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Why Matcha is a Great Alternative to Coffee, Other Caffeinated Beverages, and Sugary Drinks

Team Matcha | November 04, 2016 | All, Teaism

Many plants produce caffeine and chemically related stimulants, collectively called xanthines. Examples are coffee, tea, cacao, yerba maté, cola, guaraná, and guayusa. The major xanthine in coffee is caffeine, in tea theophylline, and in cacao theobromine, but the physiological effects of these are more similar than different. Yet the stimulation that people feel from tea is not the same as that of coffee and other xanthine-containing beverages. Coffee makes many of us feel “wired” or “jangly,” followed by a crash when it wears off. Although research has documented a number of health benefits of coffee, it can irritate the stomach and bladder, cause irregular heartbeats and anxiety, and interfere with sleep. And many coffee drinkers are physically addicted; they experience intense headaches and other withdrawal symptoms when they don’t have it. Tea certainly promotes wakefulness, but most tea drinkers find it causes “relaxed alertness” rather than jangling stimulation. Physical addiction to tea is rare. 

Why the difference? Probably, both pharmacological and cultural factors are involved. In addition to xanthines, coffee and tea contain other active compounds — and not the same ones. For example, chlorogenic acid in coffee can be a stomach irritant. L-theanine, an amino acid unique to tea, may modify tea’s stimulant effect; it promotes relaxation without sedation. Pharmacology aside, coffee and tea have quite different cultural associations. Coffee helps you get up and go. It is the beverage of choice for busy people and for those who like to surf the Internet in coffeehouses with free Wi-Fi. (In the 18th century, shortly after it came to Europe, coffeehouses appeared in many cities; they were centers of animated conversation and radical politics.) In contrast, the culture of tea has been strongly influenced by Buddhism. Tea is a beverage to be enjoyed in quiet, relaxing settings. It is associated with the contemplative life. Sharing tea strengthens social bonds and a connection with nature.

It is impossible to say how much these cultural differences between coffee and tea influence the quality of their stimulant effects — probably a lot. In any case, we feel that the growing popularity of tea in North America is a good thing, a corrective for the frenzied pace of life here. It goes without saying that we believe it is better to get your lift from tea rather than from cola, energy drinks, and other heavily sweetened caffeinated beverages. All of those contribute to the epidemics of obesity and type 2 diabetes occurring here, especially in young people.

Of all the forms of tea available, matcha is our absolute favorite. It is the quintessential expression of the culture of tea. And it stimulates in just the right way.