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Nootropics: The Discovery of Caffeine, Its Proliferation in Society, Better Alternatives, and the World's Longest Title

Nootropics: The Discovery of Caffeine, Its Proliferation in Society, Better Alternatives, and the World's Longest Title


We all like the tropics. Sandy beaches, swaying palm trees, brightly-colored cocktails, out-of-office emails, and – wait a minute... I think we're talking about a different kind of tropics. 

We're talking about nootropics. What, you ask, are nootropics? They are defined as: “(of a drug) used to enhance memory or other cognitive functions.” Hmmm. Drug? How peculiar. 

That's right. The cup of coffee in front of you is classified as a drug, since the caffeine in it  stimulates the central nervous system. In fact, caffeine is the world's most consumed drug, legal or otherwise. But how did we get to this point, obsessively and almost neurotically consuming coffee for mental enhancement? Let's take a trip down memory lane. 

Imagine that you're a goat herder in Ethiopia hundreds of years ago. You know the land around you, and you know your herd of goats even better. Daily life is more or less the same. You wake up, you move your goats around, you eat, you go to sleep, you repeat.

One day, it's 2:00am and your normally sleepy goats are active. More than that, they're wild. Jumping around, prancing, bleating, playing. You wake up dazed and confused and wonder, “What the fuck are my goats doing?”

You do a little bit of investigating and find out that your goats had eaten a nearby plant that you've never seen before. This plant, it seems, is giving your goats tons of energy. 

I know what I'm thinking if that were me: “Hey goat, let me hit that shit.” 

According to legend, that's exactly what this shepherd did. He gathered a bit of this magical plant, tinkered with it for a while, and coffee was born. And of course, there are several other fun legends, including one that originates in Yemen. 

Fast forward a little bit, and the Muslim Empire comes knocking on your door. They ask, “Give us some cool shit –  like gold or slaves or women or horses. If not, we'll take it, violently.” You notice the scary soldiers with big swords and sharp spears and think, “Better give them something.” So you hand over some of this liquid elixir and guarantee that they'll love it. 

The Muslim traders and conquerors think, “This is kind of a weak-ass gift, but whatever,” and they take the coffee back to the center of their empire. They soon realize how awesome it is and introduce it far and wide. Suddenly, coffee is all the rage. 

Some say that the introduction of coffee to the Middle East had a positive impact on society and helped usher in the Muslim Golden Age. Sure, conquering and incorporating people across the known world had a big impact, giving the empire access to history, literature, innovations, and thinkers in Persia, Greece, Egypt, Rome, and more. But it's easy to see how caffeine consumption might have played a role in the great advancements made in mathematics, science, astronomy, and philosophy. Anyone who has stayed up late at college while writing a paper on the differences between 17th Century French and British philosophy can attest to the powers of caffeine. 

While daily life in western Europe was tethered to the rising and setting of the sun, great minds in the Muslim Empire could burn midnight oil, so to speak, by consuming tons of caffeine, in the form of coffee. 

Fast forward some more, and the Muslim army is at the doorstep of western Europe. I mean, literally at the gates of Vienna during one of the great sieges in history. Presumably, the Muslim army made it this far because they were hopped up on caffeine. 

Vienna was destined to collapse, providing the Muslim army an ideal launchpad to conquer the rest of Europe. But at the 11th hour, after decades of inaction and infighting, the Europeans mustered a relatively small coalition and, thanks to the famous Last Hoorah of the Winged Hussars – the largest known cavalry charge in history that later inspired J.R.R. Tolkien (thanks Poland) – the Muslim army was repelled. In fact, they were utterly defeated and sent fleeing without a moment to pack up. 

The victorious Europeans decided to rummage through the Muslim encampment and discovered a strange, dark bean-like product. Just like that, coffee was introduced to Europeans. (The Polish diplomat Jerzy Kulczycki and his trusty Serbian servant Dorde Mihalović managed to escape the besieged Vienna in the dark of the night and warned other European leaders of the city's impending collapse. Much of the looted bounty in coffee was gifted to Jerzy by King Sobieski of Poland as a gesture of gratitude. I imagine that Jerzy received the giant pile of coffee and thought, “What the fuck do I do with this?” Well, also according to legend, Jerzy later opened the first café in Vienna and was immortalized with a statue in downtown Vienna. While the legend is likely untrue, the statue does, in fact, exist.) 

