of Haagen Dazs coffee ice cream in the fridge. I knew I liked the smell of coffee but I didn’t like the taste so much until you loaded it up with cream, sugar and transformed it into a desert.

Then I went through a phase in highschool where I would hang out at The Kettle – a 24-hour truck-stop style diner – with all of my brother’s trench-coat-wallet-chain-wearing friends. They would chain smoke clove cigarettes and drink black coffee until 4AM. In order to not be the kid sister falling asleep in the booth I ordered coffee. And of course, I loaded it up with packets of tiny plastic tubs of creamer and sugar.

In college I would frequent a local French bakery after my art history class with a few friends. We would order mocha lattes (with banana syrup) and bagels. I also continued my love affair with coffee ice cream when Starbucks came out with their own line of frozen goodies. I would eat tubs of the stuff while watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

It wasn’t until I got my first job out of college that I understood the need and delight that a simple Americano, with cream and no sugar, could bring. Jeremy and I eventually got our very own French press and started grinding our own beans. Every morning we would enjoy two cups of coffee with breakfast while we read our RSS feeds and watched the sun wake up. Life was good.

About 3 or 4 months ago I was hired by my now friend Claire to do some branding for her brand new juice cleanse company. And because I love supporting my clients, and because I’m somewhat of a masochist, I decided to try a guided 3-day cleanse. So the day before the cleanse I ate as much as possible and had not just two cups of coffee but four.

The morning of the cleanse I was feeling pretty self-righteous about spending the next three days flooding my cells with green juice goodness. And then around 11AM the headache began. At 3PM we went and saw Finding Nemo in 3D with our nephews and I thought I might die. I’ve blocked the rest of the day from my memory.

But I do remember waking up the next morning feeling like I was quite literally dying. I looked at Jeremy and he looked like he was in some pretty serious pain too. Now, I’ve never tried heroine but I felt like Leonardo DiCaprio in Basketball Diaries coming down off a serious addiction. I went to the kitchen and made a spinach, avocado and banana smoothie and a large batch of French pressed coffee. We instantly felt better.

Now, Jeremy is usually in charge of making our coffee in the morning. And at that point he decided that we had a problem and that one cup of coffee in the morning was perfectly acceptable. For the first few weeks I was sad and grouchy when I got to the bottom of my first, and only, cup of the morning.

I should also note that at some point within the last year we switched from half-and-half to putting coconut milk (from the can) in our coffee. I think this is a key component to how we quit coffee – as you’ll read later.

Claire announced that she would be hosting a one-day juice cleanse and workshop in the New Year just as I was coming down from a holiday binge of caramel popcorn and cookies. I had already committed to my second Whole30 but thought a one-day cleanse would help detoxify my system quite nicely. This time I wasn’t going to make the four-cups-of-coffee the day before mistake. Claire made me promise that I would ween myself off caffeine altogether before she would even allow me to sign up for her cleanse.

I gave myself 5 days to quit caffeine. It looked like this: 
Day 1: One cup of black tea in the morning / green tea in the afternoon
Day 2: One cup of black tea in the morning / herbal tea in the afternoon
Day 3: One cup of black tea in the morning / herbal tea in the afternoon
Day 4: One cup of green tea in the morning / herbal tea in the afternoon
Day 5: Herbal tea only
Day 6: Juice cleanse (herbal tea only)
* I enjoy each cup of tea with coconut milk – it helps satisfy that coffee craving a bit. 

At the beginning of the week I suffered from headaches. They became more mild as the week progressed. The day of the cleanse I was headache-free and it was significantly easier to manage fasting on juice when I wasn’t also having serious caffeine withdrawals. The next morning we had a cup of herbal tea and since then we’ve enjoyed one cup of caffeinated tea (either black which has more caffeine or green which has less) a day.

It wasn’t until the headaches went away that I realized I actually felt better without my morning coffee. And I never imagined being one of those people. But the truth is, I feel more hydrated (which is one of my resolutions), less anxious and more even energy. And the cleaner I eat and the more I deepen my yoga practice, the more sensitive I become to the signals my body is sending me.

