Friday, 3 February 2012

Anyone for coffee and cake?

I don't know about you, but when I go out shopping, the trip doesn't seem complete without a bit of a pit-stop somewhere along the line. I think the habit began, when I was a teenager and my Mum started taking me and my sisters to the odd cafe for a sneaky tea and cake. I don't always indulge, but from time to time, the urge to have a coffee with a bit of cake on the side, just steers me in the direction of a cafe. 

It was one of the things I was so looking forward to, when I went on maternity leave. Problem was, my maternity leave had no sooner started than it finished when I was admitted to hospital with HELP syndrome, and ended up giving birth far earlier than I had originally thought. Oh well! I thought, as I lay in hospital, I'll just make up for it once baby has arrived. 

Of course it didn't work out that way as before long we found out that our baby had an allergy to cow's milk. As the realisation began to sink in (of what that meant for me, if I continued breastfeeding) I thought what can you do and where can you go when you're dairy free?

The answer to that, of course (if like me you've tried going out for coffee and cake) is not a lot, sadly. Finding a black coffee, if you can't tolerate soya, you can do almost anywhere. Finding cake to go along with it, is something else! If Baby is asleep my options are wider as she can now tolerate it if I have something with a little milk in it, like a biscuit or small cake, but if she's awake - no chance - she wants what I've got!  In the interests of complete self- interest, this is what I have found so far:

The Big Three!   (near me anyway)

Soya milk - yes
Cold drinks also available.
Dairy free cake - yes! Last Christmas Costas made my day, when I realised that they sold a slice of Christmas cake which was dairy and gluten free!! What's more I thought it was great. If I was being really picky, maybe it was a teensy bit dry, but you tend to get that with gluten free cakes anyway. 

Alternatively, they now offer a packet containing two mini Cherry Bakewell Tarts (which Baby LOVES!) The packet says 'Gluten Free' on the front, but the back of the packet confidently states that they are also wheat and dairy free.

Costa now also sell gingerbread biscuits that are dairy free (not gluten free). They're quite big, for a little person, though!

Anything else you can eat?  - plain crisps and fruit. I couldn't find any nutritional information available on their website. It's a shame, because when you rush in, you don't have time to stand there and read all the labels and, in my experience, you can't rely on the staff to possess detailed knowledge about the food they sell. 


Soya milk - yes
Cold drinks also available.
Dairy free cake - NO, not anymore! They used to sell a chocolate and hazelnut loaf. I thought it was OK, if a bit dry, but maybe I'm just desperate for a bit of cake!! But the only problem was that it often sold out. Now the only problem is that is has disappeared completely!! There is no dairy and soya free cake at Starbucks, at all!!

Anything else you can eat? The answer is, not much if you're really hungry. There is a Vegan gluten free wrap, but it's usually filled filled legumes I avoid, because of intolerance. A friend of mine asks for the fruit loaf, without the butter and you can ask for soya milk with your porridge. Starbucks website says they do a bacon butty. They do have what looks like a very comprehensive chart on their website which covers various things, including dairy, but sadly a lot of the dairy column is filled with N for no! If you do take a look at the chart, I'm not sure if it's still there, but watch out for a sandwich listed as dairy free - it contains cheese! Please beware if you have the bacon butty - if it's heated on the same grill as everything else, there is every chance of cross-contamination occurring!!

Cafe Nero

Soya milk - yes
Cold drinks also available.
Dairy free cake - Yes! - although if you're gluten free, there is now the option of an OK raspberry, coconut slice. 

Anything else you can eat? - fruit, plain crisps and more recently, I spotted some sweet and salty popcorn. Nero do have additional nutritional information online, but you have to research product by product - which is very time consuming. 

Is there anywhere else you can go? 
This isn't an exhaustive list, by any means, so if you have any other suggestions, we can add to it.

Near us there's a large Sainsbury's. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that they have decided to stock two Free From nibbles - a chocolate brownie and an almond biscuit! The almond biscuit is obviously a replacement for the mince pies that they stocked around Christmas. 

Sainsbury's  cafe also has a folder for staff, full of nutritional information. I found that if you ask, they will show it to you. They can't guarantee that any of the food they sell is dairy free unless it is in Free From packaging. If your dairy intolerance is not very severe, you might be OK with some of their food, as long as it doesn't list dairy products on the ingredients list in their folder. However, it is always a calculated risk, as none of their food is produced in a strictly dairy free environment.


A small local, independent cafe. They have just two cafes in the UK - Welwyn Garden City and Birmingham. They sell a wide range of drinks and offer soya milk as well. It's basically a sandwich bar and food on the menu is made to order, so there is some lee way about what you can request, when you make your order.

The one near us has a really nice ambience and the staff are helpful, although not always all that knowledgeable. They are beginning to recognise the importance of food allergies - apparently, my coeliac friend approached the manager there, when the shop opened and asked him what he was going to do for Welwyn Garden City. He responded by supplying gluten free cake and has gone on from there to offer gluten free bread as well. Some of their cakes are meant to be dairy free as well, according to one staff member I spoke to, he just couldn't remember which!!  

Summing up!

So the answer to my earlier question is that the main players (near me) are pretty similar, but there are some differences. I think that it just goes to show that both independent cafes and big chains can be open to new ideas, they just might need to be approached to realise we're out there! I mean to go back to Bebo and Starbucks to ask about dairy free products again, because I believe that if you don't ask, you don't get!


  1. we have the fruit toast with just jam on in starbucks cause its milk free or was, things are much better than they were. I always seem to be able to have something, we just couldn't do cafe's when we were little there was no options. just wish they did it with goats milk cause soya is yucky. we're goats all the way, have a look at NZ research, anyone that can't be breastfed or appears allergic to cows goes straight on goats,
    In england there is no proper research so they have put out blanket advice saying all will be allergic to both cows and goats, not always true. nice to be drinking a proper milk. although thankfully over the formula cause that was £19 a tin!! hope she improves, we still primarily goats in this house. I am still allergic to the cow, and will at 6 can have little bits in things but will have increased itching and tummy ache, he controls it with piriton or avoiding it completly. xxx

    1. thanks for that Lorna! Of course you can always order black coffee and take a little bottle of your own milk with you, when you go out.

  2. You are blogging like a storm! Have nominated you for an award, details on my blog if you choose to accept xx