Why is this interesting? - Wednesday, April 17

On coffee, nootropics, and good vibes

Colin here. I’ve been a coffee person for a long time. I remember going with my parents to the first batch of Starbucks’ in California, and while my taste and routines has evolved past sweet lattes, I still look back fondly on those early coffee days. Right now, thanks to the introduction from pal Matthew Dear, George Howell is my preferred roaster. While I’m not a full-on obsessive (just yet), I’ve been charting the rise of cult coffee brands like Verve, Intelligentsia, and Pilot as they reached an ever-increasing array of palates across the country and the world.

Trouble is, sometimes I drink way too much of the stuff. There’s the espresso shot before the brutally early morning workout, the coffee on the way home, a cup when I arrive at the office, and then, inevitably, the afternoon espresso or social drip during a meeting. But as with everything we put in our bodies, this can have an effect. Too much coffee can leave me feeling jittery with fragmented thinking. During the upswing it can be hard to focus on deep work and the crash leaves me … crashed.

That is until I was recently introduced me to a new stack (thanks Will): coffee blended with some ghee, coconut oil, and an L-theanine pill. The effect was revelatory. I got all of the good energy with none of the bad. The jagged edges were smoothed out and I felt both productive and energized.

Why is this interesting?

While I realize this may sound a little too Silicon Valley biohacker, I’m intrigued by the idea of stacking small improvements on top of our daily routines. In this case, a tweak to my coffee ritual changed my productivity and thinking. While a lot of this stuff is tough to back up with evidence, there seems to be some science behind my good vibes:

L-theanine is an amino acid extracted from the leaves of camellias sinensis — the fancy-pants name for the common tea plant. It’s actually responsible for some of the savoury notes in green tea and is a common relaxant, often mixed with other natural supplements to induce feelings of calm and relaxation.


Also known as a nootropic — a cognitive enhancing drug (and 100% legal, in this case) — theanine can help improve cognitive function. However, it’s most significant benefit is its ability to reduce mental fatigue and stress in humans.


L-theanine affects the brain in a number of ways. It is known to amplify alpha brain waves, allowing for a type of calm alertness and even heightened creativity.

(If it makes you feel better, here’s roughly the same explanation from a clinical journal.)

Even if you aren’t quite ready for nootropics, Noah has been swearing by the coffee nap for years. “Here's the trick of the coffee nap: sleeping naturally clears adenosine from the brain. If you nap for longer than 15 or 20 minutes, your brain is more likely to enter deeper stages of sleep that take some time to recover from. But shorter naps generally don't lead to this so-called "sleep inertia" — and it takes around 20 minutes for the caffeine to get through your gastrointestinal tract and bloodstream anyway.”

I suspect we will see daily routines continue to move this direction as we learn more about the science of our food and brains and especially as personalized nutrition moves from theory to reality. Until then if I look focused at 3:30pm, you’ll know why. (CJN)

Ad of the Day:

British Airways are no longer offering the FT on flights. (NRB) (Great… another reason for me not to fly BA. Also I do love some shade from my beloved pink paper - CJN)

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Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)