Caffeine fixes for a coffee hater
March 21, 2007 5:59 PM   Subscribe

Please help me learn to love coffee, or suggest an alternative caffeine delivery method.

Currently, I drink two to three 20 ounce bottles of Mountain Dew Code Red daily, which constitutes an absurd amount of my targeted daily caloric intake and cannot possibly be healthy. I need an alternative source of caffeine. I’ve already tried pretty much all the caffeinated products available from Some of them are excellent, but at two to three bottles a day, it’s too expensive for me to order this stuff online and it isn’t available in my area.

So I guess that leaves coffee... eww. While I’ve never eaten dirt, I imagine it tastes exactly like coffee: earthy and bitter and yuck.

I haven’t tried many coffee drinks, but the only one I’ve liked was Starbucks’ White Chocolate Mocha. However, I can’t afford an $8-12 a day habit, and I don’t think the 20 grams of fat (!) in each one makes them any healthier than Code Red.

So how can I learn to like coffee, and to make palatable coffee drinks (read: ones that don’t taste anything like coffee) at home? I’m mystified by terms like “dry roast” and “espresso” and “foam.” I like the idea of flavored syrups, but I have no idea how to use them. Got any brand or recipe recommendations?
posted by chickletworks to Food & Drink (46 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You could always go with herbal tea. I've been drinking that instead of my usual coffee, and it definitely keeps you alert, and tastes fresh to boot.
posted by Phire at 6:02 PM on March 21, 2007

Best answer: In general, each of the following contains approximately 200 milligrams of caffeine:
-One 200 milligram caffeine pill
-One 12 oz cup of regular Starbucks coffee
-One and one quarter 16 fluid ounce cans of Monster Energy (590 millilitres)
-One and a half pounds of milk chocolate (680 grams)
-Two 8 fluid ounce containers of regular coffee (470 millilitres)
-1/2 tube of Spazzstick Caffeinated Lip Balm
-Two Foosh Energy Mints
-Two Buzz Bites Chocolate Energy Chews
-Two and a half 10 oz. bottles of Bawls caffeinated drink (740 millilitres)
-Three standard Excedrin pills
-Three 8 fluid ounce cups of Red Bull energy drink (710 millilitres)
-Four 8 fluid ounce cups of Vault energy drink (1.0 litre)
-Five 1 fluid ounce shots of espresso from robusta beans (150 millilitres)
-Five 8 fluid ounce cups of black tea (1.2 litres)
-Five 8 fluid ounce cups of Mountain Dew (1.2 litres)
-Five 12 fluid ounce cans of typical soda pop (1.8 litres) (variable)
-Eight and a half 8 fluid ounce cups of Coca-Cola Classic (2.0 litres)
-Ten 8 fluid ounce cups of green tea (2.4 litres)
-Fifty 8 fluid ounce cups of decaffeinated coffee (12 litres)
posted by jckll at 6:03 PM on March 21, 2007 [5 favorites]

What you need, my friend, is Water Joe! It looks like water and tastes like, well, water, too.

Seriously, tho, why the dependence on caffeine? Wean yourself off of it, and then when you find you really could use a boost, one cup of tea will be all you need. :)
posted by TheNewWazoo at 6:05 PM on March 21, 2007

Hey... I recently decided to switch from regular pop to diet. So as a suggestion: I found that diet Pepsi tastes MUCH better than diet Coke, much to my surprise, because I was always a Coke fan. It also contains caffeine, so that should help.

Also, here's a cool link - it calculates your daily caffeine intake. You just have to click on the beverages you consumed (the list can also give you some ideas).

posted by esolo at 6:07 PM on March 21, 2007

oops - forgot the link.
posted by esolo at 6:08 PM on March 21, 2007

Why not just a diet soft drink? The ones with Splenda are far, far, far[1] less objectionable (from a taste POV) than the aspartame ones.

[1] far, far, far, far, far!
posted by DU at 6:09 PM on March 21, 2007

Response by poster: TheNewWazoo, I looooove Water Joe (and BuzzWater) but (despite my repeated entreaties to their manufacturers) they're not available in my area. Booooo.

