Sarma Melngailis reminisces about her past love affair with coffee and details the raw pick-me-ups that enabled her to wean herself off it once and for all.

It has been four years now that I’ve been primarily a raw vegan. Most of the time. In my online blog and elsewhere, I openly admit to “open-mindedness” when it comes to what I consume. But sometimes being very relaxed about it – particularly in the context of stress and other distractions – leads to the formation of habits before we even realize it. For example… coffee!

What a hypocrite I am… A whole page in my first book Raw Food, Real World is devoted to how bad coffee is. It all started two summers ago as one of my early investors was frequently drinking coffee around me in my office. I was not sleeping much then and particularly freaked out about a lot of things going on, and the smell of it was very appealing! First I’d ask for a sip, then I’d have a few sips, then I’d just grab the whole cup from him and he’d have to go get another for himself.

Before I knew it, I was hooked again. It was that easy.

I felt like an addict with a secret. I’d run to the coffee shop for an iced coffee, then back towards the restaurant realizing I can’t walk in this neighbourhood drinking coffee! What if one of the regulars from the restaurant sees me?! What then? My assistant had become my “enabler”, offering to fetch me a fresh iced coffee anytime I wanted. I truly felt like a “user” when I finally bought my own ground coffee. At least now it’s organic, I rationalized. Still, alone in my own kitchen, filling the filter (made of unbleached recycled paper, of course!) with the aromatic grounds, and waiting for the water to boil, I felt a bit like the crack-head with the spoon and lighter.

My conflicted and tumultuous on and off relationship with this substance has led me to a few conclusions. I simply do not do well on coffee at all, tempting as it is. Not to mention, it gives you yucky coffee breath if you don’t brush your teeth right away. I also have a theory that it makes me sweat and in an odd funky kind of way. Sexy, right? But the worst issue is the dependency and crashing. I might feel uplifted for a bit, but then before long sluggishness sets in.

Is it not also widely known that it dehydrates you, and inhibits the absorption of iron and many other minerals, and is acidic in your body? Further, it must certainly be the case that when you get to the point where a massive migraine is the consequence of trying to stop suddenly, that something is really wrong with this very popular habit.

Luckily, I finally feel I’ve weaned myself off it for good. If I get very little sleep and crave an extra boost, I mix raw cacao powder in a bit of nut milk or hemp milk, whiz it in the blender with some stevia or agave, vanilla, ice, and some frozen banana, and pour it over more ice. Much better than iced coffee, and it’s breakfast too! I’ve now also recently added goji berries to my mornings. I might toss a handful of raw cacao nibs along with gojis over some fruit, or if I want something crunchier, a bowl of One Lucky Duck Grawnola or Crispies.

How could I have forgotten about these lovely little red berries? I used to take them travelling, and was always amazed at how a handful would keep me from feeling hungry for hours. A famous New York cosmetic doctor was quoted in a fashion magazine as saying that the goji berry is the number one anti-cellulite food, because of how loaded they are with antioxidants. I read this and immediately wanted to hoard them as I expected a sudden worldwide shortage, but luckily they still seem readily available and affordable.

I am now also on a kick for green shakes. I will always love green juice, particularly when I don’t want to get filled up. But when I want to get filled, fresh cucumber in the blender makes an excellent base, to which I’ll add a bit of honeydew melon, kiwi and lime, or grapefruit and a bit of pineapple. To that I add a whole bunch of fresh coriander and a few kale or collard leaves and a few sunflower sprouts if I have them, along with stevia, a touch of salt, and a big dash of cinnamon. I like shakes because to me they make for the ultimate superfood party.

I love to add a splash of aloe vera juice, a toss of tocotrienols, a spoonful of blue green algae, some green tea extract, and yes, maybe some more goji berries – which blend easier than you might imagine – or just add goji juice. Or frozen acai, another increasingly popular so-called superfood.

Aside from being so nutrient dense, what I love about these crazy concoctions is that they taste really good. Sometimes I add strawberries or blueberries or whole lemons. A bit of mango or white peaches. And if I don’t feel like having it in a glass, then I’ll chop a fuji apple into a bowl, pour my amped-up green shake over it, sprinkle it with bee pollen and some whole goji berries and eat it with a spoon like cereal – superfood cereal. When this is what I’m taking in, I feel as if I could not eat for days and I would feel fine. As if I’ve truly nourished myself and am a well oiled machine.

With so many variables, it’s always tricky to evaluate how something specific is affecting you. I have given up coffee only to fall back into the habit enough times that the overall conclusion is clear to me. I might crave that initial high and the flavour, but it’s a quick fix that quickly makes one dependent.

The funny part is, I would slip back into drinking coffee with a full awareness of feeling very unclean about it, and I think in some way that was part of it – I was being almost rebellious, or thinking that I just needed it to get me through a particularly sleep-deprived and work-crazy period of time. Now, when that urge for a cup of coffee – even just one – starts to gnaw at me, I take a deep breath and think about the characters in Trainspotting. That always does the trick.

Sarma Melngailis is the co-founder, owner and executive chef of premier New York raw restaurant Pure Food and Wine. She is also co-author of Raw Food, Real World and founder and CEO of One Lucky Duck which operates an online boutique offering selected products for the raw and organic lifestyle. For more information see and

This article appeared in the Autumn 2007 issue of Get Fresh! magazine.