Writer’s Drinks, For People Who Can’t Stand Caffeine

In the last ten years I’ve had a torturous relationship with caffeine. Sometimes it gives me the worst side effects, from palpitations to anxiety, and I’m practically inconsolable. Sometimes I get the wrong dosage, and I get so wired that everything comes crashing down over my ears in the worst possible way. 

But when I do hit the sweet spot–just enough to keep me buzzed, but not so much to leave me frayed–everything snaps into focus. My mind is clear, and my writing flows through me with ease. Errands get done. Goals are met. Everything becomes right with the world. 
The trick is to play around with the combinations. 
For one thing, decaf-ing alone is not enough; I’ve tried using instant decaf coffee, and the results were nothing short of disastrous. (I’ve got some theories about instant coffee coming from cheap beans, but I could be wrong here.) On the other hand, I’ve drunk full-strength iced tea on some days, and it has given me mellower results. I’ve also tried playing around with sugar, and it doesn’t look like it has made a considerable amount of difference either. 
Long story short, here are the things that have worked for me, as far as keeping the buzz alive goes. Please note that your mileage may still vary, but it wouldn’t hurt to at least try. 
Chain-store coffee. Just because I have problems with decaffeinated instant coffee doesn’t mean that all decaf coffee is verboten from my diet. I’ve stuck it out with decaf lattes from Starbucks and Coffee Bean for a long time–the buzz is low, and the milk does a good job of smoothing out the bitterness of the coffee. I also single out these two stores because they’re the few places where I can get Splenda with my drink if I want to cut down on sugar. (Equal in coffee tastes like melted plastic, and good luck finding stevia anywhere!) Let’s not even forget about Christmas drink season coinciding with NaNoWriMo, either; it’s like the coffee gods have been listening all along, and want us to get new planners to go with our drinks, too. 
(A side note: One of the ways I survived Christmas drink season at Starbucks was ordering them with decaf espresso, light on the syrup, and no whipped cream. That way, I don’t get too dizzy with the extra sugar, and I don’t have to feel like a dork for scraping off whipped cream from my glass.) 
Storebought milk teas. Unlike coffee, chain-store milk tea can be hit or miss (looking at you, Chatime) and they can be too pricey for the amount you’re actually getting in your cup. But there are some chains that do milk tea right: Moonleaf and Infinitea make milk tea that chills me out at a reasonable price (at least P100 for a 16-oz cup). The indie milk tea stores in my neighborhood in Diliman charge less depending on the flavor; I found out during NaNoWriMo that black or oolong tea (50% sugar; tapioca pearls if available) gave me the writing boost that I needed for the night. 
Instant milk teas. My holy-grail drug of choice is Owl Teh Tarik, which is based on the Malaysian drink (read about the technique here)–the brew is foamy, but rich with the right balance of bitter-sweetness. Sun Soya also makes decent milk teas as well; currently I’m into their Matcha Latte flavor, which is an inexpensive alternative to chain-store green tea lattes. Then there’s Old Town White Milk Tea, which can be good for two cups to each package; I save those for the days when I have more hot water to spare at home. The only downside to this is that they’re made with coffee creamer instead of milk, which can be terrible to your innards if you’re watching your sugar. 
Brewed tea. While I do count on herbal tea to keep me sane, there are times when you just need to brew a bag. Stash and Bigelow make my favorite Earl Grey teas in decaf form, but I’ve also started experimenting with regular-strength tea, with lots of hot water to control the impact.  
Iced tea. Lately I’ve become a bit of an iced-tea snob; I can take or leave the cheap iced tea that I get at some restaurants in Quezon City, but give me a glass of the brewed stuff and you’ve got a customer for life. As far as fast food iced tea is concerned, I’m partial to the one at KFC, which has the bite of fresh-brewed tea and enough citrus to cut down on the sweetness. (I’ve heard good things about the tea at Wendy’s, though. That may have to wait.) 
Happy caffeinating! 

Love, Stella

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Stella Torres

is the author of the adult contemporary romances Save the Cake, Crushingly Close, and Nine Years Away, as well as the short story “Be Creative” in the anthology Kids These Days: Stories from Luna East Vol. 1.

In her previous life, she has worked in public relations, taught English as a second language, and even attended graduate school (twice!). She has lived in Indonesia, Honolulu, and Quezon City before moving back to her hometown of Los Banos, a few hours’ drive (with traffic) from the heart of Manila.

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