I drink a lot of espresso. Well, not a lot by some standards, but enough to feel as though finding an alternative to my twice-to-thrice daily coffee habit might be a smart thing to—do for some occasions, anyway.
Luckily, there are a ton of alternatives to coffee on the market: some are caffeinated, and some are not, although they can be just as energizing thanks to high contents of vitamins, minerals and health-promoting compounds.
Over the last two weeks, I’ve been researching, exploring and taste testing my way through homemade and café-made options in search of the perfect coffee substitute. To my surprise, I found some delicious new options to mix into my routine.
Looking to find a substitute for coffee or tea in your life? Try one of these. You won’t be disappointed.
Unmistakable, thanks to its intensely bright green color, matcha is made from ground, concentrated green tea leaves. Rather than steeped in water, it is whisked or blended in, creating a thicker liquid that carries more of the beneficial minerals and compounds from the original tea plant. It has been used in Japanese tea ceremonies for centuries and offers a plethora of health benefits. Matcha has been shown to help promote fat burning and inhibit cancer cell growth and it provides antioxidants called catechins to help the body combat damaging free radicals.
I love the deep, earthy flavor of matcha: it’s richer and more complex than green tea, but still with that grassy, savory, somehow still kind of sweet green tea flavor. Blend with coconut milk or almond milk for a luscious latte if you’re feeling fancy.
Moringa has a good reputation as a superfood, thanks to its killer combination of Vitamins A, C and E, calcium, potassium and even protein. Native to regions of Nepal, Pakistan and India, moringa is made from the ground leaves of the Moringa oleifera tree. It has been used in these cultures’ traditional medicinal practices to treat and prevent diseases like diabetes, arthritis, anemia and disorders of the respiratory, circulatory and digestive systems.
Moringa is caffeine-free: the boost you feel when drinking it comes from the high content of vitamins and minerals. It’s also anti-inflammatory and packed with antioxidants.
I tried a dried moringa powder stirred into hot water with lemon, a tiny bit of maple syrup and a pinch of cayenne pepper. It was delicious! The flavor is very light, herbal and a little earthy. It tasted like a relative of green tea.
A staple in Chinese medicine, these mushrooms have been exploding on the beverage scene as a more nutritious, energizing substitute for coffee. While you can buy dried reishi and steep them in boiling water for a simple homemade preparation, many companies now offer these mushrooms powdered and ready to steep in a tea bag or dissolve in hot water.
I tried Four Sigma’s Instant Reishi, which includes licorice root, mint, star anise and stevia, and was pleasantly surprised with how decidedly not-mushroomy it was. When brewed, it resembles a thick coffee, and the flavor is definitely earthy, almost like miso. (If you like beets for how ‘healthy’ they taste, we think you’ll appreciate the similar experience of drinking reishi tea.)
Reasons to drink it? Reishi is used in Chinese medicine to regulate hormones and help combat stress. It’s classified as an adaptogen, which means it helps the body fight off conditions and restore balance after an illness.
A traditional drink in South America, yerba mate is easy to find in cafes and on the shelves of grocery stores. Yerba mate contains almost as much caffeine as a cup of coffee. I found it had a buzzy kind of energizing effect: not jittery like drip coffee, but a little more ‘up’ than even espresso. I tried it before a workout (when I’d normally have coffee) and felt as focused, energized and able to push through as I would have felt if I’d had a latte.
Yerba mate has some beneficial health properties, too: it can help reduce high blood pressure, reduce cholesterol and help ward off certain types of cancer, Type II diabetes and regulate metabolic conditions. Like matcha, yerba mate is also high in antioxidants.
If you have a French press, you can easily make yerba mate–although a little untraditionally–by steeping the yerba leaves in hot water for about five minutes and filtering into a cup.
Often used as a digestive aid, licorice tea is a great substitute for coffee if you’re looking for a non-caffeinated, darkly-flavored hot drink. Sweet, spicy and complex in flavor, licorice tea is great after meals or when you need a bit of a pick-me-up: it energizes by helping to tonify the adrenal system, which responds to stress. We paired this with some gluten-free, sugar-free gingersnaps and it was a match made in heaven.
You’ve probably tried at least one of the versions of this uber-popular probiotic beverage. Truth be told, the last time I tried kombucha was in early 2014 and I vowed never to drink it again: it was gross. But, in service of this post, I rolled up my sleeves (and honestly, my upper lip) and tried again.
It must be said that there is real value in drinking kombucha: it’s packed with billions of tiny bacteria that help promote gut health, immunity, stable blood sugar and an even mood. Made in a similar fashion to vinegar, kombucha begins as a tea and is fermented using a culture of bacteria and yeast (a SCOBY, if you’re a kombucha aficionado). Different varieties include different types of tea, juice, sweetener and even tapioca-like pearls or chia. I tried both a pomegranate-infused and a plain version.
Its flavor has been described as sharp, sour, like vinegar, like apple cider, a little spicy, a little herbaceous… my vote is still for ‘gross’, but I completely appreciate the health benefits. When I need a little probiotic pick-me-up, I think I’ll just drink sauerkraut water instead.
Yes, I was that person. I ordered a wheatgrass shot at a juice bar and stood there–albeit somewhat self-consciously–and took a shot of green juice as though it was espresso at an Italian café. Truly one of the most nutrient-dense beverages available, and one of the most efficient ways to pump your system full of Vitamins A, B6, C, E and K, and minerals like iron, zinc, copper, manganese and selenium, wheatgrass is not for the faint of heart. It’s intensely… green tasting… but in a good way. The flavor was reminiscent of the smell of freshly cut grass in summer, lighter than kale, but more interesting than lettuce. I felt perked up and energized in a way that felt entirely dissimilar from coffee.
While taking wheatgrass as a shot was a bit of a strange experience, I wouldn’t hesitate to add it to another drink in future, like pairing it with grapefruit juice or blending it into a smoothie.