Black tea has the same amount of caffeine as Mountain Dew?! Wow. That could be a solution. Does anybody know how the tea has to be brewed to achieve that caffeine level?
posted by chickletworks at 6:09 PM on March 21, 2007

I found that diet Pepsi tastes MUCH better than diet Coke, much to my surprise, because I was always a Coke fan.

I did the same thing about 15 months ago and made the same discovery. Switching to diet soft drinks was a major part of my weight loss, so it is worth doing if you are counting calories unless you have some other objection to diet drinks. If you put a bunch of sugar and cream in your coffee to disguise the taste you will just end up with a soft drink that is warm and non-carbonated, in caloric terms at least.
posted by TedW at 6:19 PM on March 21, 2007

I found that diet Pepsi tastes MUCH better than diet Coke, much to my surprise, because I was always a Coke fan.

I cannot second this enough. I still drink diet Coke because now it's free and readily available where I work but, after a desperate soda machine jones one day years ago when they were out of D.C. (before it was free,) I realized that I liked the Pepsi stuff better. There's just that little aftertaste with diet Coke.

The best way I can describe the difference is to taste some really good tequilas. Petron has this... something taste that lingers a bit that let's say, a Cabo Wabo doesn't. They're both good, but your fondness for that something will determine which way you should go.

I can't even drink regular Coke anymore. Too damn sweet (although the same is true with regular Pepsi.)

Tea, though. Tea is also good.
posted by Cyrano at 6:26 PM on March 21, 2007

Best answer: my sister was a huge soda addict and by doing nothing but switching to diet, dropped about 40 lbs in 4 months. i liked pepsi one, when it existed, and really enjoy coke zero. i think it's the best tasting diet soda out there. a good friend swears by diet dr. pepper, so take a weekend and experiment. my mom likes diet coke with (real) lime squeezed in it.

if you want to try coffee, do yourself a huge favor and brew it yourself. i hate coffeeshop coffee--it's been cooking in those nasty thermos dispensers for hours and tastes awful. go to walmart and buy yourself a coffee grinder and a french press (you can get one on amazon for $25)

buy a high-quality coffee (usually more expensive, yes. expect to pay $7-10 a bag for the good stuff). don't buy espresso--the darker the bean, the less caffeine (roasting degrades caffeine, so a lighter roast will have more). a lighter roast is also less bitter. buy whole beans.

ideally, you'd grind them fresh every morning, but it's a crappy noise to wake up to. i usually grind a week's worth and keep it in an airtight container. keep the beans in an airtight container. you can freeze them if you want, but it's not necessary as long as the container is airtight.

once your beans are ground, boil your water. you'll need about 2 cups to fill the average coffee mug. for every 2 cups, you want one heaping tablespoon of ground coffee. put the ground coffee into the press, then add boiling water. put the top on the press, but don't press it just yet. let it steep 1-4 minutes, according to your taste. you might want to start with a short steep and work your way up.

then press the grinds to the bottom, and pour your lovely cuppa into your mug. add milk or cream and sweetener of your choice--honey is unconventional but good. again, you may wish to go heavy on the milk and sugar until you've developed your taste for coffee.

i would concur that you should wean yourself off the caffeine, though. you'll sleep better (and thus need less caffeine in the morning) and will need less to give you a boost when you need it.
posted by thinkingwoman at 6:33 PM on March 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

What do you mean, "when it existed". I just finished off a 2 liter of Pepsi One this evening and plan to buy more this weekend.

If you haven't tried diet colae in the last 3 years, definite go back and try the Splendafied ones. They are so much better it isn't even FUNNY.
posted by DU at 6:36 PM on March 21, 2007

The trick with Diet Coke is to get it with some sort of flavoring. Diet Coke with Lemon or Lime gets rid of that aftertaste. Granted those aren't found in drink machines often. Dr. Pepper is another really good diet, one that is found in many coke machines.
posted by zabuni at 6:37 PM on March 21, 2007

Best answer: Why not drink Diet Mountain Dew?