I learned that more than anything, I took comfort in the ritual of having a hot mug in my hands every morning – but I still get that with tea. Multiple times a day, even! Leo Babatua (one of my heroes – the author of Zen Habits) is a big proponent of slowing down and staying present with a cup of tea. He even says something along the lines of “nobody is fighting wars when sipping on tea.”

Just typing this is making me mourn my coffee a bit (so I got up and made another cup of tea). I really wasn’t even planning on quitting coffee when I did. And I think I’ll still treat myself to a nice cup of joe every now and then. But for now, tea is where it’s at.

Have you ever quit coffee? How did you feel afterwards? 

  1. My boyfriend is a barista here in Seattle and has worked in coffee for 8 years so he drinks multiple cups of coffee a day. But I have never been on a regular coffee drinking routine and I plan on never jumping in either. I LOVE the taste of great coffee. But I have always felt that low then high then loooooow of drinking coffee to be too extreme for me. It feels like an emotional roller coaster for me during every day that I drink coffee, even decaf. I’m high energy for 15 mins after drinking it then crazy grumpy and low for the rest of the day. I kind of think that everyone has tricked themselves into thinking they need coffee to get their energy up everyday. Because at least for me, I am a million times more full of energy and feel way more healthy and balanced emotionally when I don’t drink coffee.

    Good for you for finding a deeper root of energy within yourself, not from coffee. Coffee is so yummy, but man I feel so much better all around without it. Tea is for me.
    xo Moorea

  2. Laura

    Ben switched from coffee to green tea when he was on a cleanse in December. He felt loads better– his energy was a lot more even than with the jolt of coffee. Since then he alternates days- coffee and green tea.

    I’ve given up coffee for a week or so at a time. I don’t get headaches, but I get terribly groggy. My Mom- a nutritionist- thinks that coffee drinking is one of the worst things you can do for your body and adrenal glands. I’m hooked on the ritual and the smell, even through I hate the edgy feeling it gives me. Bravo to you for taking the plunge. I’m sure your body appreciates it!

  3. Molly

    I quit my coffee habit in college. While I still drink it occasionally (more for the ritual than anything), I’m glad that I left it behind. I agree–I feel far less anxious when I’m not drinking it.

    I’m a huge fan/proponent of raw, unfiltered, and unheated honey, so I often get my “hot mug fix” by drinking hot water with a teaspoon of honey mixed in with peach vinegar. It’s delicious–and a bit of raw honey does wonders for your body.

  4. I’ve never been able to drink coffee. It always makes me jittery and shaky and sick, and then I can’t sleep at night.

    Just a cup of green tea each weekday morning when I get into work. And usually nothing on weekends. Every so often I will splurge and have a cup of coffee if we have brunch at a diner (we take it black) because I do enjoy sipping it with an omelet, but that’s all I can do.

  5. The only time I really quit coffee was when I was living in England, in which case I had 5-6 cups of tea per day, mandatory. People just handed them to me, seriously. The one morning I couldn’t get to a cup, I had the kind of headache/day you described when you saw Finding Nemo. However, I recently gave up cream in my coffee and am enjoying it black for the first time ever. I have only one cup per morning and savor it. It is a completely different experience from cream. The rest of the day I enjoy multiple cups of herbal or green tea. I love the warm mug as well.

  6. Jay

    This is so interesting Kathleen – I drink coffee (and lattes and macchiatos and tea) but I have a fairly easy time going for days without. I rarely have more than one cup of any of the 3 during the day and occasionally days will pass without any but I do like a latte in the afternoon while I’m home.
    I did watch my parents, who are avid coffee drinkers, brew a 12 cup pot every morning and finish it between the 2 of them by noon and brew another later in the day. I always vowed to never get so far deep that I would do the same. In life in general, I try to practice moderation with everything. Sometimes it’s easier said than done (i.e.. Christmas.) To be honest, I should work on cutting out my coke a day habit – but darn it tastes so good!

