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Coffee vs. Tea: sipping the science behind caffeine

Updated: Aug 22, 2023

Drifting between alertness and relaxation, coffee and tea are two famous beverages that have delighted our senses for centuries. Particular to each part of the world, they are symbols of community, hospitality, and culture. Coffee and tea represent important components of social interactions, and despite the fact that they're very different drinks, they both share one major ingredient: caffeine. One of the most used substances in the world, with over 90% of adult consumers daily. This neurostimulant can boost your energy and elevate your mood, and even has the ability to reinforce your appreciation for the cup, and the people you have your caffeinated drink with. But have you ever wondered why coffee's kick feels different from the tea's gentle lift? To overcome the general misconception that caffeine in tea stimulates the brain in the same way that coffee does, we'll delve into how this widely consumed component affects our brain in distinct ways depending on your choice of drink.

Caffeine in our brain and body

Caffeine is a natural substance found in plants and leaves, being present in many foods and drinks that we consume everyday. In fact, we tend to like and consume more foods and drinks that contain caffeine rather than those that do not. But why is that? Why are we so leaned forward to caffeine? Being a powerful stimulant, caffeine has the ability to increase your alertness, which consequently increases your performance in many activities like sports or even at work. This happens because caffeine lowers the threshold for activation of brain activity involved in learning and memory. In simple words, you are able to think and retrieve information faster when you're under the effects of caffeine.

Consequently, caffeine also has the power to create feelings of reward in our brain.

Scientifically called a reinforcer, it makes us reward certain behaviours and be more likely to repeat that in the future. This makes sense when we consider the ability of caffeine to increase the levels of dopamine in our brain, which can be understood as a messenger that regulates our perception of pain-pleasure balance, motivation and rewards. Therefore, because caffeine affects our dopamine system, we get a boost of alertness to perform certain tasks with accuracy and speed. When we are able to perform well, we feel good and motivated again by the pleasant feeling. This is the reward pathway in work in our brain, triggered by caffeine and operating on a subconscious level.

However, all of these amazing effects that can boost our productivity in a fast-paced world don't come without a cost. For a huge amount of the population, the high levels of caffeine present in drinks like coffee may affect their sleep quality and even provoke anxiety-like feelings such as the so-called jitteriness effect. Because every person demonstrates different levels of resistance and adaptation, there are other options of drinks with lower levels of caffeine, such as a wide range of teas. After all, as observed by sleep expert Dr. Matthew Walker on 'Why We Sleep', our body takes 6 hours to eliminate 50% of the caffeine in our body.

Sipping the science around tea

Be it Black, White, Green… All these teas come from the plant family of Camellia Sinensis. The leaves of this plant can be infused with hot water and drunk with a mix of health benefits. Despite the fact that coffee and tea have caffeine, they have very distinct effects, being: 1) the levels of caffeine; 2) the presence of L-theanine in tea, and interrelated to this, 3) the levels of energy that one gets from consuming either of those drinks.

The levels of caffeine in different widely consumed drinks

Chart by Microdose Together. The levels of caffeine in tea and coffee may vary depending on brewing methods, water temperature and type of beans in the case of coffee (Quinlan, 2000).

L-theanine: the calming element of tea

L-Theanine is a powerful substance that promotes mental clarity and relaxation. Because of its calming effects, it acts against the possible jitters caused by caffeine, a frequent side effect from coffee. In fact, a study conducted by the Unilever Research departments in the Netherlands and in the UK in 2008, compared the consumption of 50mg of caffeine with and without 100mg of L-theanine (present in tea) by healthy individuals. The aim was to observe how they performed on word recognition, rapid visual information processing and other criteria of cognitive function. The results showed that the combination of both caffeine and L-theanine increased the ability to perform highly demanding tasks. That is, when participants had to put effort into processing information rather than doing habitual things. This leads us to the last and 3rd difference between caffeine in coffee and tea.

Caffeine from tea: sustained energy

Have you ever experienced the 'dip' at some point after drinking coffee? Observe the graph below, where the peak and dip of caffeine from coffee is compared to those effects from tea absorption.


Considering the illustration, we notice that the effects provided by caffeine from tea are longer and consistent, while those from coffee come as a short peak and drastic fall. Science explains that this happens because caffeine is a molecule that travels fast through our blood stream, blocking the receptors of Adenosine in our brain, the sleep receptor. In this sense, from the time we wake up, until the time we go to sleep, our body is essentially "borrowing" energy when we block this process through caffeine. As the graph shows, this portion of borrowed energy is way bigger and quicker with coffee than with tea. Because tea contains the calming element L-theanine, the levels of energy and alertness provided by caffeine are more sustained.

Caffeine in different teas

The level of caffeine varies depending on the tea. This happens because of the level of oxidation, quantity of leaves used to brew the tea, and even the preparation.


Caffeine and microdosing

There is no conclusive study conducted on the use of caffeine with psilocybin truffle microdosing up to this date. However, for the anxious crowd, it is hypothesised that one should be careful when ingesting caffeine together with a microdose of psilocybin truffles. This is because truffles stimulate various connections in your brain, while caffeine also does so, which may or may not cause overstimulation of your brain, leading to anxiety episodes. This is nothing more than a speculation as there's an increasing interest and need from the scientific field to study the use of psychedelics, and especially the use of those with caffeine. On that note, Microdose Together will host a socialising event in Amsterdam in September, and has invited researchers from Leiden University to conduct the pioneer study on the use of psychedelics socially.

In view of the unknown effects of highly caffeinated drinks, a safer option for microdosing is tea. However, if you're a naturally anxious person and sensitive to caffeine, it is highly recommended that you choose blends without caffeine, such as our Fuego or Mellow Fellow.

All things considered, caffeine is a powerful molecule coming from plants that generate worldwide consumed drinks like coffee and tea. However, the effects on our brain vary drastically depending on which drink we consume it from. If you're ready to give caffeine from tea and microdosing a try, discover our tea blends especially made for microdosing and for health benefits.



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