Why does Corner Bakery's coffee give me a migraine?
September 7, 2019 9:04 AM   Subscribe

For some reason, drinking any reasonable amount of any (caffeinated) brewed coffee from Corner Bakery results in a migraine for me. Starbucks and Peet's brewed coffees don't do this to me, nor do Trader Joe's beans I've bought to brew at home. It's not just CB; it does happen with random other coffee I get in cafes and restaurants, but none I can name for sure other than CB. Any idea what aspect of their coffees might be the culprit, so I can try to avoid it?

It's never happened to me with higher-end coffee that I recall (e.g. Barefoot, Ritual, Blue Bottle).

The only other data point I have is that I bought coffee at Aldi last night for the first time, because I couldn't stand making another stop, and it's giving me the same lingering aftertaste that I associate with getting a headache at Corner Bakery. Unfortunately I already had a migraine when I woke up today, so who can say for sure! Anyway, the Aldi coffee is this one, and it comes in a pre-ground brick--not how I normally buy coffee at all. That made me wonder if it's got something in common with Corner Bakery's coffee.

I realize that's not much to go on, sorry. Any thoughts or suggestions for lines of investigation would be appreciated. I'd love to be able to avoid accidentally buying migraine-triggering coffee either in cafes or to brew at home.

(NB: The Corner Bakery near where I lived closed just before I moved, and there isn't one where I live now, so I can't experiment. Also: This isn't a matter of number of cups of coffee triggering a migraine due to too much caffeine--just a normal serving.)
posted by wintersweet to Food & Drink (15 answers total)
Do you order with cream? I don't know how CB makes its coffee but I get terrible headaches after drinking some types of non dairy creamer. The Aldi coffee might just be a coincidence, if you already had a migraine.
posted by phunniemee at 9:41 AM on September 7, 2019

Regular coffee to which I add actual milk or half-and-half--I never use creamer.
posted by wintersweet at 9:45 AM on September 7, 2019

I've had this consistently with some coffee places [but only a rare few] and my hypothesis is

a) they don't clean their coffee machine often enough, so the coffee has traces of burned or stale coffee grounds; or

b) when they DO clean their coffee machine, they don't adequately rinse off all the cleaning product that they use.
posted by Murderbot at 10:14 AM on September 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

Does it upset your stomach? For me my digestive system and my migraines are mysteriously linked.
posted by mai at 10:16 AM on September 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

Is going to Corner Bakery correlated with something else that's a trigger? For instance do you go there on the weekends, while the Starbucks drive through is your stop on the way to work? Disrupted sleep schedule is a huge trigger.
posted by fritley at 10:19 AM on September 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

Maybe the type of bean (Arabica vs. Robusta) they use?
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:18 AM on September 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

My first thought was mold or something like it - have you got any allergies? A friend of mine was getting migraines and regularly eating pistachios as a snack - it turned out that the regular intake of pistachios that had gotten *slightly* moldy because of an unopened shell was the culprit. If she'd eaten pistachios as a snack once in a while, she might not have noticed the odd slightly old/moldy pistachio, but because of the amount, it was enough to tip her over the edge and her allergy/sensitivity was triggered.

Maybe Corner Bakery and Aldi have different standards or storage or roasting for their coffee beans? With just a little bit more of... something in them that triggers some kind of sensitivity in you.
posted by pazazygeek at 11:43 AM on September 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

Maybe it has a lower caffeine content than you’re used to? I get wicked migraines when I have to drink the watered-down coffee at work.
posted by pintapicasso at 11:46 AM on September 7, 2019 [9 favorites]

I was going to say, could be related to amount of caffeine. Different coffee brands have amounts.
posted by bearette at 11:49 AM on September 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

Trying coffees from different roasters used to be almost a form of recreation for me, until it got too frustrating for various reasons, but every coffee I know for sure was roasted in a gas fired roaster — maybe only about 5 out of 40+ — gave me a headache, though not always a migraine.

And those coffees did have a distinctive smell, which I have been attributing to odorants added to the gas, but in thinking about your question, it occurred to me that all natural gas has hydrogen sulfide in it coming out of the well.

Hydrogen sulfide is soluble in water, and it is a known migraine trigger.

However, it's not necessarily that easy to find out how coffee companies roast their coffee; just a couple of months ago, for example, Peet's corporate offices refused to tell me whether a particular coffee I wanted to try had been gas roasted.
posted by jamjam at 12:22 PM on September 7, 2019 [7 favorites]

I was also going to say mold; another possible issue is an allergy to (sorry) cockroaches.

I have given up on coffees that are pre-ground and cheap; that seems to be associated strongly with negative reactions. I have never had a problem with fancy schmancy places that grind their own beans daily or whatever.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 1:31 PM on September 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

In terms of pre-ground coffee and cockroaches, here's an NPR interview with an entomologist
I was doing research out at a place called The Rocky Mountain Lab in Colorado. And we had to keep going way out our way - this was in the late '80s, this is before there was a Starbucks on every corner and you can get really good coffee.

And he was fiercely addicted to caffeine - to coffee. And we'd have to drive way off the interstate to go find good coffee in that day. I mean, we'd go 45 minutes off our route to go find a place that had whole bean fresh ground coffee. And I remember giving him a really hard time because we were wasting a lot of travel time trying to feed his addiction because he need a coffee every couple of hours. And he finally explained to me he had to drink only sort of whole bean fresh ground coffee. And it was because of cockroaches. There's a point to this story which is that he found out the hard way from teaching entomology year after year after year, handling cockroaches - people used cockroaches as the lab rat for entomology labs - he got really badly allergic to them. So, he couldn't even touch cockroaches without getting an allergic reaction. And because of that he couldn't drink pre-ground coffee. And it turned out when he looked into it that pre-ground, you know, your big bulk coffee that you buy in a tin, is all processed from these huge stock piles of coffee. These piles of coffee, they get infested with cockroaches and there's really nothing they can do to filter that out. So, it all gets ground up in the coffee…


Dr. EMLEN: …and he was actually allergic to pre-ground coffee because of that sort of spin off from having handled them teaching entomology for all those years.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 1:35 PM on September 7, 2019 [27 favorites]

Tannins will trigger migraines in some people. I am guessing the Corner Store coffee is more tannic.

If this is your trigger, you want to be careful with teas and wines as well. You can buy coffee, tea, and wine labelled low tannin. A good coffee shop will also have employees trained in the qualities of the coffee strains they sell.
posted by nirblegee at 3:46 PM on September 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

If it is the amount of caffeine you may be suffering from withdrawal. The headaches are awful and don't respond to pain killers.
posted by klanawa at 9:35 AM on September 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

I don't think it's related to lower caffeine levels because I can skip a day of coffee/just have tea/etc. and not develop a headache, whereas these headaches tend to develop very soon after drinking the coffee. Thanks for all the suggestions so far! I'll take notes next time it happens. (And I think I'll dump out the Aldi coffee and then try to figure out what's good at Wegmans.)
posted by wintersweet at 4:02 PM on September 8, 2019

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