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Why I Switched From Coffee to Matcha for my Morning Buzz

For the last year especially, I have been a coffee enthusiast like never before in my life. I’ve been buying “the good stuff” and even grinding my own beans.

In sum, I love coffee.

I love the taste, the smell, the morning ritual.

But it all came to a screeching halt recently when I ditched my morning coffee for matcha tea.

Why in the world would I do this?

My coffee side effects

Coffee addiction and anxiety

In a word, addiction. Historically, I wasn’t much of a coffee drinker. Even one cup gave me anxiety and I especially didn’t like how I felt after that initial morning coffee euphoria wore off.

However, despite the jitters, coffee, especially when it was still a new habit, also gave me a powerful boost of energy and productivity. When coffee “hit me right” I was on fire for the whole day, often with heightened mood as a pleasant bi-product of a higher baseline of energy.

But here’s the thing – as my coffee habit wore on, the law of diminishing returns began to rear its ugly head. I had to drink more coffee to achieve the same benefits, and eventually, the coffee high leveled out to become more of a modest bump. After my first cup, I’d already be thinking about my next cup. Granted, to try to keep from tweaking out entirely, I would often order a “half caff” a blend of regular and decaf coffees, but the amount of caffeine I consumed went up steadily.

I knew I was addicted when I’d try to stop. That’s when the caffeine withdrawal would kick in.

Disrupted Sleep

As we have written about in previous posts, caffeine blocks the adenosine receptors, which are an important part of the sleep pathway that tell us it’s time to hit the sack. Because caffeine has a half life of as long as 10 hours in those who are genetically slow metabolizers of caffeine, having a “leaded” cup of coffee at any time of the day has the potential to disrupt sleep.

In fact, this study, which analyzed the impact of consuming caffeine at various times during the day prior to heading off to bed found a significant disruption of sleep when subjects consumed caffeine even 6 hours prior to bedtime.

Personal sleep data from my Oura Ring (and now my Whoop Strap) confirmed that too much coffee, even when I stop before noon, has a deleterious impact on how much sleep I get.

Genetics of caffeine metabolism

For those playing along at home, it’s the CYP1A2 gene that determines whether you are a fast (shorter half life) or slow (longer half life) metabolizer of caffeine. If you don’t yet know your status for this gene, we report on CYP1A2 in our custom nutrition plans.

With that little plug out of the way, let’s get to the benefits I saw when switching over to matcha.

Benefits of switching to matcha tea

For those of you who aren’t yet familiar, matcha, although it still comes from the Camellia sinensis plant as does green tea, is a little different than traditional green teas because the leaves aren’t brewed. Instead they are ground into a fine powder and drunk as a sort of green tea mixture. This gives matcha a little more caffeine than regular green tea, but also means that it packs more of an antioxidant punch as well.

So, what benefits did I find switching from coffee to a few morning matcha teas?

Enhanced energy without the jitters

As I laid out above, one of the main issues I had with my increasing dependence on coffee was the afternoon jitters. I kept at it because I found the high dose caffeine jolt (that only coffee can provide) added to productivity and mood. But as coffee became less of a novelty and more of a necessity, the severity of the “tweaky feeling” I carried into each afternoon was not worth it.

In my neighborhood in New York City, there is a Cha Cha Matcha on my way to work. After experiencing an authentic Japanese tea ceremony recently with my girlfriend, where I realized just how sacred drinking matcha can be, I decided to give my local matcha watering hole a try. Even accounting for some binge drinking (I still had multiple matcha teas), I felt a calm, steady focus which was a far cry from the added stress a few cups of coffee baked into my already stressful daily life. I felt as though I was getting almost all the previous benefits of my coffee ritual, but with none of the coffee side effects.

Why does matcha deliver a calmer buzz than coffee? Green tea, and especially matcha, is rich in an amino acid called L-theanine. Theanine readily crosses the blood brain barrier where studies show it stimulates alpha brain waves, which are responsible for calm, focus and creativity. 1

Better sleep

This is a personal observation based on my sleep tracking data compiled over the last 10 months, but I found I could drink a few cups of matcha per day, often strong brews, and still sleep well later that night. This is not the case with coffee for me, which I have found shaves on average about 45 minutes from my total sleep (and reduces both REM and deep sleep) under normal circumstances. According to caffeine informer, matcha, at about 70 mg of caffeine per 8 ounces, packs a caffeine punch not unlike coffee, however, L-theanine has been shown to counteract the effects of caffeine. I believe it’s the theanine that helps me sleep even in the midst of a moderate matcha binge.

Antioxidants in Matcha tea

You can think of antioxidants as cellular janitors. It is the job of antioxidants to neutralize free radicals produced as the result of normal energy metabolism. We make some of our own (glutathione is an example) but antioxidants are also abundant in some of the foods we eat.

Yes, coffee is the largest source of dietary antioxidants for most Americans. However, matcha packs even more of a punch. The antioxidants thought to have the greatest benefit in green tea, called catechins, are particularly abundant in matcha tea. In fact, one study estimated that matcha contains 137 times more catechin antioxidants than does “normal” green tea. 2

Benefits of catechins

What are some of the proven benefits of the catechin family of antioxidants? One of the most researched and powerful catechins in green tea is called EGCG (Epigallocatechin Gallate). Studies have shown ECGC to have benefits for:

  • Irritable bowel disease 3
  • Glutathione production 3
  • Cardiovascular health 4
  • Lowering LDL-C 4
  • Blood sugar control 4
  • May reduce prostate cancer risk in heavy tea drinkers 5

Coffee vs. Matcha Caffeine Comparison

 Caffeine per 8 ozPrimary antioxidantPrimary amino acid
Coffee75-190 mgHydrocinnamic acidsGlutamic acid
Matcha70 mgCatechins, ECGCL-theanine

The downside of switching to matcha

Although the antioxidants in matcha have shown promise as therapeutic agents for some chronic digestive issues, such as IBD, there can definitely be too much of a good thing when it comes to this delicious green drink.

Drinking too much matcha, which for me was somewhere around 3-4 strong cups, caused stomach discomfort. if I really pushed the envelope, as I did one morning with a 6 cup matcha caffeine binge, diarrhea followed soon after. Maybe that is “too much information,” but it is well established that matcha can cause  side effects that include digestive problems, so proceed with caution if you like to drink deep with your morning beverage of choice.

Closing thoughts

We all know friends who can drink an espresso right before bed and claim to sleep like a baby. I am not one of those people. I love coffee, but it doesn’t love me back. Switching to matcha still gives me the pep in my step I want to start the day, but without the afternoon jitters and anxiety.

John O'Connor

John O'Connor is the founder of Gene Food, a nutrigenomic startup helping people all over the world personalize nutrition. John is the host of the Gene Food Podcast and a health coach trained at Duke's Integrative Medicine Program. Read his full bio here.

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