For the past eight months or so, I have loosely referred to the act of going to a coffee shop every day and ordering an espresso drink and a pastry as “The Coffee Shop Diet.” I have been going to coffee shops for over ten years, and I have been on and off this diet for a long time. It’s easy for me to get on this diet when I am traveling. Like many coffee drinkers, I want caffeine in the morning, but instead of brewing it my hotel or rental, I find it more exciting to try a new coffee shop, in the name of “travel fun brain.” So, I find myself at a coffee shop. Every. Damn. Morning.
Ordering coffee and pastry together is obviously not a new idea. It’s a simple concept that has been around for hundreds of years. In Vienna in 1683, Georg Franz Kolschitzky opened the first coffee house in the city. For Kolschitzky’s efforts in helping Austria win the Second Turkish Siege of Vienna, he was awarded a house, a large sum of money and, by his choosing, a large number of bags of coffee beans left behind in the Turks’ camp. He wanted the beans because he knew the worth of them and wanted to start his own coffee house. Years before, when he was undercover as a spy in Istanbul, he was introduced to the coffee house culture in Turkey.
Back home, he pioneered the social concept of the coffee house. He wanted it to be a place of good conversation and social mingling. He was also the first to offer milk and sugar as additives to the strong black drink he served in his establishment, called The Blue Bottle Coffee House. If the name “Blue Bottle” is familiar, that’s because James Freeman, the founder of Blue Bottle Coffee Company, named it after Kolschitzky’s original coffee house in Vienna. Kolschitzky’s café and others in the area started serving pastries with coffee and the idea was well received. It has been a repeated pairing ever since.
Fast-forward to 2018, a self-proclaimed writer (me) feels like writing about the daily consumption of coffee and pastries—the Coffee Shop Diet. A diet is a habit of eating certain foods repeatedly, and if I eat the same thing every day, over and over again, it’s…well…my diet.
This diet does not lead to healthy habits. Both sugar and coffee are addictive, and when they are beautifully packaged together (tempting pastries and a handcrafted latte) your mind does not always say DANGER! Instead, it says Ahh, this is what I need. I need caffeine! I am actually a little hungry right now. I shouldn’t have coffee by itself… I’ll go crazy. I need something to go with it…where is my Lara bar? I could have a little pastry, I drank a green juice this morning. I definitely deserve this kouign amann (pronounced: queen ya man, a cake from Brittany)… I earned it. Hopefully, I am not the only one who has these thoughts. Do you understand what just happened? I justified a decadent pastry because I had a green juice that morning.
When I am on the Coffee Shop Diet, it’s not only the sugar/carb/caffeine cravings I am up against, it’s also the pleasure of entering a quaint coffee shop that is humming with relaxing vibes. The small but welcoming touches, like your coffee being served in a beautiful ceramic cup, the barista remembering your name, and the eye-pleasing rosette on top of your latte, ping your brain with a positive note and leave you wanting more.
I walk carefully, trying not to spill the hot latte that is a hair away from pouring over the edge of the cup. Then I sit down, take a breath, and unwind. This little treat I allow myself is more than just a cup of coffee and a pastry; it’s a burning candle of time that I allow myself to just let go of life’s stresses and be in the moment. These are special occasions that I cherish and savor.
Sometimes, however, I do wonder what happens to my body and mind when I rely on caffeine and a pastry as a daily pick-me-up. How does my body respond to the caffeine from my double shot cappuccino and the increased glucose from the sugary pastry I just ate? An article on livestrong.com talks about the effects caffeine and sugar have on the body. The article states:
“The effects of combining sugar and caffeine are devastating on the body. The blood glucose levels soar and then crash shortly thereafter, and when combined with caffeine, the enormous surge of energy from the sugar and the stimulant in caffeine lead to a crash of blood sugar within hours. The body then resorts to a vicious cycle of cravings. The swings that the two in conjunction cause create a desire for more carbohydrates than are actually needed. Over time, the craving results in an enormous imbalance in blood glucose levels.” (Emphasis added.)
The article does not say how much sugar or caffeine was used in the study, but I know from my own experience that after I eat a donut and a latte together on an empty stomach, I feel the sugar rushes, food coma, and crashes right after each other. And then I want something sweet with my coffee the next day. So, the cravings are real too.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not saying we should never enjoy a latte with a delicious pastry again. I am not that cruel. I am simply shedding light on the whole coffee shop experience.
