Caffeine is a staple in most people’s routine, whether it be a French press in the morning to wake up, an Earl grey tea while reading on a Saturday, or channeling your inner Italian with an espresso to beat a post-dinner food coma. There’s an appropriate caffeinated libation for every situation and while there’s no rule book to follow, choosing coffee over tea or vice versa can equal a more productive day in the long run. And contrary to belief, it doesn’t involve throwing back coffee after coffee until you get the caffeine jitters.
Before you grab your next cup of coffee, think about the layout of your day and what needs to be accomplished. Heirloom Brewshop, Raleigh’s most beautiful coffee, tea and sake shop, is my personal choice for heavy writing days. I teeter back and forth between coffee and tea depending on my mood or what kind of work I'm focusing on: interviews, transcribing, writing, invoicing, etc. There’s a different caffeine recipe for each scenario. Heirloom owners Chuan Tsay and Anna Phommavong taught me the ins and outs of coffee and tea, helping me through ridiculously early mornings and sluggish afternoons.
Here, Tsay gives helpful tips and tricks on what to drink and when — starting with the obligatory morning cup of coffee.
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Create a Morning Ritual
Tsay and Phommavong are all about black coffee or pure tea to jumpstart mornings — and not just sucking it down, but truly enjoying each sip. Taking a few moments to appreciate something, even if small, like the origins of coffee beans in your cup of coffee, will start the day off on a positive note. “I think there's something romantic and idyllic about these morning rituals and we wanted to capture those things with Heirloom,” says Tsay. “I start every morning with 380 grams of pour over — hand ground when possible — in a travel mug so I can enjoy it while I walk around Raleigh.”
(For the record, if seeking the most power-packing morning beverage, cold brew is where it’s at.)
A typical day for Tsay can start anywhere from 6 a.m. and run until 2 a.m., depending on the workload. “If I've had my coffee in the morning I'll gravitate towards teas after lunch or in the late afternoon,” notes Tsay. “The energy, physical boost and mental focus from fresh teas is unbeatable and easy to moderate.” Keeping energy and focus optimized is key and this doesn’t always mean drinking coffee nonstop. Reach for teas on the greener spectrum. “I love the oolongs and genmaicha (a green tea) that we carry in the shop,” he notes, which are very pure and arrive fresh from Taiwan and Japan.
Caffeine and Savory Food Pairings
We all know that wine and food go hand in hand, but don’t dismiss coffee and tea when it comes to delicious food pairings. Tsay enjoys Heirloom’s popular brown sugar five spice cookies alongside a black coffee, and also pairing coffee with different rice dishes. “Oddly enough there's something special about pairing a hot, savory, spicy dish with a hot coffee,” he adds. “I was doing our Kurobuta pork belly with chili oil and coffee for a bit — but a hot genmaicha tea and the Taiwanese fried chicken sando are my new addiction.” Have fun and explore the world of savory food pairings and caffeinated beverages. Cheese and tea are a surprising (and alcohol-free) alternative to the common wine and cheese pairings.
Espresso isn’t as intense as people think it is. Truth be told, it contains less caffeine than a single cup of coffee, hence why the Italians religiously throw a shot or two back after meals without fear of harming sleep patterns. In Tsay’s world, pairing espresso with steamed milk is a “comforting treat before going into the evening.” Heirloom’s Brown Sugar Five Spice, a latte chock full of spices, is a tried and true beverage that will evoke the senses after a meal. “I think it really encapsulates heritage, harmony, and taking [spices] traditionally used for savory dishes but bridging that into a coffee beverage.”
What to Sip During Bedtime Reading
Tea is the obvious solution here, as Tsay relays coffee consumption is minimal the later it gets. “I find tea to be so comforting, even with teas that contain a bit of caffeine — the soothing nature of fresh teas really helps to calm my mind, send me to a place of warmth, and remind me that everything's okay and tomorrow's a new day,” he adds. A beautiful tea and a good read are the perfect pairing to wind down with. “Drinking tea also helps to keep me hydrated and stops me from snacking too much.”
Slow Coffee on the Weekends
“If I ever have time on a weekend when I can just relax, I love the process of a vacuum pot,” says Tsay. “These can sometimes be finicky to dial in and brew on, but the process is wonderful.” Drinking outside, he adds, is an extra added bonus to weekends. “Enjoying something natural in the elements and fresh air can really elevate the senses.”
How to Travel and Caffeinate Like A Champ
The witching hour, better known as waking up in the middle of the night to catch a way too early 7 a.m. departure flight, is a fine line of wanting to be awake but wanting to stay asleep. If it’s an easy, breezy domestic flight you’re familiar with, Tsay notes to stick to the usual caffeine routine. “If I've got a hectic flight schedule or an overseas trip I'll honestly skip any caffeine whatsoever to avoid any unknowns, restlessness, or excessive use of the restroom,” he adds.
Plus, sleeping to to adjust to the destination’s time zone will prove to be much easier. Flying to a new or interesting city or town also opens up the window to explore cafe culture. “The first thing I'll do after landing is seek out a new cafe or an old favorite if I have one,” Tsay says. “High quality matchas can provide a great, clean energy and are pretty agreeable with long travel itineraries — anything but airplane coffee for me (sorry!).”