Ayurveda teaches that everything is right for someone and nothing is right for everyone. Rather than being a one-size-fits-all system, Ayurveda provides the means for understanding the nature or constitution of the individual. From there, an assessment is made as to which foods, herbs, and other practices are balancing for the individual, taking into account the inherent constitution as well as any imbalances. When it comes to Ayurveda and coffee, in general, Ayurveda recommends alternatives to coffee as the tasty, bitter bean is considered strongly stimulating and even agitating to the nervous system. Let’s take a closer look at Ayurveda and coffee!
Know Your Nervous System
As I mentioned earlier, Ayurveda is an individualized system. It is not one-size-fits-all. Therefore, how one individual reacts to coffee and caffeine may be markedly different than how another individual responds. For instance, we probably all have someone in our lives who can drink a cup of coffee—or sip on an after-dinner espresso—and sleep like a baby. And then, there are those who have 1/4 cup of coffee and feel shaky and jittery.
Why? The simple answer is a difference in prakruti and vikruti (inherent constitution and present condition). Those with a predominant Vata constitution tend to have a more sensitive nervous system. These types may also be prone to anxiety and trouble with sleep. Therefore, in general, Vata types are cautioned to be especially mindful when it comes to ingesting coffee and caffeine.
Similarly, those with a predominant Pitta dosha may not react well to coffee. These fiery types can be prone to anger and impatience and coffee will oftentimes only amplify those undesirable traits. On the other hand, Kapha types tend to have a slower, less reactive physiology. Therefore, of the three doshas, they typically tolerate coffee the best.
Ayurveda and Coffee Alternatives
Ayurveda does not generally take a favorable view on coffee. Dr. Lad teaches that coffee is stimulating and ultimately depressing (1). Therefore, most Ayurvedic practitioners will typically advise patients and clients who are coffee drinkers to reduce their intake and to gradually move toward alternatives. This is particularly true for individuals who are prone to anxiety, insomnia, and nervous tension. What are some alternatives to coffee? Here are a couple ideas:
Chai, traditional or tulsi chai: Though black tea contains caffeine, one cup of black tea typically contains about half as much caffeine as a cup of coffee. However, those who are sensitive to caffeine may even find that black tea is overly stimulating. In that case, tulsi chai—chai made with tulsi leaves instead of black tea leaves—is a good option.
Grain and Herbal Coffees
Grain or herbal coffees: Though they won’t give you caffeine boost, grain coffees or herbal coffees are tasty and provide an earthy, bitter flavor that is similar to coffee. You can purchase store-bought coffee substitutes such as those made from chicory or dandelion root. Also, many of these coffee alternatives also have a nice effect on the liver, as both chicory and dandelion root support the detoxification process of the liver.
Have you heard of Chyawanprash? Chyawanprash is a polyherbal superfood jam for health and wellness. Since Chyawanprash contains adaptogens – botanicals that help your body adapt to stress and provide stable energy – you can experience a gentle pick me up in the morning without side effects. Consume one to two teaspoons of Chyawanprash off the spoon or melted in warm water as tea.
Other Ideas For Smoothing out the Coffee Spike
If you do wish to continue drinking coffee, Ayurveda teaches that taking cardamom with your coffee will help mitigate some of its harmful effects. Also, you can add a spoonful of ghruta ghee to your coffee—the fat content works to smooth out the caffeine release and energy spikes that come with drinking coffee.
These are just a few ideas…the main thing is to get to know your body and your nervous system and what works best for you!
(1) Lad, V. & Lad, U. Ayurvedic Cooking for Self-Healing (2nd ed.). The Ayurvedic Press.
Greta Kent-Stoll is a Certified Ayurvedic Practitioner (NAMA), as well as a writer, editor, and Certified Iyengar Yoga Teacher. She is the co-owner of Iyengar Yoga Asheville.