  7. KP

    I gave up caffeine when I was trying to get pregnant over the last couple of years. It was rough in the beginning. I ended up switching to half and half and then all decaf to ease into it. For me, it was the ritual more than anything. Now, four months into pregnancy (with twins)! I’ve weirdly lost ALL taste for coffee so have switched to water. And I am the most hydrated person EVER! LOVE IT!

  8. Em

    good for you!

    I go through phases. I’ve quit coffee altogether for months and craved nothing but tea. And then i go back to coffee and tea… and then just tea…

    Now I have my cup of tea around 6:30 when i get up and then another one around 8:30 when i get to work. And on the weekends, it’s usually what ever my tastebuds are craving. Sometimes a nice cup of joe and sometimes some floral earl grey with honey and milk.

    meh… everything in moderation 🙂

  9. Try Spiced Chai for a real hug in a mug. I don’t know if it will work with coconut milk but you could give that a go.

    I’ve always loved the smell of coffee but never liked the taste but had a similar fixation with normal tea and really missed it when I switched to green. Something about it just wasn’t the same, I’ve never quite figured out what. Have you tried making your own infusions? You can get (or at least over here you can) empty tea bags for loose leaf or infusions. Dried berries and fruit are great for putting in and you can add your own flavours and spices as you please. I like Teapigs Very Berry (I think they call it Super Fruit now) as it always makes me feel a bit cleaner inside, I think it just fits with me. A little like you were saying the other day about body types and foods.

    Enjoy all the different types of tea out there (I think we have about 20 on our rack and in the cupboard) and the millions of ways of taking them. I’m infinitely fascinated by the history and heritage with tea, any drink that historically had its own temples and ceremonies can’t be bad.

    If you are up for another travel adventure you could do a lot worse than tea plantations and elephant sanctuaries in Sri Lanka! Possibly my favourite destination this far (close with Cuba but Alan got food poisoning there which killed it a bit).

  10. Margie

    I once quit my daily morning iced coffee for Lent season and never felt bad about it. No headaches or withdrawals. (I quit Zoloft recently, to get over Post Partum Depression and my withdrawals were bad.) As a Mexican, it really is in our culture to drink coffee all day long. It never kept me up though. Funny thing is, I have a Keurig at home but I drink coffee at work only. I’ve been meaning to stop because water could be so much better. I think, after reading this post, I may just stop altogether.

  11. Kim

    We don’t drink any caffeine in our house at all because of a number of reasons that all stem from health.

    My boyfriend basically is allergic to it and can’t drink any at all without some really severe and painful consequences. It took him years to figure out what the problem was but once he did, his quality of life increased dramatically.

    After living together for a while, my intake of caffeine in all types started to go down, after a college career of pretty much always having a cup in hand. I didn’t feel any difference, having always been one to always be wide awake once I’m up. The big kicker was that my boyfriend is really concerned about my heart. I’ve always had a really fast heartbeat, resting is usually around 100 bpm for me, even since I was a wee baby. He asked me to stop because he feared it was damaging my heart so I did. And that was that.

  12. Oh wow, with the night shift I don’t think I could ever give up coffee. Although sometimes I wonder if caffeine doesn’t affect me as much as other people. In school I used to drink a cup before bed because it soothes me so much, and I don’t get headaches if I go a day without. That being said I usually only drink a cup a day, or sometimes half a second cup too.

  13. So, out of curiosity, did you quit COFFEE or CAFFEINE? Did you replace it with just herbal tea, or with caffeinated green/black/yerba mate?

    I sometimes quit coffee. But then I normally replace it with caffeinated teas. I usually don’t have a problem with not doing the caffeine thing unless I have been going way overboard (easy to do in our office of virtually free all the time coffee) with the coffee – abusing it instead of enjoying it. When I decide that is happening is when I step back from the coffee for a while. I always go back though at some point… I love the bitter taste. I don’t really get that from tea. Some green teas come close to that bitterness but not quite there.