Fast forward even more to...Wisconsin? Yeah, Wisconsin. It's here that the modern coffee break allegedly originated, with the wives of Norwegian immigrants. I know, WTF? Well, the town of Stoughton still celebrates this today with the annual Stoughton Coffee Break Festival. 

The idea came from the fact that overburdened workers in the Industrial Revolution needed a short break in the day to gather themselves mentally and physically. Coffee producers capitalized on this need and proposed the idea of a coffee break, even coming up with the slogan “Give yourself a Coffee-Break – and get what coffee gives to you.” The coffee break was subsequently written into union contracts across the nation, becoming one of the major examples of nootropics being used to improve efficiency in the workforce. 

And this brings us to the crux of our story. The reason that companies acquiesced to these demands is simple: they noticed that their employees worked better, harder, and longer with the support of this caffeinated beverage. 

Caffeine (and in particular coffee) has since become the world's most popular drug – and beverage – of choice, including for Americans. It's an ideal stimulant/nootropic to help everyone from factory workers to police officers to teachers to graphic designers get through their day at maximum performance.  

So why the hell – you might be wondering – would we want to replace coffee with a coffee alternative? 

The truth is that, while there isn't very much inherently wrong or unhealthy with caffeine if consumed in moderation, there is something very wrong with caffeine's most popular delivery vehicle: coffee. 

We propose that there is a way to benefit from all the positive aspects of caffeine as a nootropic (the focus, the alertness, the energy) without risking any of the negatives (jitters, anxiety, sleep deprivation, heart palpitations, ulcers, bad breath). 

There are other products that have caffeine in them. Namely, chocolate and tea. But the amount of caffeine in each is too minimal to have a noticeable or lasting effect on our bodies and minds. There are also caffeine pills, but they deny us the satisfying warmth and savory flavor of a hot beverage, which is often what we look forward to as much as the caffeine itself. 

Enter Yerba Maté

Yerba Maté has been consumed by people in South America for centuries. From indigenous people, to rugged gauchos, to corporate fat-cats, to turn-of-the-century debutantes, to Lebanese immigrants. 

Yerba Maté contains less caffeine than coffee. But Yerba Maté has high concentrations of Theobromine. 

What, pray tell, is Theobromine? Glad you asked!

Theobromine is a bitter alkaloid found in many varieties of plants, including Yerba Maté. Much like caffeine, it provides energy and comes with a host of other potential benefits (including: improved cognitive function, healthy heart, reduced inflammation, stronger teeth, and more). 

But there's a very essential difference between theobromine and caffeine. 

Theobromine is not a central nervous system stimulant, and therefore doesn't make you feel jittery or on edge, and is also non-addictive. You can consume as much as you'd like without risking caffeine withdrawals down the road!

Also of great interest to us, the combination of theobromine and reduced caffeine in Yerba Maté means that it provides slowly-diffused and longer-lasting energy. Instead of the fast spike and hard crash caused by coffee, a healthy dose of Yerba Maté will ensure that you not only get your improved energy and focus, but it will last longer throughout the day and will dissipate more slowly. 

Caffeine is a truly wonderful nootropic. Something that can help you perform at your best mentally and physically throughout your chaotic work day, during extensive travel, before your finals, or at the gym. Our goal at Okana is to make sure that you get a jolt of energy and focus, but in the healthiest way possible. 

We invite you to quit coffee for a week and replace it with Okana. The controlled levels of caffeine – coupled with our powerful superfoods and adaptogens like Lion's Maine, Reishi, Ginger, and Ashwagandha – will undoubtedly improve your life. 

Quitting caffeine is tough. But quitting coffee – or at least  supplementing coffee – and replacing it with Okana is quite easy, and will likely do a lot of favors for your overall well-being. 

So take the Okana challenge for a week and see how you feel. We reckon that you'll be back for more. And we'll be happy to see you. 

Cheers.

By Nicholas Maffe
Thursday, July 22, 2021

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