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How to Quit Coffee: Benefits and Caffeine Withdrawal Help

I just accomplished something I never, ever though would be possible: cutting back caffeine from 2-3 cups of coffee a day (after 17 years of dependency) to just one cup of green tea in the morning. WHOA! Here’s how and why, should you desire guidance along a similar journey.

How to Quit Coffee
What does it take to quit coffee?

Why Quit Coffee and Reduce Caffeine?

Don’t get me wrong — I LOVE coffee. I love the smell, taste, and energized, focused feeling it produces. I love coffee culture, coffee-drinking people, and cafes. So why, after nearly two decades of this daily love affair, would I make the shocking decision to taper down and ultimately quit? Here’s the list.

A. The caffeine addiction was freaking me out.

I existed for 17 years with the knowledge that if I couldn’t get coffee into my system by 8am, a debilitating headache would smash everything. For this reason, I basically lived in terror, scurrying at the whim of this dependency every day, no matter how inconvenient it was to assemble the coffee grounds or trek to the cafe. At a certain point, I didn’t desire to be this chained to any substance that wasn’t absolutely necessary.

B. I prefer my teeth white.

The turning point for finally making me quit coffee was an excruciatingly painful dentist tooth-scraping session during which the hygienist revealed that my morning cup of joe was the reason for my enamel stains. As the sharp metal tool bore down again on my gums, I whispered, “No drink is worth this.”

C. Coffee was causing jittery energy ups and downs.

I’m a naturally exuberant person, and I noticed that my energy level would get so high directly after my coffee dose that people were actually somewhat uncomfortable around me. Further, a dejected slump reliably reared its head mid-day, once the caffeine wore off. This was no fun for anyone, but particularly annoying for me. I was intrigued by reports from people saying that their energy levels stabilized after switching off coffee.

Benefits of quitting coffee
Quitting coffee helped even out my energy level!

D. Daily cups were messy, time-intensive, and expensive.

As a mother of two young kids who not only is a full-time English teacher but also runs three websites, anything that simplifies life is much-needed. Some mornings as I poured in the coffee grounds, dripped the water, then dealt with the filters, I looked longingly at the tea shelf, wondering: what would it be like to just dip a pre-made tea bag into a cup and be done with it?! Further, in addition to the home brewing equipment, the cups of coffee I was consuming in cafes were adding up, financially.

E. More, better sleep was needed.

Ever since having kids, I’ve had trouble sleeping past 6:30am, even when my wee ones aren’t up yet. I was intrigued by reports that even a morning cup of coffee could mess up night time sleep quality. Mama needs as many good REM cycles as possible to survive the crazy context these days!

F. I became concerned with impacts on health, like rosacea.

Two years ago I quit refined sugar and red wine (another dentist suggestion… foreshadowing?), then last year, I quit alcohol altogether. The resulting physical and mental health benefits have been AMAZING, from weight loss, to far better clarity of mind. If everyone was right that cutting out one type of drinking yielded boons, why not try quitting another?

This made me very curious to experience the possible health benefits of cutting out coffee. For one, I was recently diagnosed with rosacea (red patches on my face), and decreased caffeine is said to improve symptoms. Intrigued? Let’s see what made radically decreasing caffeine intake possible.

How to Transition from Coffee to Green Tea

In order to quit coffee, I chose for my “end point” to be one bag of green tea, because of its antioxidant and weight loss properties. However, the following road map will still work, whether your end goal is this or something different: black tea, matcha, yerba mate, or even zero caffeine at all to start your day. Here goes!

Caffeine withdrawal symptoms
Caffeine withdrawal symptoms are no joke.

How Long Does It Take to Cut Caffeine?

Your mileage may vary, but it took me just under two months to make the full transition from 2-3 cups of coffee a day to just one morning mug of green tea — AND to have the caffeine withdrawal symptoms subside. Here are instructions for following my path, though you may accelerate or lengthen the timeline based on your motivation, pain threshold, and current level of coffee consumption.

First: Prepare for Caffeine Withdrawal Symptoms.

Caffeine is an incredibly powerful drug, so be prepared for headaches, fatigue (I felt like someone turned my volume dial from 10 to 2), irritability (be ready to apologize to loved ones), and vision disturbances (migraines with sparkly white spots — different from seeing colors during meditation).

I even had a weird symptom of increased difficulty falling asleep for the first several weeks after quitting coffee, which I didn’t expect, since less caffeine is correlated with more sleep. In short be prepared for strange things to happen to your body and mind. Use thoughtful metacognition to identify symptoms — even in places you least expect them — and ways to treat them.

To make this journey, you’ll need extra sleep, water, exercise, outdoor walks in the sun, emotional support from loved ones, and nutritious food. A friend wisely taught me that apples provide an energy jolt to help the headaches, and another recommended daily meditation (Insight Timer has excellent guidance) which was instrumental in getting me through the hard parts. The good thing is that all the symptoms are surmountable. Here’s how to make it through…

Week 1: Be clear on your “why,” and get support on board.

To change any ingrained habit, you need a driving reason WHY it’s worth the difficulty. I’ve though about quitting coffee for 17 years, but it wasn’t until that afternoon sitting in that dentist chair (with the image of the metal scraper juxtaposed with the memory of my coffee slurps) that something finally clicked, and I knew I could and would finally quit. What are YOUR reasons?

