Liv friis larsen/ShutterstockCaffeine is the most commonly consumed psychoactive substance in the world, and coffee remains its biggest source. Like any typically burned out and overworked workaholic, that steaming aromatic goodness is my holy grail of beverages. Brewing two cups of black dark roast has become routine. And while I harbor much gratitude for those caffeinated, liquified beans, drinking it always came with a twang of guilt. After all, the caffeine content of a single cup can range from 30 to 300 mg, but the average cup is somewhere within 90 to 100 mg. That’s a whole lot of caffeine to swig on a daily basis.
In addition, studies have shown that consuming too much caffeine can lead to jitteriness, anxiety, heart palpitations, and may even exacerbate panic attacks. Such a high dosage of caffeine has been proven to disrupt sleep significantly, and have direct correlation to high blood pressure. So when on my last doctor’s visit, I was informed I had slightly elevated blood pressure, I knew it was time to make some alterations.
However, I wasn’t ready to fully commit to abandoning caffeine altogether; I needed some sort of stimulant to get me through the day if I didn’t want to hit the dreaded afternoon slump.
Enter green tea
Having heard about the miraculous effects of switching from coffee to green tea, I decided to give it a shot for a week to see what changes would ensue. While dedicating myself to a month would probably be more informative, even a week sounded like torture to this professed coffee addict. In order to have the experiment be as accurate as possible, I decided I would maintain six hours of sleep a night with no significant changes to my eating patterns.
The first thing I noticed on Day 1 was the type of alertness drinking green tea brought about; while coffee gave me an intensive kickstart to the day, green tea was more of a steady calmness. Though it seemed to take a bit longer to sink it, I did feel less “jittery” and found that I was still dosed with energy—just in a different way. Considering that I was drinking around 30 mg of caffeine compared to the standard 90 (about one-third of a cup of coffee), this was understandable. But, I was feeling rather groggy by the time 3 p.m. hit and got a pretty bad headache (which is one of the signs you’re probably drinking too much caffeine). The caffeine effects lasted about six hours.
As I continued the routine the next day by brewing myself a cup of genmaicha (brown rice green tea), I was feeling less anxious. Why? Last night’s sleep had been absolutely glorious. (Here are some little changes you can make today to have a better night’s sleep tonight.) I suffered no restless tossing and turning that I generally do for a temporary period before officially hitting the sack, and I experienced no rude awakenings in the middle of the night. I knew that I could survive the day with less caffeine, and to my surprise, it was a little easier. I suffered another mild headache around noon, but my body soon shook it off. The caffeine boost was more mellow, but endured a solid eight hours.
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I opted for a cup of matcha, a tea full of healthy amino acids like L-Theanine, on Day 3. I noticed I was taking bathroom breaks more frequently, but as a plus, my digestive system seemed to have improved. (Here are some weird facts about your digestive system we bet you don’t know.) Instead of feeling bloated and sluggish after eating lunch, I felt a surge of productivity and alertness that is normally foreign to me after eating.
By Day 4, I was noticing some serious changes in my skin. I was breakout-free and my overall complexion was glowing noticeably (one of the health perks of drinking green tea regularly). I had no undereye circles and even my hyperpigmentation seemed a bit lighter. Since green tea contains a cocktail of potent antioxidants called catechins, which help fight damage caused by free radicals, it can potentially reverse skin damage induced by sunlight. Various scientific studies have shown that green tea extract can neutralize the effects of exposure to UV rays. Since such exposure is a primary factor in skin aging, it makes sense that green tea could forestall premature aging over time.
Honestly, Day 5 is the day I was completely and wholly swayed—green tea had officially won me over! I never realized how jittery and irritable I had been feeling with coffee; granted I had been awake, but I wasn’t lively. Drinking green tea had my body feeling better on just about every spectrum—physically, mentally, and emotionally. Moreover, the caffeine dosage was lasting me the entire day at this point (around 10 to 12 hours).
Day 6 and beyond
As I headed into the weekend, I was feeling significantly less dehydrated (here are some signs your body could use more water). Your body still holds about a third of the liquid in a cup of coffee, which isn’t much less than the half-cup would hold from an 8-ounce glass of water. Tea’s lower caffeine content means that it could make for better hydration by detoxifying the blood. The frequency of my mood swings had decreased drastically as well; while my cup of tea may be hot, it definitely had helped me to keep my cool. Coffee’s stimulants can actually increase the production of stress hormones, while the ones in green tea are kept in check by the presence of L-theanine. Its contents work to calm the nervous system whilst simultaneously increasing concentration levels. (Maybe that’s the reason why Buddhist monks always sip on green tea when meditating).
Ultimately, my experiment certainly did bear out the science. Green tea doesn’t spike cortisol like coffee does, and considering that high levels of cortisol can lead to an aggravation of acne, rosacea, and other skin conditions, it might not be the best skincare regimen. To prove it, my skin was indeed looking better than ever from the tea switch. Coffee is also known to relax the band of muscle between your esophagus and stomach, meaning stomach acid could splash back up and provoke acid reflux. My digestion had improved significantly.
In retrospect, the biggest thing I can caution against is not the coffee itself, but the amount you are drinking. At healthy doses, coffee has been indicated to effectively increase brain activity by releasing neurotransmitters like norepinephrine and dopamine. Numerous studies have proven that caffeine can lead to improved mood, reaction time, vigilance, and general cognitive function. However, too much of a good thing is always a bad thing. Be careful not to go overboard and over-stimulate your body; otherwise it can actually negate the benefits and make drinking coffee counter-productive. Even worse, you can develop a tolerance to it that makes your body dependent on the stuff.
So before you angrily scream at the computer screen and sprint to the closest Starbucks for a venti latte, be sure to peruse all the health benefits of green tea. It might be worthwhile to slowly wean yourself from coffee beans to tea leaves, especially if you’re recently experiencing issues like high cholesterol or elevated blood pressure.
As for me, I can say that my allegiance for coffee has been critically challenged from this head-to-head competition—green tea, you just may have won this one.