Anyway, to answer the question about coffee:

You probably have gotten bad tasting coffee and it made you think all coffee has to taste like ass. It really doesn't. There are a few simple things you can do to get a nice mild cup of coffee that is not bitter.

First, try a lighter roast. The dark roasts are dark because they've been burned more. Starbucks is famous for pushing this "burnt coffee" taste. And the lighter roasts even have more caffeine, in addition to not being as harsh. Try a "morning blend" sometime if you want a taste that has been blended specifically to be as mild and non-bitter as possible.

Second, don't make it with boiling water! The inventer of the Aeropress claims that after extensive taste testing, brewing at 175F - 185F resulted in consistently better tastes in blind tests by both experts and coffee-lay. So throw out that automatic drip machine. You can get just a plain filter which you manually pour the water over the grinds, giving you complete control of the temperature. Or, get an Aeropress - my personal favorite. It costs about $25 and you can make a great cup of joe. It is a smaller capacity than the normal 12 cup machine (it can make up to 4) but it is so quick to use that you can easily make a cup in 5 minutes. This means no large pot of coffee sitting there slowly evaporating.

Next, always grind right before brewing. As soon as the bean has been ground, it starts losing its essential oils and flavors. So buy whole beans and grind them at the time of brewing. You can use a cheap whirly blade grinder ($10 - $20) but this is very suboptimal; try a burr grinder some time and you will see a vast difference. You can get a Capresso model for about $55 or so. Beans should be kept in an airtight container, like a mason jar with a clasping latch. Do not store them in the bag they came in! That thing is NOT meant to be used for storage after it's been opened. You want airtight. And never in the freezer or refriderator.

If you follow all of the above, you should be able to get a very nice and smooth cup of coffee in your own kitchen, without having to pay $5 or whatever it costs at the Starbucks.

The final bit is about the taste itself: If you are not a habitual coffee drinker you may find the taste objectionable. I suppose that is natural. But there's no reason that it need be that way. You can develop a taste for it. I know I did. Don't rely on milk or sugar to cover up the taste. Just get to know it. If you follow the above steps you will get a very mild brew that is not bitter and doesn't taste like burnt dirt. If you give it a chance you really can develop a taste for it.
posted by Rhomboid at 6:39 PM on March 21, 2007

automatic drip coffee machines are 100x easier than french press. experiment till you find the brand you like.
posted by amethysts at 6:42 PM on March 21, 2007

I'm developing a taste for coffee in my current job. I switched from a field support job where I was on my feet and running all day to a writing/reporting job where I babysit a phone and write more or less constantly, and I turned to coffee to keep me going. Usually a cup around 1pm gets me through the afternoon.

It doesn't hurt that the new employer just splurged on a wicked-awesome coffee machine that's kept stocked with all kinds of wild flavors. Seriously, if you're groggy enough, try it. You might find it grows on you. I started with "frappucino-in-a-bottle" and moved from that to harder coffees. It's a gateway drug.
posted by Alterscape at 6:43 PM on March 21, 2007

Oh, I see I forgot links. Aeropress. Capresso Infinity. JLHufford breakfast blend.
posted by Rhomboid at 6:49 PM on March 21, 2007

Best answer: If you like the smell of coffee, then you can probably develop a taste for it. I wouldn't freak out trying to make the best cup of coffee out there, as it's not going to make a huge amount of difference. Get some good quality instant and make yourself a cup with say 3/4's of a tsp of coffee (slightly weak), and put in a lot of milk. Then add sugar till you can drink it. Or one of those weirdo syrup things. Maybe a tsp of the stuff. Then you slowly wean yourself off the milk and the sugar.

