There's nothing like the gurgle of a fresh pot of coffee first thing in the morning. The promise of an entire day of energy and good vibes seem to rest in that little cup. In the words of my queen Lorelai Gilmore, "I stop drinking the coffee, I stop doing the standing, walking, and words putting into sentence doing." Even the smell of coffee alone feels like it pushes your brain into productive mode. But can the smell of coffee actually wake you up? Sadly, maybe not. Setting a timer for your coffeemaker to spring you out of bed in the morning could be enough to wake up your body, according to a new study, but the findings are, well, complicated.
The study, published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, set out to discover what happens when you smell coffee rather than drink it, and whether the scent alone can affect your productivity. The researchers tested their theory on a group of people who arguably need coffee the most: students taking an exam. The researchers found that the students who were taking their exams in a room that smelled like coffee performed significantly better than students completing the same exam, but in a room that didn't smell like coffee. But before you brew yourself another batch and waft it all in sans sip, there’s a catch.
After discovering these differences in performance, the researchers conducted a survey of 200 totally different students, their goal being to find out if people simply assume that certain scents, such as coffee, will influence their performance and productivity — and in fact, that's exactly what was going on.
According to the survey's results, many people believe the mere scent of coffee can improve the way they work.
Given those findings, the study's authors concluded that it's pretty likely that a placebo effect skewed the results in the first phase of their study. Adriana Madzharov, a lead researcher on the study and a professor at The School of Business at Stevens Institute of Technology, said in a press release,
It's not just that the coffee-like scent helped people perform better on analytical tasks, which was already interesting. But they also thought they would do better, and we demonstrated that this expectation was at least partly responsible for their improved performance.
Ugh. I don't know whether to be annoyed at coffee for letting me down like this, or at my own brain for tricking me. Luckily, though, if you're trying to wean yourself off of coffee, but are still looking for something that can provide the same jolt of energy for you in the morning, there are so many delicious, effective alternatives out there that you can try.
If one of the reasons why you love coffee so much is because it really gets things moving in your tummy first thing in the morning (if you know what I mean), roasted chicory root could be a great swap for you to make. Ground and made just like coffee beans are, roasted chicory root is high in inulin, a dietary fiber found in plants that's been shown to help you poop. Plus, it tastes earthy enough that drinking it hot might help you convince yourself that it's the good stuff you've been drinking your whole life up until now — lots of French vanilla creamer will help, too.
Black and green teas can also give you the caffeine kick you're craving without rudely tricking your brain like coffee does. Since chicory root can be a little hard to find sometimes, the next best thing may be the caffeine concentration in black tea, which has about a third of the caffeine per cup that coffee does. If it's just too hot for something cold in the a.m., though, kombucha is a great way to drink cold, bubbly black tea and nourish your body at the same time.
Licorice root tea is another alternative to consider, though it's a bit of an anomaly, as it is both caffeine-free and a natural energy-enhancer. “Licorice is an adrenal tonic and increases energy. It adds a pleasant taste to tea blends and can also be taken in tincture form,” Dr. Linda White and Steven Foster, authors of the book The Herbal Drugstore, told Shape. Plus, if you're a black licorice fan, this bev will basically taste like candy to you.
Personally, I don't mind a placebo effect with my coffee, as long as it accomplishes the monumental task of making me feel more awake in the morning. But whether you stick with coffee until the end or swap to something else, that's the new tea about coffee.