In our current day society, we mostly get our energy and kick from drinks with a high
caffeine component: coffee and energy drinks like Red Bull.
Some people are dependent on it and believe they can’t go without it. I remember the lines at the coffee machine in our college breaks at university very well. “I need to have a coffee to get through this next hour” was a commonly heard phrase. In those days I didn’t start drinking coffee yet, seeing everybody’s addictive behavior made me hesitant to even start.
In those days I didn’t start drinking coffee yet, seeing everybody’s addictive behavior made me hesitant to even start.
My first cup of coffee was from a local coffee roastery in the North of Thailand, made with beans from that region. The flavor was amazing and I started to appreciate coffee for what it can be other than just an energy boost. From that point on I was open to enjoy a cup of carefully roasted and brewed coffee.
Then cacao entered my life. I started roasting cacao beans and crafting chocolate and was curious to learn about all the pure and versatile flavors.
Like a good espresso, the flavors and richness of the 100% cacao drink amazed me. And I could really start to distinguish the different effects both cacao and coffee had on me.
I noticed coffee often gave me a very quick and high peak of focus, but also a “jumpy”, distracted energy. Where cacao was like a grounded, straightforward motor that would keep me in alignment and focused.
Cacao was like a grounded, straightforward motor that would keep me in alignment and focused.
With both feet on the ground, I had energy to make me move in the direction I wanted. Wow!
So, both give energy but in such a different way! How does that work?
The difference between caffeine and theobromine
Coffee's main stimulant is caffeine. Cacao does contain a little caffeine, yet relatively small amounts of it. The main stimulant in cacao is theobromine, a component that coffee does not have.
Caffeine blocks certain receptors in your brain that prevent you from feeling sleepy. Actually, caffeine competes with a molecule that promotes sleepiness. (1). One person is more vulnerable to this than another, depending on their genetics.
Theobromine does the same yet, its psychoactive actions have been proven differently. Basically, it also promotes wakefulness and alertness, without the known side effects of caffeine. It has not been scientifically figured out why exactly, but it probably has to do with the difference of half-life (how long it takes to break down) of the two molecules, and the combination with other substances that cacao has and coffee does not (2).
Additionally, theobromine shows much more effects on the body that are not linked to just the blocking of the above mentioned receptors.
Examples are: cough-reduction, lowering blood pressure, anti-inflammatory properties, increasing HDL cholesterol plasma levels (3) and reduction of cellular oxidative stress (4). It is very possible that these mechanisms help to level out the negative side effects that only caffeine has on the body.
I believe that as with all (healing plants); we should look at it from a holistic point of view and not just the singular properties. The above findings show the same. Cacao has such versatile effects on the body for different reasons, and these reasons interfere with each other as well. This makes it very complicated to do scientific research and the results
However, it is super interesting to dive into it and zoom out
to see the bigger picture. Everything is connected. Wondering how the coffee-depended students are going to feel if they would replace their
coffee with cacao as a stimulant! Would be really cool to study that! To be continued….
- by Malou, Wild Child Cacao
Want to know more about the active components in cacao read more here: