This is a topic near and dear to my heart, most probably, because I’m Turkish. Given that Turkish coffee is world famous, and the national beverage of the country is black tea, writing this article feels a little personal. Not really! Truthfully, I was never a coffee or a tea person growing up. As I just realize this, it was probably a good thing that I did not fry my brain with the world’s #1 drug of choice: caffeine. I’m not exaggerating one bit. Caffeine is considered a drug and it looks a lot like an amino acid called adenosine. When adenosine binds to the adenosine receptor in the brain, it slows down the nerve cell activity by introducing drowsiness. On the other hand, when caffeine binds to the receptor, nerve cell speeds up. When your pituitary gland realizes all the nerve cell activity, it signals the adrenal glands to make more adrenaline. This whole process helps to enhance your cognitive performance (while causing some stress).
Caffeine can be used very strategically, but in today’s world there is a high chance you are desensitized to caffeine, which means that it does not have the same effects on you anymore. Desensitizing is usually caused by abusing coffee or espresso drinks. Especially, the big chain guys such as Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts have so much caffeine in their beverages. The sweet spot for caffeine is about 200 mg per day and I can tell you that some drinks have more than that. I don’t believe one needs more than 200 mg because half-life of caffeine is about 8 hours. Depending on your genetics (fast or slow caffeine metabolizer), half-life can be longer or shorter for you. For example, I am a slow caffeine metabolizer. Therefore, I do not have anything caffeinated after 1 pm. If you feel like you definitely need more than 200 mg of caffeine, my suggestion is that you should try to re-sensitize your nerves. This can be done by going without caffeine 7-14 days straight. Or, if you have been abusing it for a long time, my suggestion is that you switch to tea first for a few weeks and then go decaf for about 7-10 days. You should be aware of withdrawal symptoms such as lack of concentration, muscle pain, constipation, head ache, flu-like symptoms and sleepiness. Even though, I do not abuse caffeine on a daily basis, every month or so, I have a decaf week to avoid desensitization.
Ok! Now that you know a little more about caffeine and how it interacts with your body, let’s talk about options to buy. Coffee you drink should be high quality, it shouldn’t be burned to hell like it is at some big-money corporations. I’m not going to give any names but it rhymes with starducks. Ahem… Anyways… This is going to sound a little OCD, but your coffee should be organic, single-origin, grown at high-altitude (preferably under shade), whole-beans and freshly roasted. Let me explain why! Your coffee should be organic because you don’t want pesticides in your coffee. It should be single-origin because blends have a higher chance of containing rancid coffee. Coffee grown at high-altitude under shade came out hard and dense which means that it takes a little longer for the coffee to grow. This prolonged growing makes the coffee more flavorful. You want your coffee whole-beans because once it is ground, it will have more surface area and more surface area means more oxidation. This probably means that you may need to buy a grinder. The one I own is “Cuisinart DBM-8 Supreme Grind Automatic Burr Mill” and is relatively affordable. You want your coffee freshly roasted because, well, fresh is better.
Let’s, for the sake of the article, say that you don’t like coffee, but you are a tea person. Well you still have good options. As you probably already know you got green and black tea. These two are the most popular ones. Green tea has many polyphenols like flavonoids and catechins that can help with oxidative damage. One of the main ones is Epigallocatechin Gallate, or EGCG. Black tea has tons of antioxidants known as theaflavins (present due to an additional fermentation process from green tea) and thearubigins (which makes the leaf dark brown). And the caffeine in green and black tea comes with its own relaxing amino acid called L-Theanine. This amino acid increases the activity of the neurotransmitter GABA which can counteract the jittery effects of caffeine. It can also increase dopamine and aloha wave production in the brain. Is more green tea better? Certainly not! There is a study showing that drinking 5 cups of green tea decreased the free T3 levels in the body which is a good indicator of metabolism and it also decreased testosterone. So, buyer beware! When I drink green tea, I drink about 2-3 cups and that’s it (this is not daily by any means). Let me in you on a little secret. Have you heard of pu-erh tea or yerba mate tea? (Thank you Tim Ferriss!)
Pu-erh tea is one of the oldest secrets of Yunnan Province in China. It is a type of fermented tea that has very dry leaves. The one I use is Yunnan Longrun Pu-erh Tea Cake is from the year 2010. It comes in a disc shape and the way you prepare this is basically you chip away the disc by taking some and brewing it. While the benefits are just like green and black tea because it comes from the same family, the taste is what makes this tea special in my heart – that smokiness. Yerba Mate, native to South America, is like an all-in-one ultra-effective super beverage. The leaves of the rainforest mate tree contain 24 vitamins and minerals, 15 amino acids, and many anti-oxidants. It also contains three xanthine alkaloids which are caffeine (like coffee), theophylline (like green tea) and theobromine (like cocoa and chocolate) as stimulants. As Tim Ferriss states, yerba mate is not the only tea that contains these alkaloids, but he finds yerba mate to contain them in a good ratio, especially for creative writing. The caffeine content is somewhere between coffee and green tea. It is the national drink of Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and southern Brazil. The traditional way is to drink it with a gourd and bombilla (I haven’t bought these yet but I will soon because I’m a sucker for traditions). The one I use is Cruz de Malta and it can be found on Amazon.