I have dealt with the crashes, food coma, and stomach pains from too much sugar and caffeine. I have had to run to the bathroom within thirty minutes of enjoying my caffeinated beverage. I know what it’s like to do it wrong. Stay with me on this for a few more minutes, and I will tell you my tips on how to get it right. And by right, I mean better (no crashes, no rushes, and no food coma).
Tip #1: Drink water before enjoying your coffee.
When consumed in high doses (16 oz. or more) caffeine can have a diuretic effect. Diuretics make your body produce more urine, which also causes your body to lose more water and sodium. When you lose too much water and sodium, you can become dehydrated. If you want to avoid the effects of dehydration—more noticeable wrinkles and under eye bags—it’s a good idea to hydrate yourself before and after sipping on your coffee.
Food for thought: By the time you feel thirsty, you are already partially dehydrated.
What to do: Drink 12 oz. of lemon water first thing in the morning.
Tip #2: Eat protein and greens before you have your coffee and pastry.
When I lived in Neptune Beach full time, I would have eggs and salad or if I was in a rush, two hard-boiled eggs and a green juice for breakfast before I stopped at the coffee shop for my treats. The protein and greens fill you up and give your body the nourishment it needs.
Food for thought: I love a black coffee at night with a little something sweet. I hardly ever experience a sugar crash at night. I think this is because I ate a balanced meal prior to the coffee and dessert.
What to do: Eat a balanced breakfast that includes protein and greens.
Tip #3: Try to avoid pastries with visible sugar on them.
If you want a pastry, go for the one without frosting, icing, or visible sugar on it. The pastry underneath is most likely already sweet. The icing will make your sugar rush even worse. I love a plain croissant or a piece of fresh baguette with my coffee.
Food for thought: If you don’t have a sweet tooth, try a nice savory treat and avoid the sugar issue altogether.
What to do: If your pastry does have frosting, try to scrape most of it off.
Tip #4: Try to wean yourself from adding syrups or sugars to your coffee.
It can be done. Back in my Starbucks days, I went from one pump of simple syrup to a half pump, then down to none. You can start by cutting your syrup in half, then you will get used to the less sweet taste over time. Eventually, you will be shocked that you once drank the same drink with three pumps of syrup. Ten bonus points if you already enjoy your coffee black.
Food for thought: Try to save your sugar splurge for something solid. Don’t waste it on a drink like your daily coffee. It adds up quickly, and it’s never a good idea to consume sugar in liquid form because your body does not sense the sugar calories as actual food. More on the effects of liquid sugar here.
What to do: Cut your sugar/syrup amount you add to your coffee in half, today!
In a perfect world, I would wake up at sunrise, pour myself a glass of lemon water, then write in my journal as I sit in my silk pajamas in my charming little cottage. Shortly after, I would make myself local, organic, free-range eggs cooked with coconut oil, sea salt, and freshly cracked pepper served with sautéed spinach and local fermented vegetables for breakfast. After sliding into my upcycled vintage leather sandals, I would walk down the street to my favorite coffee shop. Not only do they serve the best coffee in town, but they also greet me like an old friend from high school.
I order my handcrafted, Fairtrade, locally roasted cappuccino with organic milk. Then, I smile as I see they just restocked my favorite pastry, the apple raisin cinnamon roll. It’s still warm and made in-house by a guy who doesn’t believe in drenching pastries in unnecessary icing. I walk outside with my roll and cappuccino in hand. I find a pleasant spot in the morning sun that happens to be a perfect place for people watching. As I enjoy my coffee and pastry, I watch others go about their day and I meditate on what a gift life itself really is.
You know as well as I that we don’t live in a perfect world. However, I think my tips can help you enjoy your coffee and pastries in a healthier way. By avoiding unnecessary sugar and caffeine on an empty stomach, we all can have a better coffee shop experience.
I wanted to say a lot when I wrote this article. It’s kinda all over the place. I hope you learned something from my experience and research. Thanks for taking the time out of your day to read my thoughts on coffee, food, and health. If you have any questions or comments, please post a comment below! Thanks! EJC