The Controversial Tea That Trumps Coffee

A tiny fungus could give you the energy you need—without the comedown

The Controversial Tea That Trumps Coffee
A cup of cordyceps (chong cao) tea. (Shutterstock)

Coffee has become a morning ritual for approximately 80 percent of people in North America. There is virtually no other food or beverage that continues to sustain such popularity. Without their morning java, many people struggle to get their brain and body going for the day.

However, like any drug (caffeine is psychoactive), coffee has its drawbacks. Most people try to ignore these due to their blind love for this invigorating beverage. Some of these drawbacks include:
  • Caffeine jitters and crash—like any drug, the withdrawal symptoms can be painful, which encourages you to continue consuming the beverage.
  • Poor sleep quality—the forced stimulation of your hormonal system artificially overrides your natural circadian rhythm, causing sleeplessness at night.
  • Adrenal fatigue—prolonged use of caffeine can lead to hormonal imbalance and can cause more serious issues like prostate and breast cancer.
  • Kidney and bladder problems—caffeine has diuretic effects that can put stress on the urinary system.
  • Triggering of stress hormones—increased stress makes muscles tense, elevates blood sugar, speeds up pulse and respiration rates, and increases your state of panic and alertness.
  • Depletes the body of B-vitamins.
  • Prevents iron absorption (can contribute to anemia).
Ironically, coffee doesn’t add energy to the body like most people think it does. It actually burns up your energy reserves at a faster pace, which means you get a short term boost for long-term jitters and fatigue, which is usually combatted by drinking more coffee or looking for other energy enhancers. To understand the adrenal impact of coffee, consider the following analogy by Stephen Cherniske, author of "Caffeine Blues":

“Imagine you lived in a country that was always under threat of attack. No matter where you went, there was a perpetual state of alert. Not only that, but your defenses were constantly being depleted and weakened. Does that sound stressful? Caffeine produces the same effect on your body, like fighting a war on multiple fronts at the same time.”

Cherniske calls this state of constant physiological alert “caffeinism,” which is characterized by fatigue, anxiety, mood swings, sleep disturbance, irritability, and depression. Of course, as long as you keep taking the drug or upping the dosage, the true effects aren’t felt until a serious health issue crops up. And rarely does that issue seem connected to the common habits which cultivate the issue, like coffee.

Fortunately, there are ways to enhance your energy each day, without any of the drawbacks of coffee or any other caffeinated beverage. Although there are a few suitable substitutes, one of the most recently revered teas for energy and stamina, is one created from cordyceps.

Get Functional With Fungus

Dried cordyceps militaris mushroom. ( bedo/iStock)
Dried cordyceps militaris mushroom. ( bedo/iStock)
Cordyceps is a fungus that has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. The focus is now on two of the 400 species: Cordyceps sinensis and Cordyceps militaris. The former is a genus of parasitic fungi that grows on the larvae of insects, and the latter is from the fruiting bodies of medicinal mushrooms. Regardless of which one you choose, they both have been adorned with health qualities that make them well worth considering. Some of the noted capabilities cordyceps are said to possess include the following:
  • Increased energy and endurance
  • Promotes a healthy aging process
  • Helps fight inflammation
  • Supports healthy kidney function
  • Supports healthy adrenal function
  • Supports healthy blood sugar levels
  • Improves memory and cognitive function
One of the biggest controversies around cordyceps comes from long distance female runners from China who smashed records in the 1993 Olympics in the 1500 m, 3000 m events by a full two seconds, and 10,000 m event by 42 seconds. Their coach attributed their success to a diet that included cordyceps, suggesting that it improved exercise capacity in these Olympic athletes through its antioxidant effects. This certainly raised the ire of other athletes and doping officials, who couldn’t fathom that cordyceps alone could have been largely responsible for their remarkable results.

Cordyceps will not impart the same flavor as coffee. This fungus has a fairly neutral flavor which means it can be easily made into a delicious beverage. If you like a latte, add some coconut milk and coconut oil to the tea and blend gently to add a frothy and creamy texture. If you like a little sweetener, coconut sugar will do perfectly. Regardless of how you make it, it helps provide the same desired benefits of coffee—energy and brain stimulation—without the side effects.

That alone makes it worth looking further into.

Derek Henry is a holistic health coach. This article was originally published on