Here's What Happened When I Replaced My Breakfast and Coffee With Soylent 'Coffiest' for a Week
I learned an important lesson about habits.
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I'm not a person who sticks to a regimen when it comes to coffee and breakfast, though I do consume some variation of both every day.
For breakfast, I like something simple or healthy: Cheerios with 1 or 2 percent milk (typically for three or four days a week); bread with butter (once or twice a week); or, occasionally, plain yogurt with granola, berries and honey (about twice a month).
Most days I eat breakfast before commuting to work around 8, then make myself an americano at the office around 9:30 or 10 (or a K-Cup, if we're out of espresso beans). The liquid usually gets cold before I finish all 10 or so ounces. A wispy cloud of half and half forms on the surface and I dump it in the sink after taking several frigid sips. Gross, I know, but I try not to be wasteful.
When Entrepreneur's managing editor, Linda Lacina, emerged from her office with a black and white box a couple of weeks ago, I got up from my desk to investigate. "Coffiest," the minimalistically designed box read. "Caffeine. L-theanine." Then I saw the brand name: Soylent.
I live in New York now, but when I first heard of Soylent, I was living in Berkeley, Calif., and working in San Francisco. New Yorkers love their pizza and romanticize their prosaic struggles such as grocery shopping. But in San Francisco, fresh food is abundant. I ate my way around the Bay Area, aware at every moment that my California farm-to-table foodie lifestyle was temporary.
My previous company had a chef and provided two well-rounded meals per day, which were more sophisticated and varied than what I ever prepare for myself. For a farewell dinner days before I moved to the East Coast, my closest friends made me a spread of dishes from chef Yotam Ottolenghi's cookbook Plenty. I never took any of it for granted -- I embraced every opportunity to eat delicious food.
In the Bay Area, Soylent caught on among Silicon Valley coders who prioritized hyper-efficiency. My ideal meal was a six-hour event, cooking with friends while watching YouTube videos of legendary vocal performances. Very leisurely. Work-life balance skewed a bit toward life.
I don't want to miss out on any new cuisines, in-season produce or even boxed mac n' cheese now and then. The idea of saying, "nah, I'm going to give up real food and drink a meal replacement shake" didn't sound appealing. What about the fruits of our land? (Or the packages of cookies at our supermarkets?) As Entrepreneur's news director Stephen J. Bronner puts it, "We have teeth!" Our teeth are not vestigial organs. We have not evolved past the point of needing them. Environmental sustainability is important to me, and I'm not in denial about the bleak future of global agriculture. But to me, Soylent has always seemed like an unnecessary self-punishing extreme -- or the staple of an inevitable dystopia that I'm not ready to think too hard about.
All of that said, my weekday breakfasts are pretty monotonous, so trying Coffiest was more of a culinary adventure than I would have had otherwise. While I wasn't looking to make my hectic mornings more efficient, I tried Coffiest for five consecutive days because I simply wanted to know how it would taste and how it would make me feel.
Each bottle of Coffiest contains 400 calories (190 from fat), 21 grams of fat (16 grams monounsaturated), 37 grams of carbs, 20 grams of protein and 20 percent of your daily value of 25 different vitamins and minerals. As I mentioned earlier, the box (and each bottle) promotes two key ingredients: caffeine (150 mg) and the amino acid L-theanine (75 mg). According to Soylent's FAQs page, "When caffeine is consumed in combination with L-theanine, another Coffiest ingredient, the two compounds trigger a synergistic response, further enhancing both cognitive performance and mood." It's supposed to relax you, without drowsiness.
I didn't eat or drink anything besides water and Coffiest until after noon (or often later) during the five days of my trial. Otherwise, I didn't alter my typical daily behavior in any way. Here's what happened:
Day 1: Monday, Aug. 29
Four of my co-workers joined me in the office kitchen. Throughout the week, I delivered updates via Entrepreneur's Snapchat account (entmagazine). I took my first sip of Coffiest while our social media editor, Andrea Hardalo, recorded me.
"Not bad," I said. "It tastes like hot cocoa."
It does not taste much like coffee, but I'm likely desensitized to the flavor. A non-coffee drinker might detect it. I also made the observation that it kind of tasted like liquid cardboard. That's not really fair, though -- it's like a chocolate milkshake, just less sugary.
I brought the Coffiest back over to my desk in a glass. I took a few sips as I prepped to tweet a collage of screenshots from the Snapchat story. Then, I accidentally bumped the glass, coating my keyboard in thick, chocolatey soy liquid.
Good thing we had extras (both keyboards and bottles of Coffiest). I cleaned up the mess and cracked open a new bottle, determined to carry out the experiment. (Did I mention that I try not to be wasteful?)
So far, Coffiest was not making me more productive.
I drank the Coffiest slowly, finishing around noon. Like I said earlier, I'm a slow coffee drinker. By 2:22 p.m. I logged, "Am I hungry?" Throughout the morning, Coffiest definitely satisfied my hunger, and because it has 150mg of caffeine per bottle (the equivalent of a strong cup of coffee), I wasn't jonesing for a cup of joe.