If you don't like the smell (which is the best bit), then don't even bother. Go with tea, or diet drinks (which I've heard have more caffiene as they don't give you a sugar high like the leaded stuff does). Also consider cutting down on your caffiene. If you drink that much everyday, your body has adapted to it, and the caffiene isn't having a stimulating affect anymore, it's just getting you back to baseline. You may actually be more affected by the sugar.
posted by kjs4 at 6:59 PM on March 21, 2007

Best answer: This falls into the you-didn't-ask-this-but-I'm-telling-you-anyway category, but consider going cold turkey. Caffeine is a vicious cycle: You drink it. You sleep poorly. You wake up tired. You need caffeine to wake up.

I used to think I had insomnia. Then I stopped drinking caffeinated beverages after 6pm, and I had no trouble falling asleep. When I gave them up, I began sleeping like a baby. And all I ever drank was Coke.

Yes, quitting caffeine means a week or so of nasty headaches, but then you're golden.

I gave this same advice to a co-worker a few weeks ago and she laughed it off. A week later she came to me and said she had quit drinking coffee and couldn't believe how much better she felt.

Don't mean to preach. Sorry.
posted by etc. at 7:04 PM on March 21, 2007

it's controversial, but a lot of people think diet soda, at least the type with aspartame, is really really unhealthy. if you're considering taking up a serious habit, i would do a little research on that first.

on the coffee front, if you like flavored coffee drinks that don't taste much like coffee, then use milk, sugar and flavorings. if you use skim milk your drink will be fat free, though it still will have some calories from the milk and sugar. for flavorings, use cocoa powder, flavor extracts from the grocery store or flavored syrups like the ones used in coffee shops (they're much more affordable if you buy a whole bottle and make your own coffee to put it in)
posted by lgyre at 7:06 PM on March 21, 2007

also, caffeine pills are available otc in a lot of drug stores.
posted by lgyre at 7:07 PM on March 21, 2007

Best answer: I hate coffee, too. I drink lots of tea, but when I really need a jolt, I drink Yerba Mate, which is delicious with a tiny bit of honey and which packs a very solid energy buzz.

I strongly recommend this stuff.
posted by Dr. Wu at 7:10 PM on March 21, 2007

I'm not etc.'s co-worker but I could be. I sleep much better and am more alert during the day without the coffee. I do love the taste of it though, and I still partake every once in a while, but it's usually decaf if I have the choice.

But since that doesn't really answer your question, I'll add that I find Coke Zero vastly superior to Diet Coke, if you want to go the artificial-sweetener route.
posted by backwards guitar at 7:25 PM on March 21, 2007

a lot of people think diet soda, at least the type with aspartame, is really really unhealthy

I'm glad you said that the way you did, as this is a whole other issue. There is anything but definitive scientific agreement on the matter. So, everybody forms their own opinion. I don't mean to derail, and I don't want to talk about health effects of aspartame.
posted by Rhomboid at 7:26 PM on March 21, 2007

Three words:

Dunkin Donuts Coffee.

A gateway drug if ever there was one.
posted by conch soup at 7:26 PM on March 21, 2007

I'm going to second those who recommend getting off caffeine. Does it really take several daily doses just to get by? You don't need an alternative, you need an intervention.
posted by Help, I can't stop talking! at 8:24 PM on March 21, 2007

Best answer: There are experts out there that would love to show you everything you need to know about how to love coffee or how to find a coffee that you love. Find a swanky coffee house in your area stop in and ask if they do cuppings or if they know where you can attend one. It's basically a tasting where you have opportunity for you to try a few varieties of coffee at once with an expert present to answer your questions. You'll learn what to taste for and how to describe the tastes that you like and dislike to help you find a coffee that works for your preferences.
posted by peeedro at 8:28 PM on March 21, 2007

Best answer: Dr. Wu is right on target when he recommends yerba mate. It tastes fine and promotes alertness and clarity without the tightness that coffee can leave you feeling. If you find it's keeping you awake when you want to sleep, have some kava tea to bring on a state of relaxed unconcern and vivid, active dreams.
posted by breezeway at 8:43 PM on March 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

While I find Bawls particularly effective when it comes to drinks, I recommend NoDoz. For about $4, you get 16 tablets with 200 mg each. They keep you awake for about 4 hours at a time. I find them extremely helpful when I'm up late doing a project of sorts or sitting through a presentation or class.
posted by champthom at 8:45 PM on March 21, 2007

I didn't like coffee but eventually you're so addicted to caffeine that you start to miss that nice burnt zip it has. Now it's like the sweet, sweet taste of success.

