Productively Buzzed: A Look at Your Various Morning Stimulants

Sep 21, 2017 | Stephen Jackson

What do banks, AA meetings, and trendy cafes all have in common?

(Other than the fact that they’re usually packed on weekday mornings.)

They all serve coffee.

That’s right, coffee — the great leveler of society. Chances are you had a cup this morning. In fact, there’s a good chance you’re sipping a cup as you read this post. For the working person, coffee is ritual and pragmatism rolled into one. According to Statistic Brain, 54% of Americans over the age of 18 drink coffee everyday, and the U.S. spent $4 billion last year importing the stuff.

There are, of course, other options when it comes to getting your morning fix, and I think it’s worth taking a look at each of them. Sometimes I feel like coffee gets me so jacked I find it hard to concentrate because I’m breathing through a mild panic attack, but sometimes it’s just what the doctor ordered.

Let’s examine the menagerie of liquid stimulants — coffee, yerba mate, black tea, and matcha (which has been having something of a moment this year) — and allow you to be the judge as to which beverage is best for you.


Ah, the old standby. I’m a huge coffee drinker, but have found that I can’t drink it too late in the day because it keeps me up at night. That said, I rarely make it to noon without at least one cup. And I’m not alone — more than 100 million americans drink coffee everyday. In fact, according to the Mayo Clinic, there may be a correlation between coffee consumption in decreased mortality rates and possibly decreased cardiovascular mortality rates.

“Studies have shown that coffee may have health benefits, including protecting against Parkinson’s disease, type 2 diabetes and liver disease, including liver cancer. Coffee also appears to improve cognitive function and decrease the risk of depression,” writes Dr. Donald Hensrud.

However, according to nutritionist Carolyn Brown, MS RD, there are some risks coffee drinkers should be aware of.

“The cons mostly come down to how we doctor up coffee, with milk and sugar, which can turn it into a caffeinated calorie bomb. Also, obviously, some people are sensitive to caffeine. I recommend an ‘upper limit’ of uppers to two a day, and try not to have after 2 p.m.,” says Brown, a practioner at Foodtrainers, a private practice in New York City, where she specializes in weight loss, food allergies, and improving your eating habits and lifestyle.

Black Tea

Since tea is such a huge category, I’m going to make a distinction between black tea and green tea (which we’ll go over later). A cup of black tea contains significantly less caffeine than a cup of coffee (roughly 30 mg vs 100 mg, depending on the brew), so if coffee gets you too jacked, reaching for a cup of black tea might be the way to go.

Black tea has a number of purported health benefits. It contains antioxidants which are believed to help reduce risks of some cancers, and long term consumption may help reduce the risk of Type II Diabetes in elderly people.

However, like any caffeinated beverage, overconsumption can lead to negative side effects such as headaches, nervousness, diarrhea, or even convulsions. It’s believed that ingesting up to 250 mg of caffeine a day is “safe,” so as long as you aren’t drinking more than about eight cups of tea a day, you should be fine.

I’m pretty sensitive to the stuff, so I couldn’t imagine drinking even that much, so make sure you know your limits before turning yourself into a nervous, addicted wreck.

Green Tea & Matcha

Green and black tea come from the same shrub, Camellia sinensis, but they are processed differently. That said, they both are good sources of antioxidants. However, green tea has slightly less caffeine than black tea, and produces a different sort of buzz. Matcha consists of finely ground tea leaves and was traditionally used as a ceremonial tea in Japan. It has more caffeine than other greens — about 34 mg a cup — so it packs a bit more of a punch.

“When you drink matcha, you are actually consuming the whole green-tea leaves, not just steeping them. So matcha is like green tea on steroids,” Brown says.

However, Brown also points out a potential downside to the tasty green beverage.

“Some teas undergo heavy processing and can be contaminated with metals and lose their potency in the tea-bagging process and through exposure to heat and light. Quality is key — with all food and drink!”

Yerba Mate

If you’re like me, you first learned about yerba mate in college from the guy in the dorm who didn’t wear shoes. Traditionally drunk from a gourd, it too has its origins as a ceremonial beverage and finds its roots amongst the indigenous people of South America.

Yerba mate comes from a shrub, Ilex paraguariensis, which is in in the holly family. Mate has more caffeine than most teas, weighing in at about 80 mg per cup, but still has less than coffee, so if you are weaning yourself off caffeine, mate could be a good option.

Mate boasts a number of potential health benefits. It has been said to act as a mood enhancer and combat depression. It’s also believed to help with headache and joint pains, and can apparently be used to treat urinary tract infections.

“Mate has amazing antioxidant benefits and anti-inflammatory properties,” says Brown. “There is also some research that mate can lower blood sugar levels and can help digestive upset. The process of making mate in a gourd is a beautiful ritual.”

However, Brown also adds that mate can be an acquired taste. Personally, I like making a “mate latte” with steamed milk and sugar. While wearing shoes.