Anxiety can manifest in many ways, from being irritable to having difficulty concentrating or sleeping. And, of course, there is the barrage of worrying, like your brain is on an endless loop of anxiety — about everything. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the prevalence of anxiety and depression increased worldwide by 25% in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic alone. In a way, it’s comforting to know I’m not the only one who’s been feeling more anxious than usual. So I’ve been on a mission to reduce my anxiety — including through meditation, therapy, and (gasp!) replacing coffee with MUD/WTR (more on that later).
Now, I love my morning cup(s), but I’ve long heard that coffee (or caffeine in general) can increase anxiety — plus, there’s the jitters that can come with it, and the crash afterwards when too much time goes by without it. It’s an endless cycle that I had to stop.
So, a few months ago, I decided to replace my java with MUD\WTR, a coffee alternative that features masala chai, which has way less caffeine. The buzzy brand states that its product contains 1/7 the amount of caffeine of regular coffee, but I suppose this is subjective based on what brand of coffee you drink, how strong you make it, and so on. (Some coffee drinks can have upwards of 500 mg of caffeine, which is a lot.)
Naria Le Mire, dietitian and nutrition coach explains that effects from caffeine intake can largely be based on the dose. “Let's start from the beginning: Caffeine intake affects our central nervous system, which can impact hormones, such as adrenaline,” she says. “Furthermore, caffeine also affects our cardiovascular system — such effects may result in symptoms of anxiety.” However, Le Mire notes that research shows the effects of caffeine on the human body is dependent on various factors, including health status, portion, and the frequency of caffeine intake. “Reducing caffeine may benefit an individual, especially for those who may already have anxiety,” she explains.
Dr. Raghu Kiran Appasani, advisor to MUD\WTR, seconds this notion. “Caffeine is currently the world's most commonly used drug and is classified as a stimulant,” he tells TZR in an email. “Those already predisposed, or dealing with increased anxiety, panic disorder, or performance social anxiety disorder seem to be particularly sensitive to the anxiogenic effects of caffeine and can be at higher risk for worsening symptoms.”
Le Mire says that reducing caffeine “can also help improve sleep patterns (with can cause hormonal changes and result in undesirable weight changes), reduce one's daily caloric intake (think about how many calories are in a Frappuccino), and even help improve the body's ability to absorb nutrients from food.” The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 states that you should not consume more than 400 mg per day of caffeine. But, of course, your caffeine threshold may differ from someone else’s — one cup of coffee could give you the jitters; meanwhile, your coworker is on their fourth cup and doing just fine. “As usual, all in moderation — and listening to your body is vital,” says Le Mire. “If you notice a change, such as an increased heart rate, headaches, or any discomfort, it can be your body's way of telling you that something is wrong. So listen!” Appasani seconds that. “Too much of anything can be bad for you,” he says. “If you notice the symptoms of anxiety, sleep disturbances, mood changes, negative impact on relationships/work and social functioning, or other physical symptoms (stomach/GI issues), it might be time to assess your consumption.”
How Does MUD\WTR Work?
Now, back to MUD\WTR. The caffeine content in this supplement is not coffee caffeine. Yep, caffeine from tea is different. It binds with an amino acid called L-theanine — instead of those short energy bursts you might get from coffee, it’s more drawn-out. So, while you may feel a crash from coffee, this doesn’t tend to be the case with tea. When taking MUD\WTR, you simply add a tablespoon of the powder to some hot water (or even room temperature, as I often do) and froth it up (their starter kit — more on that below — comes with a free frother). Yes, it sort of looks like actual mud (only lighter) — but, rest assured, it does not taste like it. Plus, you can add milk (or a plant–based one) or half-and-half, and agave or coconut sugar to liven it up if you’d like.
Appasani says that because caffeine is a drug, just like with many other drugs, it can become reinforcing and has addictive potential. “Decreasing caffeine consumption allows your body to set itself into a healthy homeostasis, or a ‘flow state,’ in which it can regulate mood, attention, and sleep from intrinsic hormones and chemicals inside of us,” he explains. “There are some benefits to caffeine at small doses, such as the dose included in MUD\WTR chai. You get the positive benefits of caffeine, but also help to balance out your mood, stress, anxiety, and concentration due to a unique balance of naturally occurring mushrooms.”
As Appasani mentioned, MUD\WTR contains a lot of other good-for-you ingredients, like various adaptogenic mushrooms, including chaga, reishi, and lion's mane. The flavors from turmeric and cinnamon also make MUD/WTR more tasty than the average cup of black coffee. And these adaptogens work by inducing alertness while reducing stress — and the aforementioned anxiety. Appasani says it all comes down to being in tune with your body and knowing when a substance becomes too much. “As you go on your journey of decreasing caffeine intake, I recommend you journal and keep track of your mood, stress level, and sleeping patterns,” he says. “You will quickly notice the direct impact of such changes on your overall well-being.”