    Lately I have been more tea heavy just because I figure it has more to offer by way of minerals and other benefits. (I like to put all sorts of things in my tea – herbs and spices and such)

  14. Amy

    I’ve quit coffee on and off several times, and I always know it’s a good time to quit when I have that big headache. I’ve currently been coffee free since Sept 2012, and plan on keeping it that way, I loved the ritual of coffee, but have found, like you, that a hot cup of tea is an easy replacement. I think my body is very sensitive to caffeine, so it’s nice to know I’m free from it! I know it’s hard but you can do it!

  15. I love coffee, too, but I LOVE tea. When I can, I make a cup of loose leaf oolong tea (with a dollop of natural honey) every day at 2:30 p.m. I look forward to this ritual every day, especially during busy days at work (I work at a newspaper so deadlines are insane, and it’s nice to feel like I’m in control of something). There’s so much I love about tea, especially after I visited both England and Turkey within a year and a half span and learned so much about the cultural value of tea.

    That quote by Leo Babatua is amazing! It reminds me of a similar one from my favorite childhood book, Habibi–“Maybe peace is the size of a teacup.” It’s a similar sentiment, in that it’s about the unity tea provides. I’ve always planned to get a small tattoo of a teacup with a peace sign on it.

    Anyway, great post! 🙂

  16. Megan F

    Love this. I was in the same boat as you. I would get searing headaches by 10A if I didn’t have coffee. I (painfully) cut back when we started trying to conceive, doing half-caff until I could switch to decaf without wanting to kill myself. I started drinking loads of herbal (caffeine-free) tea in the mornings. Now I love it — I still have the ritual and warmth but feel more sane and hydrated. (Our mantra at home: Hydration is the key to happiness.)

    I don’t know if I’ll ever drink fully caffeinated coffee again. I know there are some health benefits, but I think those benefits start to wane when you’re drinking five cups a day. Still, I do love the taste of coffee with coconut or grass-fed milk. Yum.

  17. I often feel like I’m the only person who doesn’t drink coffee. I just never really picked up the habit/acquired the taste. But, my caffeine habit came in the from of Diet Coke. Eeek! It’s a horrible habit I want to quit, the headaches are definitely a killer.

    When I took Neurology this summer he talked about an interesting study that showed that people had the highest Dopamine (feel good chemical in the brain) during the preparation of their coffee ritual. They say it’s because we end up with this mental pump up of basically, “ahh! it’s coming, i’m so excited!”

    I always think freeing yourself from something that you “have to have” feels good, it lets you put that energy into something else positive in your life 🙂

  18. Vanessa

    I started drinking my coffee black about two years ago. Drinking it black makes it imperative that you drink really good coffee because you have nothing to drown it with otherwise. I don’t drink coffee every day, but I do enjoy it. I find if I have more than one cup, though, I feel really crappy.

  19. Jen

    Wow, quitting coffee in 5 days is impressive. I, too, have been back and forth on the “I want to give up caffeine wagon” just because of the headaches I got when I didn’t have it. We gave ourselves a month to switch from caffeinated to decaf, and as of today I just got through my first work week drinking decaf only. And I don’t miss it at all.

    We use a french press and grind our own beans too, so the first week we ground 3 scoops of regular and 1 scoop of decaf. Week two was 2 and 2, you get the picture. I’d recommend that way to anyone if you have the time! It was super gentle and I never looked back.

    Switching from decaf to tea may be another challenge entirely, however 🙂

  20. Wow, you guys! Thanks for all the really thoughtful comments. I’m finding it helpful (and inspiring) to read through everyone else’s experiences.

    I would like to add that my sister first started drinking coffee regularly around the time her second son was born. She started getting these stabbing pains in her boobs but figured it had to do with all that comes with giving birth. But it never went away. Kind of freaked out that she had cancer she got a mammogram and the doctor said it was from the coffee. She said that 80% of women who come in with this exact issue DON’T quit drinking coffee after they find out that is the cause. It just goes to show how addicting it is!

