Written by Pete Corey on Aug 20, 2018.

I’ve always had a tumultuous relationship with caffeine. When I was younger I would drink gallons of diet soda a day (sometimes literally). As I grew older I discovered coffee and increased my caffeine consumption by orders of magnitude.

It took me until I was nearly thirty years old to realize that my consumption of huge amounts of caffeine was probably related to a low-level background radiation of anxiety that I’d been experiencing nearly my entire life. In an effort to better myself, I tried cutting back on coffee and even quitting altogether. I always found it difficult to restrict myself to one or even two cups a day, and quitting was always unsuccessful for one reason or another.

At that point, I decided that my current relationship with coffee was unhealthy, so I decided to try switching to tea. I quickly went whole hog into the tea world. I bought myself a gaiwan, and started buying tea from amazing import companies like What-Cha and white2tea.

Tea in a gaiwan.

I loved it! What’s more, I felt better. My anxiety lessened, I felt less dependent on it every morning, and I didn’t feel like I was chasing the daily “buzz” like I would with coffee.

Recently I started drinking more pu-erh teas, which are a style of tea where the leaves are fermented before being pressed into cakes. As I started to drink pu-erh more consistently, I began to notice my anxiety levels begin to ramp up. Once again, I found myself having cup after cup, trying to catch a caffeine buzz. Something was different. I decided to look into the differences between pu-erh and other types of teas.

I came across this 2016 study carried out by the Department of Pharmacognosy, University of Szeged, Hungary, who’s goal was to compare the correlations of caffeine and tea contents between a variety of tea processing techniques.

Caffeine and L-theanine are pharmacologically important constituents of tea, especially due to their effects on the central nervous system. The effects of these two compounds are opposite: While caffeine is a well-known stimulant, theanine has a relaxing effect. Tea processing may influence the caffeine and theanine content of tea leaves.

While a sampled set of white, green, oolong, black, and pu-erh teas all contained similar levels of caffeine, the L-theanine content in the pu-erh samples tested were “practically zero.”

The average theanine concentration of oolong samples was 6.09 mg/g with a mean caffeine level of 19.31 mg/g (caffeine/theanine ratio 4.20). In the pu-erh tea, no theanine was detected.

So maybe it’s not a reduction in caffeine that’s improving my quality of life. Maybe it’s the introduction of theanine. Either way, I’ve decided to drop the pu-erh for now and go back to drinking oolongs.

It’s said that programmers “turn caffeine into code.” How’s your relationship with coffee, tea, and caffeine, and how does it affect your life and career?