Takeaway Food Week: Coffee

We’re finishing off Takeaway Food Week by looking at a takeout option that you might not consider as a meal but which also often rewards a cautious approach: coffee.

While the number of coffee outlets in Australia has expanded dramatically in the last decade, we haven’t ended up with a single dominant provider that straddles the country the way Starbucks has colonised every street corner in the US. Indeed, the all but failure of Starbucks in the local market is testament to the competitiveness of a market where independent coffee chains are taken seriously.

The Australian Starbucks equivalent is, of course, Gloria Jean’s, which operates 470+ stores throughout the country. Coffee Club has 250+ stores, and after that there’s a wide range of chain providers, but no-one who matches the scale we’ve seen from other fast-food providers this week. That said, competition is arguably even fiercer: it often seems that anywhere that sells food is likely to sell coffee.

How can I make this healthier? We’ve offered a very detailed discussion of the potential impact of caffeine on your health in the past, so we won’t revisit that angle. As with the other posts this week, we’ll look at a simple question: is drinking too much take-out coffee going to make you fat?

Obviously, if you choose a no-milk option, the answer is pretty much “no” — there’s no kilojoules worth mentioning in black coffee. Once you start adding milk and sugar, the answer is “possibly”. Once you start adding cream, the answer is “you are going to become a lardarse”.

To get more specific: the first issue, as usual, is size. Using figures from Gloria Jean’s, a small cappuccino is 484Kj, a regular is 623Kj, and a large is 725Kj. Choosing skim milk drops those figures: the parallel numbers are 275Kj, 358Kj, and 421Kj. The figures go up if you choose milkier options such as a latte or flat white.

What really sends the numbers jumping is adding flavour syrups. A large ‘caramelatte’ is 1170Kj, which is a bit too much of the average intake you’ll be aiming for in a day (9000Kj for a tallish adult male like me). A large hot chocolate is even worse, on 1360KJ. And don’t even contemplate most of the cold drinks: a large iced chocolate has 2340Kj, which is just not justifiable except perhaps as a super-occasional snack. Having a hot drink also means you’ll take longer to consumer it. Keep the size (and milk) to a minimum and your waistline needn’t worry overmuch.

The other key point is to resist ordering other food when you order a coffee. For instance, if you grab a double choc muffin at the Coffee Club, you’ll have almost 2500 kilojoules in muffin — more than you’ll likely need for a meal. As ever, the rule to avoid anything with the word ‘double’ in the name is a good one to follow. (You can grab full nutrition guides for Gloria Jean’s and Coffee Club online.)

How can I save money? The harsh truth is that the simplest way to save money on coffee is to give up the habit of buying it. Last year’s Lifehacker Mastercheap experiment was predicated on the idea that it was possible for an adult to cover their daily food requirements for around $3.50 a day — the price of a single coffee. But who am I kidding? The queues I see for coffee on my way to work every day suggest no-one is that worried by the cost.

If grabbing coffee is a vital step in your day, then saving 30 cents but getting a cup you don’t like arguably isn’t worth it, and you might as well stick with a trusted provider. But if you’re buying multiple cups a day, consider reducing your intake or shrinking their size. If you work in a busy city location, you’ll also have lots of choice within easy distance, so try a little shopping around.

How do you manage your caffeine intake without sending your waistline spiralling or spending too much? Let off steam in the comments.

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