    Laura – This is kind of random but I remember when we were in elementary school, your New Year’s resolution was to drink more water (8 glasses a day). I thought of you when I made my resolution this year to hydrate. You are wise beyond your years. 😉

    Alien Mind Girl – Just to be clear, I am still drinking caffeine for sure in the form of one cup of black or green tea a day. The rest is herbal. But even black tea has significantly less caffeine in it than coffee. Also, apparently the way we absorb caffeine from coffee is dramatically different than the way we process it from tea.

  21. I only started drinking coffee in College when I was about 21. It was a downward spiral for the next few years of purchasing up to 4 strong barista coffees a day.

    It was a morning habit to wander straight to the kettle after waking (still bleary-eyed) and start making a plunger coffee. Needed two before I left the house -just because!

    I managed to quit (totally unexpectedly) when I visited Darwin and Singapore in October. It was so hot there that I just needed water and didn’t feel like drinking a hot cup of coffee. Since coming home, it hasn’t entered my mind at all.

    I am slightly grieving for it, but health wise, I’ve made a great change.

  22. I used to drink coffee a lot more than I do now. I would say 4 cups a day was my regular intake but it never scared or worried me. I only attempted to stop to kind of show my co workers that I could. I took a break off caffeine completely and only drank herbal tea and it was fine so I decided to drink coffee again. That’s actually when the boob pains started again and my mother had the same thing and her doctor told her to stop drinking coffee too. Same with mine. I stopped drinking coffee and the pain did go away eventually but I still have a cup every now and then and the pains haven’t returned. Out of curiosity, did the doctor every tell your sister why the pain started? Thinking back on it now, mine never really told me… Either way, I just don’t think I could ever really give it up completely and now when I have too much, I start getting really anxious. That’s when I start drinking tea again!

  23. Karen A. – As I recall, it seems that her doctor told her it was an unexplained condition – but very common. I think sexism runs rampant in the medical community. If men had hurty balls every time they drank coffee or caffeine I’m POSITIVE they would’ve found an explanation by now.

  24. This post immediately made me want to drink a cup of coffee…seeing the word or smelling it, even seeing a photo sometimes makes me want a cup. Instead I made a cup of green tea from David’s Tea which is my favourite, you should give it a try! I think it’s a Canadian company, but you can order online and it’s fantastic.

    Anyway! I was never a coffee drinker until about a year and a half ago and fell deeply in love. We soon after bought a Keurig and my love deepened even further, haha. For me I usually only have 1 cup a day, the odd day I’ll have 2. I don’t depend on coffee, I can definitely go weeks without one, but it’s also a little treat when I do get a great cup of joe and something I don’t want to get rid of in my life. Good for you though for noticing you don’t need it and for indulging in something that is healthier and better for you all around.

    You should really check out Davids Tea, once I found them I never went back…and no, I’m not being paid to say this 😉

    Keep up the awesome blog posts Kathleen. Your blog is truly one of my favourites and I always get excited when I see a new post from you pop up in my feed!

  25. i started drinking coffee at my dad’s art gallery when i was a child- way too young to have coffee! i finally quit coffee when i was pregnant with Jack. after i had him, i planned on returning to my favorite morning ritual but at that point, i still had my weird pregnancy aversions and that was on of them. just recently (four and a half years later!) i’ve started again and i can’t stop! i love it. i missed it. i still drink green tea most of the time but allow myself 2 cups of coffee throughout the day. i occasionally have a glass of wine but i eat clean 99% of the time and only drink water and green tea so coffee is really my one treat! kudos to you though! i will give it up someday but i’m just not ready! : )

  26. I am slowly recovering from the stomach flu and just realized this morning that I have gone 5 days with no coffee! Now obviously, this wasn’t a conscious choice, but now that I’m 5 days in, I’m faced with the decision as to how to proceed from here. Reading your post this morning was great timing and I definitely need to give this decision a little more thought, but for now, I’ll continue drinking water in place of coffee, feeling more hydrated and less dependent.

