Why I Went Without Coffee For A Month (And May Give It Up For Good)

Why I Went Without Coffee For A Month (And May Give It Up For Good)

Earlier this month, writer Leo Babauta started what he calls “The Year of Living Without”. Each month, he’ll give up something and write about what he learned from the process. First up: coffee.

For my first month of The Year of Living Without, I gave up coffee. That was something I thought would be very difficult, given my love for coffee and miserable past attempts. But I loved it. That was a huge surprise to me. I had absolutely no difficulty in giving up coffee, not the first day, not the first week, not at all.

They key was having a great replacement habit that I really enjoyed. Instead of focusing on sacrificing the coffee, I focused on drinking a lovely cup of tea each morning. I was grateful to be able to drink such good tea, and so the coffee wasn’t even a concern. So my first month of Living Without wasn’t that difficult, though I did learn a few things.

Going Without Coffee

Some notes on going without coffee:

  • I fully expected to have withdrawal symptoms, like grogginess and headaches and such. Perhaps it’s because there’s a bit of caffeine in the tea (not high amounts as I brew lightly), but I experienced zero withdrawal signs. I was alert and focused even in the early morning.
  • I really thought I’d have a harder time watching others drink coffee, but it wasn’t difficult at all.
  • The only time I had urges was from the smell of coffee, which is really an amazingly enticing aroma. There aren’t many other smells like it. So [my wife] Eva would brew some coffee (and of course it’s really good coffee), and it smells great. But the urge wasn’t too strong.
  • The strongest urge came one day when I was eating something that was a bit fatty (stir-fried in olive oil) and a bit spicy (chilli powder), and Eva’s coffee was right in front of me, so I could smell it. Apparently the combo of spice and fat and the strong smell of coffee is a very strong trigger for me. The urge lasted for a while, but I drank water to rinse my mouth of the spice and fat, and walked away from the coffee smell.
  • Another interesting time was in our visit to Portland, where Eva and my friends Jesse and Josh Jacobs wanted to tour some of the best coffee shops. I drove them, and enjoyed the smells of the good coffee at all the great shops, but didn’t drink any. I thought it would be my greatest challenge, but it wasn’t too bad. The smells were great.
  • Other times we visited Blue Bottle Coffee, for Eva, and I would have liked to have gotten a soy Gibraltar (a lovely creamy drink just a bit bigger than a shot glass, not on the menu). But I didn’t, and I was fine.

What I Learned

This Year of Living Without is an experiment to help me learn about myself, about my urges and desires, and the resistance to changing things I think I really need. All of us resist things we think we can’t live without, but I believe it’s not the truth–we can live without more than we think, and in doing so we can change just about anything in our lives.

So what have I learned, after only a month? A few things:

  • I thought I would miss coffee more than I did. Often we anticipate more suffering than there actually will be. This has happened to me numerous times–I thought I wouldn’t be able to give up cheese (it was easy) or a car, or meat, or eating junk food or fast food all the time. But those things were all very easy, and each time it was a surprise.
  • Having a great replacement habit makes it much, much easier. When you focus on the sacrifice, you are mentally suffering all the time. But when you focus on the good thing you’re getting instead, it’s wonderful.
  • The urges are temporary, even at their strongest. Most urges weren’t that bad, and while normally we give into our urges, I had no trouble not giving in. Even the strongest urge was just there for a bit, then went away. I sat through the strongest urge, and felt it, and sat in the discomfort, and found it wasn’t horrible. Sitting in discomfort, allowing yourself to feel it, is a great learning experience.
  • Having pre-set limits is a powerful tool to fight urges. Usually we give in to our urges, because there’s nothing stopping us. Have a piece of pizza or a cookie? Why not? But if you set rules, with limits, you can more easily resist the urges–which is a good thing.
  • Having public accountability is also a powerful thing. Having told everyone (including all of you) that I’m not drinking coffee made it much, much more likely that I wouldn’t.

My Tea Habit

This was the best thing about the month without coffee (aside from what I learned about urges). My tea habit was consistent (even during travel), and it’s something I hope to continue. Some notes on the tea habit:

  • Tea is nice in the morning (I was previously mostly an afternoon tea drinker), because it’s light, you don’t feel overbuzzed, and it becomes a mindfulness ritual, noticing the flavours and aromas present in the tea as you pay attention and sip.
  • I also feel healthier drinking tea. The health benefits of coffee can be debated (not sure where I stand, as there are pros and cons), but tea is hard to debate. You feel light and strong at the same time.
  • My favourite morning tea has been the Bai Mudan white tea from Samovar, brewed lightly. It’s a lovely tea early in the morning. I’ve also enjoyed Monkey Picked Iron Goddess of Mercy oolong, and the Breakfast Blend Black Tea. But the lighter white tea is perfect on an empty stomach in the morning.
  • For travelling, I used this brewing basket. It was a nice minimalist setup.
  • Jesse Jacobs of Samovar gave me this fancy automated tea pot as a gift. It’s absolutely fantastic, and though you absolutely don’t need it, if you want to splurge (or delight a friend who loves tea with a great gift), it’s the best tea maker I’ve ever seen.
  • As per Jesse’s recommendation, I like a faster brew with more tea leaves, rather than smaller amounts of tea steeped for a long time (what most people do).
  • Oolong and greens in general are my favourites, though I do love a good white or pu-ehr.

