OMG! Green tea has way too much caffeine in it! I’m not drinking that.

Caffeine. It’s the biggest excuse I hear to shoot green tea down in flames. This whole caffeine argument is the most opinionated topic there is on tea! People blindly spout off that there is more caffeine in green tea than coffee. It makes them feel justified for not drinking green tea as if it isn’t healthy after all.

Caffeine – But Not As We Know It

Glorious caffeine! It’s been dogged to death and someone needs to redeem it…that’ll be me, thanks.

Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant. In studies in Austria*, caffeine has been shown to increase memory; findings prove caffeine can stimulate hair growth on balding men** (I knew someone would do research on this!); it can help you recover 48 percent quicker from post-workout muscle soreness according to researchers at the University of Georgia; and even eye spasms (blepharospasm) can be controlled says a study in The Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry. Of course, we also know that it helps us stay awake when we are driving, gets us moving first thing in the morning, relieves headaches, and boosts stamina during exercising.

Is All Caffeine the Same?

Caffeine acts differently in green tea than it does in coffee, but why? It boils down to metabolization. Caffeine binds to the catechins in green tea and as they are metabolized and broken down, they “time-release” the caffeine into your bloodstream. Because there is more to metabolize with the bond between caffeine and the catechins in green tea, it slows down the release so you feel alert and not hyper. Enter Theanine, green tea’s incredible amino acid, and the dance of caffeine mellows even more.

Coffee, on the other hand, doesn’t have this superpower combination. It’s the bean, not the leaf, which makes your system acidic and jittery. Coffee is the so-called acid trip you imagine it to be.

What I find really interesting is what happens when Theanine mingles with caffeine. It’s this tango of caffeine and Theanine that gives you the bliss and clarity, the relaxed alert state, which is so pronounced when you drink green tea. You need both in the proper ratio to get that feeling. The Theanine and caffeine combination also reduces physical stress and gets the creative juices flowing.

A good way to get your head around this caffeine issue is to visualize two rubber bands. One is the short chubby kind like you might find on a bundle of asparagus and the other is the vermicelli-thin one that might be found on a roll of fliers.

Now, take the short, chubby one and imagine stretching it to its maximum point. It doesn’t go very far before snapping at you, right? Do the same with the thin one. See how it seems to stretch forever with a smooth motion? The chubby one represents coffee and the long thin one is green tea. The coffee caffeine delivery is short lived and snaps back at you. It gives you a quick wake up and then causes you to crash. Green tea, on the other hand, provides a gentle, continuous release of caffeine and doesn’t snap back. I really like this simple and memorable analogy, which my Chinese colleague nicknamed Mr. Bean, told me over a bowl of rubbery chicken feet one day.

Sources:

  • *Radiological Society of North America’s annual meeting, Chicago, Nov. 27-Dec. 2, 2005. American Dietetic Association: “Cutting Down on Caffeine.” News release, Radiological Society of North America.
  • **International Journal of Dermatology: T. W. Fischer MD, U. C. Hipler PhD, P. Elsner MD – Article first published online: 3 JAN 2007: DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-4632.2007.03119.x

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