I Tried Giving Up Coffee For Matcha—Here’s What Happened
When it comes to living my best life, I’m pretty willing to try anything. But it hasn’t always been that way. I remember a time when a headache meant popping three pain relievers fast, and breakfast was habitually washed down with a cold diet soda on my way to work. Those things came to an end for me when I started listening to my intuition.
Quitting my diet soda habit turned into a migraine that wouldn’t end, but it also led me to my first appointment with a functional medicine doctor. What was happening? My body was detoxing, he said, and if I could hang in there for a few weeks, he thought he could help me. And he did.
While I never went back to my diet soda and rarely need to resort to pain relievers, somewhere between baby number two and three, I did start drinking coffee. And for the last few years, my husband and I have been brewing a pot at home daily. So, why change?
Keep reading to find out what my intuition was telling me and what happened when I swapped my beloved coffee for matcha.
My Problems: Fluctuating Hormones, Chronic Fatigue, Inconsistent Digestion, Brain Fog and Poor Sleep
For the last year, I have been working with my integrative doctor and TCM practitioner to address a host of new and old symptoms popping up. While many of the issues will fluctuate and change, it started to seem like something hormonally was out of sync on a weekly basis.
If my periods were regular, my digestion was off or vice versa. I was always tired but struggled to nap or stay asleep at night. I’d also noticed a new flavor of anxiety that didn’t point to life circumstances or stresses. Last but not least, I found myself Googling things like, “Is it normal to have memory issues in your forties?” And while yes, aging is inevitable, intuitively I knew these challenges weren’t all in my head or just about age.
Along with my pile of complaints, I noticed my want for coffee was still strong, but my affection was waning. I’d entered into what seemed like a disappointing cycle of sip, reheat and sip some more in hopes that the pleasure and reward would come. I had to drink more to be satisfied but not without the jittery consequences. I wondered, was it the coffee maker, the taste of my favorite coffee grounds or just my intuition speaking to me?
To make a change, I had to break down what coffee was giving me. I found it wasn’t only the jolt of energy coffee delivered that got me out of bed at 5 a.m., but I had grown to love the ritual. I looked forward to waking up in the dark when half of the family was still sleeping. I loved the daily smell of coffee grounds and how my husband sets out my favorite mug, waiting for the dripping to be done. And most of all, I loved the silent start to my day with something warm in my hands.
If I was going to make a shift, it was going to need to be something to replace these significant things. I decided to think about it and skeptically kept my eye out for a replacement.
The (Potential) Solution: Matcha
My first taste of matcha was on ice last summer while experiencing A Day WELL Spent in Austin at Mañana, and I loved it. In the months to follow, I read Candice Kumai’s latest book, Kintsugi Wellness: The Japanese Art of Nourishing Mind, Body and Spirit, and she planted the idea even further by sharing how she swapped coffee for matcha and in turn felt clear-minded, more focused and less anxious. By fall 2018, it was starting to feel like this experiment was inevitable.
After another incredible matcha with oat milk at my local favorite, The Salty Tart, I started asking some questions. The barista explained that matcha is made from the whole plant leaf, ground into a fine powder. When you drink the tea, you are metabolizing the entire leaf. Matcha has a special amino-acid called L-Theanine, along with more antioxidants and vitamins than any other natural fruit or vegetable, giving it superfood status. When these nutritional benefits are slowly digested with the tea’s caffeine, you’re given a longer period of energy (like, four to six hours long) than the jolt + crash I’d been getting from coffee.
While matcha is trendy now, it was first used by monks 800 years ago as a daily tool for meditation. Then, it became part of Japanese Tea Ceremonies, all long before it evolved into an everyday beverage.
All that history made matcha more than just a dose of caffeine for me. Better energy? Nutritionally beneficial? Ancient ritual? Matcha is the drink I’d been looking for, and now I hoped it was something I actually enjoyed, so it was sustainable.
On January 7, I took the plunge. Upon doing some of his own research, my espresso-loving husband decided to join me. The night before our first matcha morning, I set out a bowl, our favorite cups, a bamboo whisk and spoon, the first Matcha Love© tin of tea, water pot and pan for heating a little Oatly. I planned to start this matcha experiment in latte form to match my most liked matcha experiences to date, and oat milk is what a lot the baristas had recommended.
