The Ayurvedic Perspective on Coffee
People don’t just drink coffee, they have a relationship with coffee. It’s the partner they share their mornings with, the friend they meet on the weekends, and sometimes the lover they know isn’t right for them but just can’t seem to quit.
It’s because coffee can serve up more than a jolt of energy—it gives us ritual and comfort, whether it’s holding a warm mug with a book in the other hand, or simply knowing it’s there when you need it. But as with all things we consume, there are times when it can be the medicine we need and times when it acts more like poison.
This isn’t sounding the alarm for you to quit and never look back, rather a gentle nudge for you to learn the qualities of coffee, as well as when it’s okay for you to indulge and when it’s time for you to take a break.
The Qualities of Coffee
The most notable qualities are those you pick up with your first sip: bitterness and acidity. The rest show up after you’ve consumed it, which means you may not even realize what you’re experiencing is related to the coffee.
Coffee is heating (even cold brew!), astringent or drying, and has a mobile quality that’s present no matter if you’re choosing fully caffeinated, half-caf, or decaf. Considering this, a cup of coffee gives you a hefty dose of air and fire elements, and it will cause both vata and pitta to increase.
When, How, and For Whom Coffee Is Best
Coffee isn’t great for everyone at all times, but it can be okay for some people at specific times. This is assuming that the coffee is consumed consciously, with one’s dosha, state of health, and the current season taken into consideration. (Want to learn yours? Take the dosha quiz.)
The Spring Season and Kapha Dosha Get the Green Light
Kapha dosha? Lucky you. You’re the least likely to experience negative effects from coffee. In fact, the bitter and astringent qualities are balancing for you, and on most days, the buzz will help you feel more motivated.
For the rest of us, if we can hold out until spring, we too can consume coffee in a healthier way. As the spring season takes on the qualities of kapha, coffee becomes appropriate at this cool and damp time of year.
Add Cardamom to Your Coffee
We know cardamom from another warm drink: it’s a main ingredient in chai blends. As such, this spice will add a wonderful flavor to your coffee, but that’s not all. Cardamom is a vata anuloman, which means it redirects the energy and movement of vata or the vayus, specifically directing energy downward (apana vayu).
This allows for more of a grounding effect and will negate the anxious feelings that coffee otherwise brings. It also has a cooling energy, which helps to soothe coffee’s tendency to increase pitta in the body.
Add Fat to Your Coffee
Also known as “bulletproof coffee,” the practice of adding a form of healthy fat to your coffee has become popular in recent years as a way to give coffee a more nourishing and lubricating quality.
Adding a half teaspoon of ghee or coconut oil and blending it into your coffee will help to counter the dry and acidic effects of coffee, offering a blend that won’t take as big a toll on your nervous system or digestive well-being.
Avoid Coffee on an Empty Stomach
Every possible thing you don’t want to happen as a result of drinking coffee will be amplified if you have it on an empty stomach. If you tend to have anxious feelings, it’s like anxiousness in a cup. If you have an overheated, hyper-acidic digestive tract, it’s like putting acid directly on acid. Try either having food with your coffee or waiting until after you’ve had breakfast to enjoy your first cup.
Reduce or Avoid Coffee if You’re Pitta Predominant
For the fiery folks, or anyone experiencing an increase of pitta dosha, coffee shouldn’t be consumed with frequency. Its acidity can quickly cause heat to accumulate and increase the likelihood of things like redness, skin imbalances, anger, digestive discomfort, and other telltale signs of imbalanced pitta.
Reduce or Avoid Coffee if You’re Vata Predominant
Vata dosha is especially prone to air imbalances that can manifest as dryness, anxiousness, difficulty sleeping, and variable digestion. If your predominant dosha is vata, or if you are in a current state of vata imbalance, coffee’s bitter, astringent, and mobile qualities will only make you feel worse.
Ayurvedic Alternatives to Coffee
If you’re a die-hard coffee drinker, you know your rich, dark, beloved cup of coffee can’t truly be replaced. Meaning, the taste and feel are distinct, and though there are adequate substitutes, nothing is exactly the same.
But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t ways to get the effect you’re looking for when coffee should be reduced or avoided. Here are a few ways to ease away from coffee, while enjoying some similar perks.
Switch to an Herbal Coffee
Herbal coffee doesn’t contain actual coffee—it’s a combination of bitter herbs, like chicory root and carob, that mimics the taste. Though you can find versions with herbs that help to increase energy, herbal coffees are really about bringing you a coffee flavor in a non-acidic way. These are great options for pitta and kapha dosha, yet the bitterness may be too cooling for some vatas.
Opt for Black or Green Tea
If the mere thought of letting go of your coffee sends you into a caffeine withdrawal, try having tea instead. Black and green tea both contain less caffeine than coffee and are far less acidic, so you can have a hot cup of tea without it overheating your digestive system. Just keep in mind that tea is quite astringent, so if you’re looking to reduce dryness or to pacify vata, this isn’t your best option.
Recreate Your Ritual with Lemon Water or Herbal Tea
Sometimes it isn’t about the coffee at all, it’s about the ritual of slowing down and savoring a warm drink before you start your day. If that’s the case, let the ritual continue to anchor you, but choose to have warm lemon water or an herbal tea that is appropriate for your dosha and the season instead. Banyan’s line of CCF teas offers some delicious and healthy herbal options.
Take Triphala for Healthy Elimination
If it isn’t the ritual, the love of the taste, or the energy, it could be that you feel coffee keeps your bowel movements regular. Coffee has been known to stimulate elimination, but with so many secondary effects, it’s not the best to rely on for your morning bowel movement.
Triphala is a tridoshic, digestive herb that tones and rejuvenates the digestive tract, helping to support digestive health for each of the three doshas. Even though it is tridoshic and beneficial for most people, it’s best to consult with your Ayurvedic practitioner to see if it’s recommended for you.
We tend to reach for coffee when we are stressed, because it’s the time we’re most likely to feel run down and be searching for an external source of energy. In this situation, adaptogenic herbs that help your body adapt while under stress are the best alternative to coffee—especially when looking for something to help with fatigue.
Ashwagandha and shatavari are two examples of adaptogens that can greatly support your body’s natural energy reserves, but always check with your Ayurvedic practitioner to see what might be best for you.