If you abstain from caffeine, congratulations. You’re basically a human unicorn. 90% of the world consumes caffeine every day, and most people get it from coffee. In America alone, java fans drink 450 million cups of coffee a day; the global coffee industry is worth about $60 billion annually; and commercial variations of the beverage can effectively represent an entire demographic. Put that in your Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL) and drink it.
We’re not here to share a negative PSA on the PSL (we can’t even …), but this article will praise a java alternative. When it comes to cultivating mental clarity, tea trumps coffee. Numerous studies indicate that green and black tea do a better job of sharpening people’s concentration and overall cognitive abilities.
Coffee vs. tea
The average cup of coffee contains about 150 mg of caffeine, while green, black, white and oolong tea have roughly 40 mg. So on most accounts, coffee is a more powerful stimulant than tea. It’s more likely to make your heart race and give you sweaty palms. But caffeine isn’t the only chemical that can help activate your brain. L-theanine, a psychoactive amino acid in caffeinated tea helps cultivate a calm, but acute, state of focus.
L-theanine boosts levels of the mood-enhancing neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, as well as GABA, which promotes relaxation. This biochemical cocktail appears to evoke the same state of calm contentment that meditators experience. In fact, EEG scans show that L-theanine activates alpha brainwaves, a neurological event that also happens during meditation. In addition to reducing anxiety, alpha wave activity appears to enhance peoples’ capacities to learn, concentrate, think creatively and perform well under stress. Furthermore, brain scans suggest that L-theanine empowers people to ignore distractions, sharpening their focus when it comes to academic or intellectually challenging tasks.
L-theanine + caffeine: The dynamic duo
Together, L-theanine and caffeine yield a superior focus elixir. According to this review article, L-theanine works synergistically with caffeine to make it even better at helping people tune out distractions. The L-theanine + caffeine combo may significantly accelerate the rate at which people can process information, specifically as it relates to language.
In addition to sharpening caffeine’s edge as a focus enhancer, L-theanine dulls its undesirable side. The amino acid helps counteract the anxiety that people often experience as a side-effect of consuming caffeine, while reducing the risk of stimulant-induced insomnia. This means that tea offers a safer, more sustainable way to leverage caffeine on a daily basis. The neurocognitive benefits of drinking tea may even accumulate over time, as this article discusses in more detail.
Ready to take some tea-time for yourself? Green, black, white, oolong and pu-erh teas are the only natural sources of both caffeine and L-theanine. But if you can’t live without coffee, try washing down an L-theanine supplement with your cup of joe to get the most out of your stimulant.