Once you have your “why,” tell as many people as you can that you’re making this transition — including shouting it from the rooftops on social media — so that a positive peer pressure brigade comes to your support, should you be tempted to slip, or need support during a moment of particular pain in the transition. The Facebook thread I started about my caffeine journey was instrumental in getting me through a spate of terrible coffee withdrawal headaches. Thanks, community!

Weeks 2-3: Taper down the amount of coffee every few days, marking it on a calendar.

DO NOT QUIT COFFEE COLD TURKEY. I repeat: don’t just go from 300 mg of caffeine a day to zero! Re-read all those painful side effects listed above, then imagine them multiplied by 15, because you’ll be in great pain if you and the cold turkey do a dance.

Instead, take the time to gradually taper down your coffee intake, based on your current amount. I’d suggest cutting out half a cup every 2-4 days, marking each on a calendar as you go, and sharing with friends for encouragement. Listen to your body for when you’re ready for the next taper.

How to quit coffee: schedule
My chart for how to quit coffee over 8 weeks.

Weeks 4-5: Switch to black tea (starting high, then tapering).

Once you’re down to just one half-cup of coffee — which in my case was paired with the afternoon tea which had supplanted my afternoon coffee — replace the half-cup of joe with a full cup of tea made from at least two black tea bags. (I confess I started with four bags.) Follow the same pattern of tapering down one tea bag every 2-4 days until you’re down to one cup of black tea.

Week 6: Switch to green tea (two bags or cups, tapering).

WARNING: I was not expecting how hard the switch from black to green tea would be. Turns out that green tea has far less caffeine than black tea, though it still has some. Even though I tapered from one bag of black tea to two bags of green, I experienced massive headaches, fatigue, and irritability for the first week in the liminal space of this switch.

Week 7: Manage the remaining caffeine withdrawal symptoms until they subside.

Your journey is not complete until at least a week after the final taper, when your headaches and such have eased to nothing, and you can finally stand upon that mountaintop and declare…

Week 8: Switching from coffee to green tea is complete!

Congratulations! How does it feel to have achieved the lofty goal of cutting caffeine so drastically? Do share your experience, questions, and comments below. Now let’s reflect.

VIDEO: Quitting Coffee

Was it Worth it to Quit Coffee?

Looking back on the struggle and drama of the past two months transitioning from coffee to green tea, was it worth it to take this caffeine cutting journey? I’m pleasantly surprised to declare that YES, quitting coffee has actually turned out to be way more worthwhile and positively impactful than I anticipated. I really enjoyed my decades of coffee love, but it was time for a change.

Positive results from switching from coffee to green tea have indeed included:

  • Far more even energy level through the day.
  • Better control of my emotions.
  • Much easier morning and afternoon routine.
  • Wildly boosted confidence, knowing I was able to quit.

I can’t overstate that last benefit enough. After 17 years of caffeine dependency I NEVER thought that quitting coffee would be achievable. Now that it’s accomplished — aww, I’m in awe. This feat opens up a wide, wonderful world of what else is possible when we have a powerful “why.” Now, what are YOUR thoughts on this quitting caffeine journey? Do share!

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Adina

Friday 14th of May 2021

Very helpful article!! Just wondering why you didn’t consider moving to decaf coffee as an option first?

Lillie Marshall

Friday 14th of May 2021

Good question, and thanks! I’ve never been a fan of decaf, personally. I’m very motivated by food and beverage “superpowers,” and everything I’ve read about tea’s properties is intriguing, whereas decaf coffee has some problematic associations, including potentially concerning chemicals. You're right, though, that it's a viable option for tapering down full caffeine.

Jac

Wednesday 12th of May 2021

I read this post while on my second cup of morning coffee!! Definitely made me more mindful of my second cup. I try to only have 2 coffees a day and for the rest of the day I have green tea, herbal tea and water. For everyday use I have a good quality instant coffee which isn't as strong as fresh coffee. Generally only have fresh coffee when I visit a café on average every few weeks. There's no way I could have 2-3 fresh coffees a day!!!! Its way too strong and I can see how you could develop shaking and head aches. Well done on achieving your goal. I like how you break the steps down week-by-week so helpful :)

Lillie Marshall

Wednesday 12th of May 2021

Thanks! As a middle school teacher, I'm a big fan of step by step plans -- haha.

Biana

Wednesday 12th of May 2021

Thank you for sharing! What a great accomplishment of quitting coffee, love your success story.

Lillie Marshall

Wednesday 12th of May 2021

Thanks, Biana! I never thought it would be possible!

cass

Monday 10th of May 2021

I have ADHD and do find my coffee good as way to self-medicate, I guess. That said, I just dramatically reduced my caffeine intake by exchanging ALL of my tea bags for decaf black or green tea! I definitely feel better about that. And no coffee over 2pm, ever.

Anyways, found it interesting to hear your thoughts and great to hear a success story. Definitely relate and would also advocate for a caffeine reduction too!

Lillie Marshall

Monday 10th of May 2021

Thank you for sharing your experience! Caffeine, coffee, and tea certainly have many benefits -- including assisting focus -- so it's so important for each individual to see what works for THEM. Each person is different!

Fiona Maclean

Monday 10th of May 2021

I drink much less coffee these days - I have herbal tea in the morning (fennel usually) and stick to one or two cups of coffee during the day. Definitely feel better for it, but I'm not sure I want to quit completely

Lillie Marshall

Monday 10th of May 2021

Oh interesting about fennel tea -- I've never tried it but now am curious!

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