Kicking Caffeine: Ceremonial Cacao as Coffee Alternative

Kicking Caffeine: Ceremonial Cacao as Coffee Alternative

Ah, the years-long battle to defeat coffee. Never had I made it more than one month off the brown stuff despite years of attempts. That month was magical. More energy, no sleepiness come lunchtime, and more often than not, an easy lull into slumber at bedtime. I made it through the headaches and the fogginess of the first week, and by the latter half of the month, I felt my body had adjusted. But, it was not to last. I missed the ritual of coffee. Tea has never particularly done it for me, and I longed for something robust and full-bodied each morning. The preparation, the first sip of something substantial. For a while, I cracked on. But eventually, I just cracked. And so it had gone for all of my other ill-fated attempts to slay the java dragon.

If you are person who suffers under any level of chronic stress, you probably have made similar decisions around your stimulant intake, at least for a time. Not to be too dramatic about it, but I sometimes viewed my relationship with coffee as that of a toxic partner—one that I knew was a large part of my anxiety cycle but I did not know how to cope without. The decaf version was  nice enough, but didn’t make my heart skip a beat (pun intended) like my caffeinated first love. Tea was like settling for the nice enough but thoroughly forgettable date your mom set you up with. I decided a morning without my coffee was a morning not worth being awake for, so the cycle continued.

But, as they say, true love comes when you aren’t looking. 


Love at first sip: Cacao over coffee


When I started working with Cacao Lab, I was hardly an acolyte of ceremonial Cacao. I love chocolate, of course, but I had rarely had drinking Cacao of this fashion outside of Latin America. In fact, my joining the company was based largely on conversations I had with the team surrounding the social impact goals we have. I found the Cacao delicious, but the product was, in my mind, a means to deliver sustainable market access to our farmers and partners in the developing world. As time has gone on and I have seen the impact our Cacao makes in the lives of many, many community members around the world, I have gained an equal respect for its power to change the lives of daily consumers. I now count myself as one of them.


For some, a Cacao ritual is a spiritual practice which helps them connect more deeply with themselves and others around them. For others, it is revered more as a dietary superfood. Increasingly, however, I see a cohort of people who appreciate it from another angle: it has helped them reduce or eliminate their coffee intake, while still maintaining an energy-giving morning ritual. This is precisely how I finally beat the coffee bean: without much resistance, withdrawal, or early-morning existential dread, I simply swapped my Americano for Cacao with a drop of maple syrup and walked away from my 18-year bad romance.


The science behind replacing coffee with Cacao


As I was making this change, I became interested in just how our Cacao could satisfy my craving where other substitutes had failed before. As I dove into the topic, I chronicled my findings in The Lab Report, Volume I and continued to unpack the nutrient action of Cacao in reports II and III. I began to understand that the theobromine in Cacao is of the same class of molecules as caffeine (methylxanthines), but acts as a weaker antagonist to the neural receptors that modulate our sleepiness (adenosine receptors). Meaning, it does not fully block these receptors as a high-caffeine beverage does, saving you from the jitters of an espresso, for instance. Furthermore, theobromine breaks down at a much slower rate than caffeine, decoupling from the receptors over a prolonged time period. This plays out physiologically as a jolt and crash for caffeine, but a gentler and more prolonged energy curve for theobromine. In my experience, this provided the wake-up boost I needed, but I never desired a coffee later in the day because I didn’t feel a crash coming on at any point; I simply coasted into lunch feeling buoyant and unencumbered by my usual mid-day lull.


Adopting a healthier morning ritual


This gentler energy curve was delightful enough on its own, but the real reward has come over the long term. My new ritual around Cacao feels a bit more effortful than breaking out the French press, but I find it to be a great way to ground me in the day. Where there were once check lists and to-do’s zooming around my head while waiting for my coffee to brew, I now concentrate on the process of preparing my Cacao and make an effort to sit with my cup and journal, rather than slamming a cup of coffee while checking emails. Along with some other lifestyle changes, my switch to Cacao has reduced my “background anxiety” considerably, allowing me to approach my daily tasks with calm and a bit of humor, rather than impatience.

While I must admit the smell of freshly brewed espresso still makes me a little weak, I know my new morning mug is better in every way. While happiness is the first thirty minutes after your morning coffee, true bliss is spending each day with the one that treats you right. And hey, there’s always coffee ice cream.



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