How MUD\WTR Was Born
Shane Heath, the founder of MUD\WTR (pictured above), tells TZR that he liked coffee — everything from the smell and taste to the ritual. “But, afterwards, I’d have an anxious peak of alertness, followed by a jittery, unproductive crash,” he says. “It would also mess up my sleep and leave me feeling groggy the next day.” As more of his friends started to quit (or minimize) drinking the stuff, he thought there had to be a better alternative out there. “So I dropped the coffee and set out to create a new one,” he says. His goal was for it to also support mental clarity, physical performance, and immunity — all while tasting good, too.
However, his journey to creating MUD\WTR also became a journey of self-discovery: He started meditating, doing breathwork, journaling, traveling, and tried some Ayurvedic diets (which focus on balancing different kinds of energy in your body). He also became a fan of podcasts and became inspired by Paul Stamets, a mycologist (someone who works with fungi), medical researcher, and author. So Heath decided to combine adaptogenic mushrooms and spices into a new type of “coffee.” “I jokingly called it ‘mud,’” he says. And, soon, he noticed its benefits, from improving his mood to his sleep. Now, a few months into my own MUD\WTR experiment, I can agree that it’s helped me feel a lot better — and has decreased my anxiety, too.
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- Price: $60 (for single purchase); $40 (starter kit & subscription price)
- Best for: Those who want to avoid the jitters and crashes from traditional caffeine sources, like coffee, yet also want improved focus and sleep.
- Rating: 5/5
- What we like: Easy to make as a coffee alternative, and it can also be added to smoothies, cookies, you name it.
- What we don’t like: The grainy/earthy texture takes some getting used to. (But when you buy something called “mud,” it’s expected that it may have a mud texture.)
How I Used It — & The Results
Initially, I expected to try MUD\WTR for a week or two, maybe a month. And when I first opened it and saw its grainy, mud-like texture, I thought, “I’ll give it a day.” But looks can be deceiving! That first cup led to another … and another … and another. Now, three months in, it feels like I’ve been drinking it forever — only, I’m a lot less anxious than my old self.
In fact, I found an old email I sent MUD\WTR’s PR reps after trying it. March 21, 2022: “Just had my first cup of MUD\WTR with some almond milk — yum! (Trying to get off coffee for a while, starting today, so great timing!) Thank you!” Since then, I switch things up (depending on the day) and sometimes use coconut milk or half and half. Although you don’t have to add a sweetener, I do prefer it with some agave or coconut sugar. (MUD\WTR also sells a powdered coconut creamer, which is plant-based and sugar and gluten-free, as well as coconut palm sugar.)
At first, I liked it so much, I couldn’t stop drinking it. (I even emailed the company and asked if there was such a thing as too much MUD\WTR!). I also realized that if I’m reducing caffeine, I can’t drink endless cups of a coffee alternative, because then they may equate to a regular cup of coffee, caffeine-wise. So, these days, I try to limit my MUD\WTR to one to three cups a day. (Even three cups equals less than an average cup of coffee, caffeine-wise.) And I know when people usually stop drinking coffee, they wean themselves off of it or start combining it with decaf until they stop it altogether. But since I’m more of a cold turkey type of person, I did no weaning and just made the switch to MUD/WTR. Surprisingly, I never got a caffeine withdrawal headache. I was amazed.
As Heath said, he wanted to maintain his coffee ritual when he created MUD\WTR, so I, too, keep that in mind each morning when I have my first cup. It’s become a pivotal part of my morning ritual. As I sip that first cup, before diving into my remote writing work (like crafting this piece), I spend about 30 minutes prepping for the day, which includes listening to a guided meditation (I like Liza Colpa’s “Manifesting a Positive Day” on Insight Timer) and doing Tony Robbins’ priming exercise. (And not looking at my phone, like social media or emails, is key!) I then have another cup or two, spaced out during the workday. In these past three months, in addition to feeling less anxious at the littlest thing, I feel more cool, calm, and collected — as well as more focused. And falling asleep is easier than ever. (I had a long on-again/off-again relationship with insomnia before meeting MUD\WTR.)
The downside? I went through the 30-day-serving tin in much less than a month and suddenly ran out. And when you order MUD\WTR through their site, it takes a while to arrive unless you want to pay expedited shipping ($15). So the $40 tin quickly becomes $55, whereas you can get it overnight via Amazon for $50 (though I’d prefer to give MUD\WTR the business directly). And, with their subscription service, you can only get one tin a month. So if you drink at least two cups of MUD\WTR a day, you’ll need at least two 30-serving tins.
When you think about how the average cup of coffee at Starbucks is around $5 (give or take) — my medium-sized Americano used to be nearly $4 here in L.A. — drinking MUD\WTR is much more cost-effective. (And better for your overall health.) So 30 servings of MUD\WTR for $40? I’ll take it!