Will I Continue Without Coffee?

This has been a question for me all month long — do I continue to go without coffee after July 31, or should I bring it back? The honest truth is, I haven’t missed coffee other than an odd occasion where we go somewhere that has amazing coffee. And I’ve really enjoyed the tea in the morning. However, this article gives me pause and has me wondering if I should include some coffee, when I feel like it.

So here’s what I’ve decided: I’m going to continue to drink tea, not coffee, in the morning. But I’ll allow myself a sip or three (up to half a cup) if there’s really good coffee being brewed at a great coffee shop. I think that’s a good balance.

A Month Without Coffee [Zen Habits]

Leo Babauta is the creator and writer of Zen Habits. He’s married with six kids, lives in San Francisco (previously Guam), and is a runner and a vegan. Read more about him: My Story.


  • Stopped reading at “I replaced coffee with tea”… They are VERY SIMILAR… Strongly brewed tea can have up to 60mg of caffeine, though more often 30.. So its just halving really.

    its kind of like “yeah I’m going without.. I’m not drinking vodka anymore just. Wine”… Kudos to you..

    • It got better. He later said he would have loved a soy based coffee so I brushed him off there as not being a coffee lover at all. He is talking about great coffee but then adding a strong tasting milk substitute to it. Also, American. I’m not sure they know what good coffee is.

      I’m with you, I expected a story on how without caffeine he woke up feeling alive, etc.

  • Your body isn’t without caffeine, so you aren’t likely to get withdrawal symptoms, don’t sound so surprised.

    I gave up caffeine about 2 months ago, coffee, coke, energy drinks… the lot.

    I’ve just started drinking decaf coffee again just a week ago, for the taste. With so many coffee brands having natural decaf methods available, I’m happy to be drinking caffeine and chemical free coffee.

    • Same, I gave up coffee the start of this year. Use to only have two to three a day. The first week after giving it up I had killer headaches!

  • I rarely had time to enjoy coffee at work – grab a quick drink, and back into it. Then, on my evening walks, I developed chest pains…
    A heart test was scheduled. “No caffeine for 48 hours before test”. By the time of the test I was feeling fine again, and the tests agreed there was nothing wrong. That was my wake-up call: cut back on caffeine!
    As noted above, there’s caffeine in tea. It’s also present in chocolate. I wouldn’t call my diet caffeine-free, but I’ve cut WAY back. Maybe it’s due to not cutting altogether, but I’ve had no withdrawal symptoms.

  • So he didn’t give up caffiene, just changed the delivery method? Isn’t that, you know, cheating? Pointless?

  • I don’t understand why you’d have to give it up. Why can’t people enjoy things in moderation? You don’t HAVE to have coffee. Grab a coffee when you feel like one.

    • In general, I don’t either. But he’s doing a test of giving up a specific thing every month.

      • I guess what got me was the last paragraph titled ‘Will I continue without coffee?’ Thankfully the author has decided to continue to have a cup when they feel like it, but there are people out there that feel then need to give up things all together. Alcohol is probably the most common one. People feel they need to drink until they can’t stand on their own feet any more rather than actually enjoy a glass or two of wine or whatever they fancy.

        You can enjoy something without needing to go to extremes…actually, moderation is much more enjoyable. Just realise that these things aren’t a need. (It’s much cheaper too!)

  • Coffee is the only thing I actually believe would be harder for me to quit than smoking, and Im a very heavy smoker. Unless a doctor tells me to stop drinking it right now or youll die in a week, I cant see myself ever reducing my intake.
    Id like to quit smoking soon, but coffee? Never.

  • I have about 2 coffees a day. I love them. If I feel like something else after that, I’ll have green tea. I just don’t see the need to stop drinking caffeine.

  • Besides this challenge, why would you continue to go without when the benefits of coffee are well documented? Add a bit of L-Theanine with well timed coffee and the cognitive enhancement is fantastic.

  • to all above posters your all idiots at any point in time in this article did the OP say he was giving up Caffeine – “NO” he didn’t but no you all equated him giving up Coffee as giving up caffeine…
    Just goes to show that reading isn’t always understanding what has been written

    • you give up coffee, because of caffeine consumption, the withdrawal symptoms he was talking about not having are specifically caffeine withdrawal, supplementing coffee with tea, does not yield a reduction in caffeine.

  • I think you all missed the point…. This article was designed to give their friend (or paid placement), a boost in search engine rankings.

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