Coffee, Tea, or...
October 21, 2014 10:28 AM   Subscribe

As a life-long heavy coffee drinker rivaling the Gilmore girls, about two months ago I switched to tea. I still start each day with a delicious strong cup of coffee, then switch to tea for the rest of the day. But a weird thing happened: I don't feel energized after the coffee, and it's not until my first cup of tea (whether green or black) that I feel awake. Is it the different ways caffeine act in coffee as opposed to tea? Is it psychological? What could explain this?

I drink everything with a splash of milk and never any sugar. I also generally feel much, much more energetic-- even a tad too much-- even though I drink the same number of cups of tea as I did coffee, so technically my caffeine consumption is lower.
posted by redwaterman to Grab Bag (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You probably just need more caffeine to get over the hump than one cup of coffee can provide - it's the coffee + tea that gets you to where you need to be, not the tea alone. I know I am still dragging a bit until after my second cup.
posted by something something at 10:36 AM on October 21, 2014

I was under the impression that tea often had some of those other alkaloids with similar but not necessarily the same effects as coffee, theophylline and theobromine, and an attempt to source that is leading me towards an amino acid that also apparently exists in tea, L-Theanine.

So it could very well be that the tea you're drinking has a different set of psychoactives from the coffee you're drinking.
posted by straw at 10:42 AM on October 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

One tablespoon of coffee gets me crazy amped while several cups of strong tea do absolutely nothing for me. I've done lots of research on this and I've never been able to find an adequate explanation. There is lots of talk about L-theanine, polyphenol EGCG and other compounds found in tea which supposedly counteract the effects of caffeine, but personally, I don't get high from soda either, and soda contains lots of caffeine but none of those compounds.
posted by rada at 10:45 AM on October 21, 2014

Dehydrated? How much water do you drink in the morning pre-coffee?

Try drinking a full bottle/glass of water when you wake up in the morning before hitting up your caffeinated beverages. A lot of it might be that your body is dehydrated after a full night of sleep, and your brain feels groggy until you get the liquid it needs. (Also might be why you feel more energetic during the day with tea than with coffee, since you're better hydrated.)
posted by phunniemee at 10:52 AM on October 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

Tea nerds tend to claim the way l-theanine binds to caffeine makes for a prolonged, less jolting, smoother, both-energizing-and-calming/focusing reaction than the harsh, pinpointy buzz some get with coffee. I don't know how ironclad these claims are from a scientific standpoint, but personally it's why I prefer tea (I can drinks pots of the strongest black and pu erh teas all day and feel fine; when I drink even a single cup of coffee now I feel like I'm shaking and buzzing like a bee in an unpleasant way that involves a crash later).
posted by ifjuly at 11:05 AM on October 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

Also, you mention drinking green tea sometimes--caffeine content in tea is controversial, and there's some evidence green tea is actually very caffeinated (more than black). My own experience with matcha in particular but really good fresh Japanese greens in general is that they make me CRAZY buzzed, as bad or worse than coffee even, to the point I can barely ever drink it, and when I do, it's always in latte form to let the dairy counter some of the effect. Of course, mileage varies.
posted by ifjuly at 11:09 AM on October 21, 2014

Caffeine Content of Food & Drugs lists drinks by brand name. Big differences between some of them.
posted by Carol Anne at 11:36 AM on October 21, 2014

Before, you were probably not feeling awake until your second cup of coffee, but without making a specific switch, you didn't notice this fact.
posted by Sara C. at 11:38 AM on October 21, 2014

I'm with ifjuly, I don't often drink coffee, but when I do, I feel flushed and buzzed and shaky for an hour or so and then have a headache.

Mild black tea really helps me feel awake but never buzzy.

(Green tea is so... I can't even. It's like being forced to drink swamp water and then repeatedly punched in the stomach. For what it's worth, my idea of "coffee" is at least 50 - percent milk from a cow or a goat and preferably some smoothing spices.)

I know zero about food chemistry. It is just my personal experience that coffee is uncomfortably buzzy for a brief time and them I'm worse off. Tea makes all the difference in the world all day.

Everyone who has cleaned my teeth has been able to tell I'm a tea drinker. The stains are apparently completely different. Whether or not that means the effect on your body is different, I don't know.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 12:50 PM on October 21, 2014

You could be a slow metabolizer of caffeine.
posted by invisible ink at 6:16 PM on October 21, 2014

ifjuly: Also, you mention drinking green tea sometimes--caffeine content in tea is controversial, and there's some evidence green tea is actually very caffeinated (more than black).
Isolating caffeine from tea or coffee is child's play, chemistry-wise, so any "controversy" must come from people latching onto particular brands (which obviously may vary quite a bit in caffeine content).
posted by IAmBroom at 9:45 AM on October 23, 2014

Lesser Shrew: Green tea is so... I can't even. It's like being forced to drink swamp water and then repeatedly punched in the stomach.
Not to be one of those people who insists "you just have to try it this way!", green tea has some very unpleasant taste notes that are easily soluble at near-boiling temperatures. For this reason, green tea should be brewed at a lower temp (I don't know the recommended range off-hand, and can't google right now) than black tea (where the recommendation is generally "pour just-boiling water over").

I used to loathe green tea, until I realized I liked it in Chinese restaurants. I investigated, and discovered this makes all the difference. (Obviously, if you steep it too long, those bitter flavor notes will still dissolve, so remove the grounds if you're dealing with a large, heat-retaining pot.)
posted by IAmBroom at 9:49 AM on October 23, 2014

> any "controversy" must come from people latching onto particular brands (which obviously may vary quite a bit in caffeine content)

yeah, exactly--apparently there can be a lot of variation between, say, one farm in China's spring batch one year of silver needle versus dragonwell, or another small supplier's breakfast blend, or the same variety made Taiwanese, or a different-season spring snail, etc., and also there's a million styles of tea even within tea type where rolling and oxidation and firing all affect things, and then that array of variation coupled with the fact smaller vendors don't have the means to test every batch they sell means it's more ambiguous than people realize (i know teahards rag on teavana all the time for lots of reasons and in particular a few years back their claims it was all very ironclad about all blacks vs. all whites and all greens were a source of scorn). and there's also how you take different types of tea, or even perhaps how types of tea have other components that exacerbate or mute the effects of the caffeine (to me green is a good example, like for instance when drinking matcha you're actually ingesting the leaf entirely, and ground up, versus just drinking water a whole leaf's been bathing in and discarding the spent plant). of course, this doesn't necessarily matter for the average tea fan who might only drink something as uniform from year to year as, say, lipton (quite an engineering feat!).
posted by ifjuly at 11:15 AM on October 23, 2014

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