If you’re new to nootropics, and you’re not sure where to start to sort through all the hype and find what’s effective, you’ll be glad you started here.
This post is about plain old caffeine and theanine, and believe it or not these two are some of the most underrated components of any nootropic stack or pick-me-up. Both of them are found naturally in tea, but you’d have to drink a few cups of the top notch stuff to get an effective amount.
Theanine and caffeine form the foundation of the Energy Stack I reviewed recently, and it’s also the basis of UpliftX capsules. Anyone who doesn’t want to get their hands dirty with all the reading and research or become a guinea pig like your humble author should just start with this stack. After you try it for yourself, you may not need any other nootropics.
Just read on to learn more about this one-of-a-kind powerhouse combo.
How do theanine and caffeine work as a nootropic?
Theanine, a natural component of tea, is known to increase brain levels of GABA, a calming neurotransmitter.1 There are modest amounts of it found in brewed green tea, possibly lending to tea’s tranquil yet stimulating reputation.
Caffeine, as many of us know, is found in your typical morning cup of joe. It’s stimulating and boosts mental alertness, but can cause anxiety and jitters in some.2
Combined, the two actually synergize3 to bring you a clean, calm and lucid focus that is unparalleled by any other mundane drug or energy drink combination.
Unlike caffeine on its own, the combo improves focus and doesn’t leave you dead tired in a hard crash afterward, or crippled by a panic attack. The GABA agonist action of theanine turns down the “gain” knob on the caffeine without compromising its desired effects.
I’d go so far as to say that it puts you in a state of “flow,” or puts you in “the zone” more consistently than anything else (save for a good night’s sleep.) Theanine boosts alpha brain waves4 which are associated with the “flow” state, perfect for learning or achieving just about anything that requires you to be at your best.
Where can I get caffeine + theanine?
Here are my recommended picks that I have used myself:
- If you like affordable bulk powders, just get caffeine anhydrous and L-theanine powder separately from Powder City.
- If you want capsules, check out the caffeine/theanine capsules they offer (~$5 for 30 caps, or ~$12 for 90).
- If you want capsules but you think Powder City’s 100 mg caffeine isn’t enough for you, check out UpliftX.
Why not just drink tea?
I’m a big fan of tea, but let’s look at the facts here: A cup of tea has about 30-90 mg of caffeine, which is a decent amount. As for theanine, depending on the quality of the tea leaves, a cup may have anywhere from 5 mg (cheap tea) to 45 mg per cup (shade-grown high quality stuff).
Sounds like tea is already a good source for the theanine + caffeine combo, right? Well, not quite.
For one, to guarantee that you get the psychoactive amounts of theanine that you need (a minimum 50 mg theanine) you need high-quality tea.
High-quality tea costs more money than cheap and common tea, making it more of a luxury than a staple. Second, brewing tea is a fairly involved process that takes time and energy.
Take it from me: I used to brew and drink at least a liter of green tea a day. In the process I got to drink a lot of water, but it wasn’t exactly saving me any time or money.
With caffeine + theanine, you save time and money, and you get the right dosages, giving the supplement a huge advantage over the source.
What are other people saying about the Theanine + Caffeine combo?
Theanine and caffeine are probably one of the most raved-about combination of substances, and for good reason. It’s even been dubbed “The People’s Stack” simply because theanine and caffeine are very inexpensive and extremely effective at what they do.
Just see what a couple of my fellow bloggers had to say about it:
- Frost, The Pill That Cures Approach Anxiety (see his site Thumotic)
I started taking Theanine for it’s Nootropic qualities. I had no idea it would have any effect on my ability to approach [women]. Then, walking home from work on Day 1 of my Theanine experiment, I realized I had zero social fear whatsoever.
- Matt Forney, Supercharge Your Brain With Suntheanine
The “People’s Stack” is probably the most famous nootropic stack out there, consisting of caffeine and l-theanine. L-theanine is a natural relaxant, making you calmer and better able to focus. By combining l-theanine with caffeine, you can harness the energy-boosting qualities of the latter without having to suffer its more deleterious side effects (jitteriness, nervousness, a debilitating crash later on).
- Robert (30 Days to X), Some drugs you should do
As a non-drinker I often use L-Theanine to get into a social mood. I started using in the spring after reading a great article about it. Roughly once a month, when I’m in a bad mood, I’ll take some Theanine before going out. It takes the stress off and I always end up having a great night.
[…]It was awesome. I felt energized yet tranquil. A sensation that allowed me to be alert and focus on tasks without constantly worrying about trivial things. After taking The People’s Stack I wrote a post, finished reading an incredibly boring book, made $36 dollars off Fiverr, and went for a brisk walk.
Each of these guys come from different walks of life, but all found that the theanine and/or the addition of caffeine was significantly helpful in some way.
My experience with caffeine and theanine
I’ve used the two substances on and off both together and separately for about 5 years. I’ve had theanine with energy drinks or coffee.
Over all these experiences combined, I find it does the following for me:
- Caffeine + theanine has no jittery effect, and lends a gentle focus or alertness only matched by a good night of sleep
- Theanine reduces feelings of stress or anxiety
- Theanine increases tolerance to stress
As I’ve explained before, the closest thing I’ve encountered to this combo is in green tea, and while I love green tea and its benefits, you’d have to drink at least 2 or 3 cups of decent tea to get the same effect as this stack.
On a few occasions I actually combined green tea with my caffeine + theanine and enjoyed the best of both worlds.
Because of the negative effects that caffeine has on me, I generally only enjoy it in small amounts or in tea. When I take theanine (100-200 mg) with a more highly-caffeinated beverage like coffee, the anxiety-inducing effects of caffeine diminish greatly.
I find this combo always picks me right back up whenever I feel my mind becoming fatigued. Because of this, I consider caffeine and theanine to be a mainstay in my personal arsenal of nootropics and supplements.
Whether you are new to nootropics or have ever considered a return to simpler and more tried-and-true “mind hacks,” the affordable and minimalist combination of theanine and caffeine is virtually unmatched. I’d go so far as to say that the combo is underhyped.
PubMed – The neuropharmacology of L-theanine(N-ethyl-L-glutamine): a possible neuroprotective and cognitive enhancing agent. ↩
PubMed – Effects of caffeine on human behavior. ↩
PubMed – The effects of L-theanine, caffeine and their combination on cognition and mood. ↩
PubMed – The effects of L-theanine on alpha-band oscillatory brain activity during a visuo-spatial attention task. ↩