The Diversion Entity | Caffeine and me
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Caffeine and me

“A large caramel latte with three sugars, please. Oh, and one of those blueberry friands. Thanks.” – Me, circa May 2014

My friend Steph, an expert barista, worked at a couple of the uni cafes and wouldn’t let anyone serve me this order. She always made them leave the sugar out. Apparently, any coffee aficionados who heard this order thought it was complete heresy. I thought it went perfectly with baked goods. Everyone’s entitled to their opinion, I suppose.

Since then I’ve had a mixed relationship with coffee. Mostly to do with the fact that I spent about 18 months trying to figure out which of the major food groups was causing me tummy trouble. As I am a firm believer that chocolate can solve all issues and is the perfect anytime snack (or meal) it didn’t even occur to me for about 12 months of the aforementioned 18 that it may be my beloved dairy that was the culprit. Eventually, I realised the link between eating an entire cheese board and me wanting to spend the next 24 hours curled in the foetal position, and cut it (mostly) out of my life. I now have a strict one block a week rule. I find if I have one or two squares a night, and possibly a sprinkle of parmesan on my pasta, I am perfectly fine. Overdo it and it’s like treating oneself to a bottle of champagne – enjoyable at the time, but likely to be followed by a day spent curled under the covers, suffering a good dose of regret and self-loathing.

Knowing that caffeine is likely to irritate the most robust of stomachs at times, it was one of the first things I cut when I began my food intolerance research mission. Another contributing factor was the slight conflict between my uni student income and my desired standard of living. Budgeting and preparing my own meals and drinks became two goals in my life. I’m still fairly appalling and the former, but I believe I’ve become quite a pro’ at the latter. I swapped my daily (and sometimes twice-daily) coffee fixes for low-cost peppermint tea bags dunked in hot water. Flashy, huh? My choice of peppermint was due to its association with calming a grumpy stomach. TBH I haven’t done that much research into this, but I believe in the placebo effect, and I’ve actually come to love my four cups of peppermint tea a day. (Yes, I am one of those people who barely finish their cup before heading back to pop the kettle on.)

Sometime towards the end of 2017 I decided to experiment with lactose-free dairy products. This was spurred by receiving a ten-pack of various T2 black teas for my birthday, and becoming reacquainted with my old love, baking. I wanted to enjoy my black tea the way it was intended (IMO) – very milky – whilst at the same time munching on a piece of banana cake. So, I ordered some lactose-free milk in my weekly grocery order, and went to town. And it was GREAT. I was once again able to enjoy smoothies, cups of tea, and an abundance of baked goods without fear.

Soonafter this discovery, when I was busy accomplishing the daunting task I’d set myself of doing all my Christmas shopping in one day the weekend before Christmas in one of the city’s busiest shopping centres (my advice: make a game plan), I pottered past a Starbucks and thought “I wonder…”. So in I went, and politely asked what types of milk they served. To my delight, lactose free was an option, along with the (now standard) soy and almond milks (cue jokes about waking up early to milk almonds). I strolled out happily, iced latte in one hand, ticket with two minutes’ free parking remaining in the other (yes, I’m quite pleased with myself for getting all my shopping done in 1hr 58m, and avoiding parking fees, which I think are a rort). Now, I’m a very slow coffee drinker (it did in fact take me a 25-minute drive, a walk around IKEA and a visit to Kmart to finish the drink), but that just means I got to enjoy it for longer, right? And after? I wrapped my Christmas presents in complete merriment. No caffeine-related effects to speak of (apart from energy to come up with creative wrapping ideas).

I’m no longer a financially-challenged uni student, but I am an entry-level professional living in a city infamous for its deliriously expensive rent, so I limit myself to one iced coffee a week, usually on a Saturday afternoon (no, I’m not a creature of habit, at all…). Since my first dalliance with this refreshment last year, I have tested out vanilla flavouring (excellent if it’s a very modest amount), sugar (terrible; it doesn’t dissolve and ends up strewn across the bottom to deliver a disgustingly sweet and grainy finish to an otherwise perfectly acceptable beverage), and almond milk (good, but does not a match with vanilla flavouring make, IMO). It’s so exciting to have this little ritual now, and it makes me so happy that there’s much more understanding amongst the general populace about food intolerances – it means it’s a lot less daunting to pop into a previously unvisited coffee shop and as, “What types of milk do you have?”.

I am by no means a coffee aficionado yet (and I don’t really have a desire to be), but I do have a much better appreciation for it now that I don’t fear its after effects. And it’s apparent that some of my sweet tooth has dissipated also (which I’m sure makes both my dentist and my doctor very happy). I would encourage anyone who is struggling with any sort of food intolerance (be it lactose, gluten or otherwise) not to give up hope of enjoying food and beveraginis (a term I have coined – not sure it’ll take off) as much as any of those perfectly fine, no apparent medical issues of any type people. But don’t waste time being envious of people who don’t have any food worries – no-one’s life is complete with rainbows and unicorns, and it won’t get you anywhere except perhaps a weekend spent bingeing on non-friendly food in an act of defiance against your own body. And that’s no fun at all. It may take a while, and it does take a bit of trial and error (as long as you’re sensible about the risk of possible errors), but I am finding the more I research available alternatives, and politely ask supermarket and hospitality staff for help or substitutes, the more excited and optimistic I become.

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