Did you know that over 70 million cups of coffee are drunk every single day in Britain alone? Highly caffeinated drinks such as coffee and ‘energy drinks’ are controversial and their potential impacts on our health are a hot topic.
Is there an alternative to the ‘norm’? The answer is, of course, ‘yes’. If you want to find out more about the multitude of benefits that can be gained from replacing your usual morning ‘hit’ with a herbal hero such as matcha green tea then read on.
First, let’s take a look at what makes coffee so appealing to the masses.
The coffee bean, coffea arabica, was traditionally recognised as a medicinal herb due to its stimulant properties. But it’s the unique roasted-bitter taste that has fashioned it into one of the world’s most popular drinks. Caffeine is the most well-known component of coffee with caffeine being the primary pharmacologically-active compound to which the majority of coffee’s therapeutic effects are attributed. Coffee is the world’s principal source of caffeine, accounting for 54% of our caffeine intake, and is the most widely consumed psycho-physiologically active substance in the world. Just try an espresso and see for yourself.
The link between caffeine and its stimulatory effects has developed the belief that coffee improves our learning capabilities, particularly concentration and motivation. And, indeed, caffeine does have a very direct affect on our nervous system. It increases the production of a neurotransmitter known as noradrenaline which maintains feelings of ‘alertness’ in the brain. As you might expect, it is this link that has drawn so many people to become ‘habitual’ coffee consumers, with some drinking in excess of five cups every single day.
However, it has been suggested these effects are not in any way enhanced through habitual coffee consumption. What’s worth remembering is that coffee is a psycho-physiologically active substance with the documented withdrawal effects of fatigue and migraine when taken in high and frequent concentrations. So, if there is no real gain to be had from habitual consumption of coffee, is our current ‘addiction’ to the drink due to a psychological association between coffee ingestion and belief in cognitive stimulation? Or, a result of avoiding the effects of the withdrawal?
Naturally, the next question is whether there is an alternative that will still provide a bit of a ‘pick me up’ but without the withdrawal effects and disadvantages that can come with habitual consumption? The solution can be found in matcha, a super-concentrated form of green tea.
What is so special about matcha powder? Matcha, green, black and white tea are all produced from the same plant, camellia sinensis, also known as the common tea plants. The only difference is the way in which the plant is cultivated, harvested and processed. Matcha, for example, is a powder made from the tips of green tea leaves with a characteristic vibrant green colour. Why, you ask, is this green powder so popular? The answer lies in its colour.
The bright, vivid green is a result of high levels of the light-capturing pigment, chlorophyll. This pigment converts sunlight into energy for the plant, and this is transferred to us when we consume it. It’s just a bonus that it also tastes delicious.
But don’t matcha and green tea also contain caffeine I hear you say? Well, you’re right, but, interestingly, the caffeine found in matcha and green tea ‘buddies up’ with the chlorophyll and other beneficial compounds known as catechins, flavonoids and polyphenols to ensure that they are in a format which our human body can break down and make the most out of. This ensures that all those beautiful rays of sunshine captured in the leaves of the matcha and green tea are not wasted. And, unlike coffee, caffeine is not the primary compound found in matcha and green tea; it is balanced out by other pigments and compounds that help prevent the characteristic ‘crash’ so often attributed to coffee. Thus providing us with a sustainable and healthy energy boost.
Katie Pande is a Senior Herbal Advisor at Pukka Herbs. Katie is a qualified Medical Herbalist, and member of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists (NIMH), currently practicing in Shaftesbury. She holds a BSc (Hons) in Herbal Medicine and a BSc (Hons) in Plant and Environmental Biology.
Find out more about Pukka Herbs on www.pukkaherbs.com.