Get a French press and get to work on a chemical dependency. You'll be swilling it like a pro in no time.
posted by crinklebat at 9:22 PM on March 21, 2007

I'll answer the question after pointing out that caffeine addiction isn't all that great.

That having been said, I'm currently looking at my bottle of caffeine pills: Jet-Alert brand, 90 200mg pills for under 3 bucks (at Target). Amazingly inexpensive, quite effective, and absolutely no sugar (I just drink water). If you're looking not for a lifestyle, but simply for (as you suggest) a caffeine delivery mechanism, you really can't go wrong with the pills.

I like the smell of coffee, but never could get the hang of the taste (nor the cult, I suppose, either).
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 10:16 PM on March 21, 2007

I drink mountain dew in large quantities. I drink coffee when I'm out. I think there's something else in there that coffee lacks, even with large amount of sugar. Caffeine pills? Meh. Seriously, there's something special about having a large shot of high fructose corn syrup (or whatever the hell they put in there) with my caffeine that no other drink has been able to emulate successfully (It's not as jittery but, somehow, just as energizing). Not even Jolt. Maybe I'm just nuts.
posted by IronLizard at 10:41 PM on March 21, 2007

Actually, I heard of some engineer who would crush half a caffeine pill and mix it with a pint of Gatorade. Seemed like it worked for him-- kept him hydrated, and not over-sugared.
posted by conch soup at 10:55 PM on March 21, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone! I'm especially looking forward to trying the coffee brewing tips, the powdered flavored coffees, and yerba mate.

And to the people who suggested cutting back or cutting out the caffeine, I hear you. I plan to do that after I graduate. Until then, the insane 24/7 grad student lifestyle calls for a little chemical assistance.
posted by chickletworks at 11:06 PM on March 21, 2007

If you've never tasted a primo cup of freshly ground coffee with a teaspoon or two of heavy whipping cream and sweetner to taste, you've not lived my friend.

Recent news shows that caffein reduces liver cancer/disease rates, by the way. Chocolate, too. Swill those mochas, I guess.

Then again, margarine (trans-fat) was healthier than butter 10 years ago...
posted by prodevel at 12:47 AM on March 22, 2007

I cannot bear coffee; foul stuff. Tea is the only drink for a gentleperson.
posted by zemblamatic at 5:05 AM on March 22, 2007

I guess I gotta at least make an appearance here.
I was going through about that much regular Dew about 5 years ago. I changed to Diet Mt. Dew and (along with other diet changes) lost about 35 pounds.

I originally hated diet Dew, but now I prefer the taste. Diet Code Red is available in PA, but I'm not sure where else.

I'm still concerned about Aspartame, but an extra 35 pounds isn't a good health risk either.

Coffee sux.
posted by MtDewd at 7:02 AM on March 22, 2007

I NEVER used to drink coffee. Hated the stuff. Then my son was born. Welcome to the land of no sleep ever. Tea just wasn't cutting it anymore. I decided to try an iced coffee at Starbucks and I was hooked. At work, I fill up a cup 1/4 to 1/2 full with ice and the rest black coffee. It's how I get through my day. Might be worth a try.
posted by Otis at 7:07 AM on March 22, 2007

Also, when you do give up caffeine, I'd suggest doing it slowly. Caffeine withdrawal is really unpleasant and makes giving up cigarettes seem pleasant by comparison.
posted by MtDewd at 7:12 AM on March 22, 2007

Best answer: I forgot to mention two other tips:

Try filtered water. I am not a bottled water snob by any means, in fact I hate the idea of paying for bottled water and all the waste that it implies. I regularly drink straight municipal tap and love it. But when I switched to using tap water that had been through a Pur filter for coffee, I noticed a better taste.