  27. elise

    Hey, in all fairness – I ordered soy vanilla lattes at that infamous French bakery!

    And having been on and off the coffee bandwagon several times, I think that a pot of French pressed coffee, no sugar, mine with a bit of cream, split between me and the boy every morning is a perfect ritual.

    In graduate school, when I was on an IV drip of coffee, it was terrible. These moments in the morning, for me, are luxurious and homey and sweet. Herbal tea can wait until the afternoon. 🙂

  28. I’ve never really had a problem with quitting caffeine. I just really LOVE the taste of coffee (with cream and sugar, of course!) Though, like one of the commenters above, I have a tendency to go in cycles with tea and coffee. I like tea when the weather starts getting cold. Which is weird, since both tea and coffee can be served hot (or cold!)

    I had gestational diabetes with both my babies. So I couldn’t drink anything sweet. This is when I learned to love tea without sugar. It’s wonderful how you can really appreciate the flavor and aroma of tea when it’s not diluted by sugar.

  29. I started drinking coffee in the summers of high school when I was working at a breakfast/lunch diner. I grew up with my grandparents who made coffee every morning but it never interested me. At the diner i would mix it with hot chocolate. It wasn’t until i had my first mocha shake at our local coffee shop that i realized coffee with cream and sugar was frikkin delicious and it’s been my thing ever since.
    I now have a mini keurig and drink a cup every morning. Really my favorite part is flavored coffee/creamer and the sugar.
    I sort of accidently quit for a while when I got extremely sick and couldn’t keep anything down. Didn’t drink it for about a month and didn’t notice a difference really, I’d like to maybe try kicking it again and really pay attention to my body… may I ask what herbal teas do you drink?

  30. Jennifer

    I’m responding to this really late, because I have recently attempted to quit drinking coffee, and I remembered reading this, so i cam back to find it, to remember how you sort of weaned yourself off of it.

    I’ve recently been having a lot of health problems – the main problem right now is inflammation in my joints. It’s unbearable. I quit drinking coffee five years ago, after being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, but last year, my office got a Keurig, and I tried it. It was incredible! After half a cup, I felt like I could rule the world.

    So, I started doing the cold brew thing, to cut the acidity. But then I just started making coffee in a pot, and drinking 1-3 cups a day, but never after 4pm.

    Two weeks ago, I decided to quit coffee. The inflammation in my body was through the roof, and it actually worried my doctors, which totally freaks me out. I’m terrified of getting cancer, and I’m certain that all of the inflammation is going to do it. So, I quit. All at once, switched from coffee to tea. I made it two days. The evening of the second day, I wanted to scream at my two year old for being in my way, and my head just felt all sorts of weird – like when I take allergy medicine, but even with the irritability, I felt this calm inside without the coffee buzz, so I’d really like to stop for good.

    I decided to have one cup every other day for a while, then maybe half a cup – something like that, while transitioning to tea. I actually like tea more than coffee, but it just doesn’t give me the same ability to focus and concentrate.

    I have a hard time getting enough sleep, because my daughter often wakes
    me up in the night, and then I get up and go to an 8-5 office job, and I take college classes online. I have to make a lot of little changes, like cutting out gluten for a while to see if that helps, which is hard, because I eat cheerios a lot.


    Thanks for the inspiration and commiseration.

    Here’s to good health and feeling well!

    • Jennifer –
      I HIGHLY recommend going Paleo. That means you would go grain-free, dairy-free, and sugar-free. Keep coffee in your diet but focus on eating whole foods and fats like vegetables, quality meat and fish (if you eat meat), eggs, fruit, and healthy fats like avocado and coconut oil. The whole premise of the diet is anti-inflammatory and I think it would help you loads. Check out It Starts With Food by Melissa and Dallas Hartwig. It has all the information you would ever need about going paleo.

      Best of luck and good health to you!

  31. Margene

    Thank you for the good writeup. It in fact was once a entertainment account it.
    Look complex to more introduced agreeable from you! However, how could we keep in touch?

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