Coffee vs Tea: Beyond Caffeine


The question of coffee vs tea is one I’ve asked myself often.  Usually, this question comes to me when I am on my third cup of coffee, fifth cup of tea, or when my hands have sweat running down them and yet my brain is still foggy. Caffeine tolerance can be frustrating, and may lead to overconsumption.  

If this is you, comparing tea vs. coffee will not get you very far.  The fermented leaves of Camellia sinensis and the roasted beans of Coffea arabica both contain caffeine as their primary active alkaloid. If you have a massive caffeine tolerance, or you react poorly to caffeine in general, switching between these two options is unlikely to make much difference.

Caffeine has been incredibly impactful, and I do not intend to run its good name through the dirt.  But as Aristotle cautioned two millennia ago: “all things in moderation.”  Caffeine is good, but it’s possible to get too much of a good thing.

But fear not! The robust natural treasures of the world did not put all their energizing eggs in one basket.  Due to the co-evolution of all life on Earth stemming from common amino acids, much of our brain chemistry looks like plant alkaloids! (Raffa, 2) Because of that, there are other options out there for natural energy boosters.

It Runs In the Family: Coffee and Kratom

Let me introduce you to the distant cousin of coffee, Mitragyna speciosa, aka kratom.  Both Coffea arabica and MItragyna speciosa are members of the Rubiaceae family, arguably one of the coolest plant families out there.

Coffee and kratom have a lot in common aside from their botanical relation.  They both are desired for their alkaloids that resemble neurotransmitters.  

Caffeine is structured similarly to adenosine, a molecule in your body that’s related to digestion and drowsiness. Regarded as an adenosine blocker, caffeine exerts it’s energizing and mood boosting effects in a consistent and reliable way.

Kratom’s primary active alkaloids are all indole alkaloids. Indoles, simply, is a broad category of molecules that are built around a similar scaffold, called the indole ring.

Mitragynine, the most frequently cited alkaloid for the effects of kratom, is no exception. It’s indole shape is important because many of our most important neurotransmitters are also indoles, such as serotonin and melatonin. In another twist of fate, mitragynine’s three dimensional shape twists in such a manner so as to mimic endorphin!  

This is all to say, coffee is a great natural energy booster, but it’s not the only option!

Kratom Tea

Kratom has long been brewed into a tea to give a boost to weary laborers. In Thailand, where kratom is native and has many centuries of documented use, it is common to find it incorporated into the diet’s of locals.

Men and women in Thailand generally use kratom to promote a sense of well being and energize them after lunch.  In a 2013 qualitative study on kratom users, the researchers interviewed many male kratom users.  One of them, a 70 year old blacksmith, had this to say about kratom: 

I can forge iron, make a big knife and axe all day because of chewing krathom [sic].  If I don’t chew it, I cannot raise the hammer.  Krathom helps me work in a hurry when I need to finish my work on time. 

Saingam et al. 2013

This general sentiment toward kratom carried through the rest of the interviews.  People love kratom for its effects. (Also, as the spelling hints in the above quote, there are dozens of ways to pronounce kratom.)

How to Make Kratom Tea

If you’ve decided you’d like to give kratom tea a shot, you’ll need to know how to make it.  Like any tea, you’ll first need to get your kratom.  We’ve made this easy for you and put the kratom in tea bags. We recommend white vein kratom for when you’re switching from caffeine.

Next, you’ll want to squeeze some lemon juice over your tea bag in a mug. Any fresh squeezed fruit will do, really, we just want the natural acids (i.e. citric acid) to help with the extraction of the alkaloids.  The fruity sweetness also helps cut back on some of the earthy, bitter notes.

Next, pour boiling water over your tea bags and cover while it steeps for 20 minutes.  We find it works best if you use a thermos to maintain the high temperatures necessary for a strong cup.

If you don’t have a thermos, your best bet is putting your tea bags and natural acid into your kettle or pot and let simmer for 20 minutes.

After that, you can add sugar or honey to taste. In fact, we have seasonal recipe books dedicated to helping you find your favorite cup!

A Way to Pair Coffee and Tea with Kratom

In the not so distant past, when I was still a tired, sleepless undergraduate student, I drank too much coffee.  And not just coffee, I also nibbled on caffeine pills.  On days that I wouldn’t take caffeine pills, I could easily go through 40 ounces of coffee in a day.  In total, I estimate I was using almost 700 mg of caffeine daily.

Coupled with my regular habit of not leaving the library until 3 am and getting around 4 hours of sleep a night, my anxiety levels were rocketing.  My hands would sweat endlessly and anytime I sat down my restless legs would dance about.

I knew something had to change, and when I serendipitously came across kratom from watching Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia, I decided to give it a shot.  I liked the energy that it gave me, and soon I was alternating days when I was drinking kratom tea vs. coffee.  Monday coffee, Tuesday kratom, Wednesday coffee, and so on.  This allowed me to keep my tolerance low for kratom, and gradually regain a “healthy” caffeine tolerance again.

I eventually came to learn the benefits of a proper sleep regimen.  Yet I have still maintained this kratom tea and coffee alternating schedule. When I keep my tolerance low for both caffeine and kratom, I get the best out of both of them with absolutely no side effects.  This is what works for me, however, and you will need to find what is best for you on your own or with your physician.  I am neither you, nor a physician, but I hope you let my story open your mind to a way outside of the tea vs. coffee dichotomy.  

Tea vs. Coffee: Conclusion

I hope you all reject this false binary of herbal beverages which can energize your weary bones!  Tea and coffee are both great, but if you’re raising this comparison because you’re experiencing side effects from caffeine, the answer has to come from outside the box. Try kratom tea today!

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