Let’s face it: for coffee lovers, it’s not just about the beans. Caffeine aside, the whole coffee encounter is often where it’s really at.
The hustle and bustle of the busy café, the sounds of soft music and laughter in the background. Even the sounds of someone typing away on their laptop, dreaming up stories, business plans, or chatting to friends on their socials.
And so many happy memories take place in coffee shops: from first dates, to meetups with family, friends, and colleagues, to countless hours logged working remotely, or quiet moments spent feeding a baby.
None of these memories would be even the slightest bit enjoyable if you were distracted thinking about whether your coffee had come into contact with gluten.
From cross-contamination to straight-up gluten-containing ingredients, there are a few things to consider if you want to be sure your coffee is gluten-free.
Mastering the skill of “planning ahead” comes with the gluten-free territory. Context is key, and it will just take time to familiarize yourself with all the safe options that surround you. That’s okay. Go slow, and go easy on yourself.
Depending on where you are in the world, there will no doubt be a variety of specialty coffees at your would-be disposal. From large coffee chains to small and local spaces, your options will depend on the business, of course, but also on your location.
In the UK, and Scotland, for example, you will find more gluten-free options than in Canada, with many of the big coffee house chains even stocking gluten-free ready-made soups and sandwiches (Starbucks, Café Nero, Costa Coffee, etc.)—a life saver on rushed mornings, busy days out, and also when travelling, as these chains are often found at train stations and airports.
Coffee shops can be busy places, with customers rushing to get that caffeine fix. If your planning to visit a particular place, and are desperate for that specialty coffee, check out their website in advance, and consider giving them a call. Anticipate that there may not be the space to ask the questions you’re after—or enough time for them to offer the detailed response you need, one that would give you that peace of mind.
Once you find your favourite go-to spots, you’ll be able to suggest those as meeting places in the future. Of course, planning ahead isn’t always an option, so here a few tips to keep in your mind.
Gluten, dairy and the dreaded powdered chocolate
When a celiac consumes gluten, even accidently through cross-contamination, their capacity to digest lactose becomes compromise . So, dairy can become (or feel) temporarily tricky if you think you’ve recently been hit by gluten. As a celiac, I’ve grown to love black coffee. Sometimes, when I’m feeling fancy (read confident), I’ll order a cappuccino, or a latte, but only—and I mean only—when I’m feeling really sure I haven’t come into contact with gluten. Dairy is not the only thing to look out for, however. Make sure to steer clear from anything with artificial flavours and/or colours that isn’t explicitly marked gluten-free and keep a look out for surprise toppings. Some restaurants, for example, will add a powdered chocolate to the top of a cappuccino.
While I am sure this final touch elevates the experience for most consumers, the idea of a surprise chocolate sprinkle is enough to turn my stomach. In my experience, chocolate powder is one of those things that everyone just assumes is naturally gluten-free (I mean, it should just be ‘pure’ chocolate, right?). Unfortunately, without double checking the ingredient list, there is just no way to guarantee that is the case.
The Bottom Line
When sticking to black coffee, you should be good to go. But if you’re looking for something a little extra, like a cappuccino or a latte, just make sure to ask if they put chocolate powder on top. If they do, and you simply can’t say no, follow-up by asking whether the topping contains any gluten.
And remember, coffee shops are spaces that serve gluten-containing products, so be on the lookout for cross-contamination. Even with time, and practice, your comfort levels will ultimately depend on whether you interpret your surroundings to be safe at any given time. Ultimately, if you feel unsafe, there is no shame in forgoing the whole thing and opting instead for a glass of water. I get it. I have been there.
For me, black coffee is the way to go. It helps me let my guard down, so that I can focus on what brought me into the café in the first place.
What are your tips to enjoying a gluten-free (and stress-free) coffee encounter? Share in the comments below!