Maybe the sensory experience of drinking from a warm mug makes me feel adjusted to the day. In Entrepreneur's air conditioned office, I just wanted to lift a steaming mug to my face and feel the euphoric sensation of my brain's caffeine receptors getting their fix. Instead, I had 14 intimidating ounces of chilled Coffiest to down.
In the late afternoon, I examined my tongue in a mirror. The Coffiest left a thick coat of residue. I popped a breath mint and commuted home. I brushed my teeth before dinner.
Day 2: Tuesday, Aug. 30
On the second morning, as I sipped my Coffiest, I really missed eating solid food and drinking coffee. I've conditioned myself to crave the blood-sugar spike that comes with eating a carb-heavy breakfast. I am fully aware of the nutritional detriment of this habit, yet I have no desire to change.
I felt less lethargic going into Tuesday than I did on Monday (blame the weekend), so I was starting from a more refreshed state. I also started getting used to the taste of Coffiest by the middle of the second day.
Drinking all of that soy -- which my body is not used to -- affected me digestively. It wasn't uncomfortable or painful and didn't produce any kind of allergic reaction, but my chest and abdomen felt somewhat tight. It was a subtle sensation of having consumed liquid cement -- just a bit heavy, but nothing to be alarmed about.
I didn't feel jittery or tired, or too hungry or too full. I felt … aggressively neutral.
Then in the afternoon, I looked over at the box of Coffiest near my desk and had a visceral reaction. "I don't even want to think about drinking this again," I wrote in my log. "Maybe if I could have strawberry flavor, though that would eliminate the coffee aspect." I reminisced about spending Saturday mornings with my grandpa as a kid, eating doughnuts and drinking strawberry Nesquik.
Maybe hyper-productive people are into the grab-and-go meal replacement lifestyle, I declared in my log, but I like my carbs and coffee. Today, I'd go my grandpa's route and have a coffee with my doughnut.
I even enjoy the simple ritual of preparing and eating cereal: Walking into my kitchen, pouring the Os and the milk into the bowl, sitting at the table (or on the couch) and eating increasingly soggy spoonfuls while I read the headlines.
Drinking Coffiest for a week taught me that I am very sentimental when it comes to food.
Day 3: Wednesday, Aug. 31
"NOT EXCITED ABOUT IT" is the only line that appears in my log for Day 3.
Here is a collage of screenshots from my Snapchat story from that day:
It really couldn't get worse from there. It wasn't that I didn't like Coffiest. I just didn't want it.
Day 4: Thursday, Sept. 1
It got better! On Day 4, I had to conduct a phone interview at 9:15, so I quickly grabbed a bottle of the Coffiest from the office fridge and didn't take the time to pour it into the glass before calling my source.
As we talked, I took sips of Coffiest from the bottle. I was drinking it more mindlessly. I was used to the flavor. It was starting to feel normal.
Drinking thick liquid from a heavy pint glass vs. a narrow bottle changes the physics of the experience. From the bottle, every sip wasn't a wide mouthful. Plus, factoring out the visual (Coffiest bottles are nearly opaque) made the whole thing seem like less of a big deal. I finished it within about an hour. I didn't dread the following day.
Day 5: Friday, Sept. 2
I worked from home on Friday leading into Labor Day weekend, but I made sure to bring a bottle of Coffiest with me so I'd be prepared for the final day of my experiment. I conducted the Snapchat story in selfie mode, framing the shots as my boyfriend brewed a pot of coffee that I would not be allowed to share. Drinking it from the bottle again made it go down easier, and I felt nourished afterward.
I would recommend Coffiest to anyone who wants more efficiency in the morning and loves chocolate Nesquik or milkshakes. If you care about getting a spread of vitamins, minerals, healthy fats and proteins in your breakfast, but don't want to cook eggs, peel fruit, blend smoothie ingredients or do dishes -- and grind/brew or stop to buy coffee, I encourage you to try out Soylent's latest drinkable meal.
I would drink Coffiest again, but I wouldn't seek it out. I've eaten some variation of bread or grains for thousands of morning meals in my lifetime, and I'm not sure how long it would take for me to break the habit. As for coffee, I've been drinking it for nearly six years, since my freshman year of college, and while I don't get melodramatic or cease to function when it's not available, I know that I'm slightly addicted. The satisfaction I get from eating my typical breakfast is rooted in sensory association and brain chemistry. Deviating from my usual routine was vaguely unsettling.
When describing these observations to my co-worker Stephen, he said, "Kind of like when people say they feel like they woke up on the wrong side of the bed?" Yes, that's what drinking Coffiest felt like, especially initially.
To be honest, though, my morning coffee on Saturday wasn't as satisfying as I'd anticipated it would be when I fantasized about it during my five-day hiatus. But as I write this the following Wednesday, I'm very grateful to have a mug of coffee sitting next to me -- even if it came from a K-Cup and is getting cold.