Second, don't skimp on the proportions. Apparently a lot of people want a less-harsh brew and so they use less coffee than the label says. That's kind of the opposite of what you want: for equal amounts water, having less grounds results in more extraction, which means more bitterness. So always use the recommended amount (which I think is 2 tablespoons per "cup" which is 6 oz in coffeespeak.) If you want a leaner brew, dilute the final output with more hot water, don't reduce the amount of grounds.
posted by Rhomboid at 8:08 AM on March 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

Caffeine quitting tip: Have one-half portion less each day until you quit. Meaning, if you drink 4 cups of coffee a day, drink 3 1/2 one day, 3 the next, 2 1/2 the next, etc. for a week, or if you drink 3 - 12 oz. Dews a day, just drink half a can less each day (yeah, you're throwing away perfectly good pop every other day, but you're ditching a habit). You won't end up with caffeine withdrawal headaches and tiredness this way.
posted by breezeway at 9:05 AM on March 22, 2007

I know you said you tried everything from thinkgeek, but you referred to those items as in bottles, so I think I'm safe in making this recommendation:
Penguin Caffinated Mints. They use a high-grade caffeine that gives a good buzz.

As for what to drink, just drink water. No calories, no chemicals, no cost.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 9:27 AM on March 22, 2007

Best answer: I used to drink only black tea. And then, only in the morning. I always loved the smell of coffee, but was never a fan. But lately, I've learned to like it. (But still have to have it light and sweet. And sometimes with flavors. More on that later.) And being a typical engineering type, I had to read up a lot on the whys and wherefores of coffee. So here are my preferences/advice on coffee:
- Brewing method. You might have to experiment with. I love the Aeropress. Makes the best coffee ever. But only one (strong) cup at a time. But making is easy, and cleanup's a snap. But a decent drip machine can work as well. Follow Rhomboid's advice on proportions. I like the French Press, but it can be tricky to get all the variables right. And I can never avoid sludge in the cup. (More on coffee makers & cheers for Aero in this AskMe thread.)
- Beans. Buy whole, keep stored (not in fridge), grind as needed. So you'll need a grinder. You can get one with a whirly blade for $20. Grinding your own beans makes a HUGE improvement in flavor over storing pre-ground.
- I love flavored half-and-half (hazelnut & french vanilla especially). But I'm a nancy-boy when it comes to coffee. Not that I don't like the flavor, but it's just too strong for me. As my brother says, I drink warm coffee ice cream. But either way use (at least!) half-and-half. Not milk. You'll thank me.
- And for general coffee info, go to CoffeeGeek.

Minor nitpick...
cklennon - I think your numbers are off. As I recall, Mountain Dew has more caffeine than cola. But I thought tea had 1/3 - 1/2 the caffeine of coffee. Wikipedia seems to agree (see table). What's your source?

posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 10:37 AM on March 22, 2007

ORM- looks like ckl's source is the same as yours-wiki.
The table in the middle (caffeine per serving) and the Appendix (serving size per caffeine amount) cite the same source.
posted by MtDewd at 11:19 AM on March 22, 2007

Best answer: Check out Rockstar Zero Carb (blue can). Tastes like berries, 20 calories per 16 ounce can, and 240mg of caffeine per 16 ounce can. Definitely gets the engine going. The two juiced blends are good as well (160mg/16oz can). I'm not a fan of the two original flavours though.
posted by jeversol at 2:39 PM on March 22, 2007

As my brother says, I drink warm coffee ice cream.

Come to think of it, actual coffee ice cream was my gateway drug to bitter black goodness. Coffee Heath Bar Crunch ftw!
posted by clavicle at 8:42 PM on March 22, 2007

Coffee Heath Bar Crunch = Best Ice Cream EVER!!!
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 6:05 AM on March 23, 2007

« Older should I just throw out my university course notes...   |   How can I reattach my chair backs? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.