We got up that first morning and made our matcha tea as directed on the package. In our bowl, we put two bamboo tea scoops of matcha (each scoop = ½ tsp.). Next, we added two to three ounces of hot water (between 175 and 180°) and whisked it thoroughly, until frothy and smooth. Simultaneously, we heated some oat milk until it began to simmer and then whisked that until it was frothy as well. We poured our matcha into our cups, added a ¼ to ½ cup oat milk and spooned some foam on top.
Our immediate reaction? We liked the earthy taste, but both of us appreciated starting with a latte to smooth out what some people say tastes grassy at first. We have now tried and liked both the Matcha Love© and Aiya’s ceremonial grade matcha made in Japan, which is essential for quality. We tend to put less oat milk in than we did the first few times and both of us have found our taste preferences.
It may have been our jitter-free hands, but by 10 a.m. on day one, we were texting each other high five emojis because we felt noticeably clear-headed and great, and a little surprised at how different it felt than coffee. Enough so that we were excited to go to bed and do it all over again.
With my history with caffeine detox, I was bracing myself for an immediate headache, but it didn’t initially happen. However, by the morning of day five, I did have a full-blown detox migraine. That’s not surprising, as I had been drinking multiple cups of coffee daily, which has 95 mg of caffeine per cup vs. matcha’s 68 mg per cup.
While I was intentional about drinking extra water, it was time to course correct my cold turkey method. I opted to try a small coffee that day, and it worked temporarily. I felt better until that evening, but the detoxing was still needing to happen. I took a pain reliever and went to bed by 8 pm. That was the last coffee and pain reliever I needed to get over the hump.
I started listening to my fatigue without consequences.
For the first week of my experiment, I napped all three days I worked from home. I have never been able to nap easily, and for sure not without struggling to fall asleep at bedtime. Why was I so tired? It could have been the detoxing. Or it could be that my coffee jitters had been hiding how tired I have been all along. Regardless of the reason, I listened, napped and had no problem falling asleep at night or staying asleep all night long. Better sleep was huge for me.
I am no longer confused about my digestion.
Do you know what’s normal? I haven’t always. Natalie from Move Colonics says this should be our goal for bowel movements: “Two to three times a day, the stool should be medium brown in color, no intense odor, slides out easily, is the size of banana and consistency of toothpaste-ish. You want to feel like a complete bowel movement was had.”
Hmm. Well, this was not happening consistently for me. While it’s a known fact that caffeine can stimulate colon activity, it would seem that coffee was helpful for me but not consistent. When I switched to matcha though, my digestion actually got worse. This negative was insightful to me because it confirmed something bigger was going on. As someone who has used natural medicine for the last few years, I like to go after the root, not just treat the symptoms. So, while I haven’t solved my digestion issues, I am no longer masking anything with coffee. In the meantime, I’ve increased my water intake, added some extra greens to my meals and made some roasted beets. If none of these strategies help my body find its new normal, I will add it to my list to talk to my doctors about or consider colon hydrotherapy.
I feel more motivated and focused.
This change feels too good to be true. Am I making it up? While January in Minnesota already has its challenges with cold, dark and more of both to come, I have increasingly had fewer naps and more moments of noticeable clarity and unseasonal bursts of motivation. One day in week three, I decided to drink a second cup of matcha as I was feeling a late afternoon slump and before I knew it, I was Marie Kondo-ing my daughter’s clothes on a Saturday night. While time will tell, I love when motivation isn’t so hard to dig up.
I couldn’t have predicted this experiment would be a permanent change for both my husband and me, but it looks like we might be putting our household coffee pot away for now. While drinking matcha brought clarity to my mind, it also uncovered some issues that my daily coffee habit was masking, and I am finding new motivation to go after better digestion as well as strengthened awareness around my need for rest and good sleep.
I wish I would have started last summer, but the process from then to now has helped me know what it is I was looking for and name it. I’m excited to see what this new ritual will mean for a healthy mind and body a few months from now. In the meantime, I’ll be looking for more authentic ways to try matcha when traveling, or perhaps Candice’s vegan and gluten-free matcha-chocolate chip cookies will be next on my list.
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