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13 Coffee Alternatives That Actually Work
Updated on January 31, 2024
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13 Coffee Alternatives That Actually Work
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Key Takeaways

Like most people, you probably start your day with a cup of morning coffee to boost your energy and keep you alert. Coffee is a popular beverage worldwide, with more than 2.3 billion cups consumed annually.

Coffee’s main component—caffeine—is a central nervous system stimulant. It’s what gives you the jolt after your first sip during your morning routine.

However, too much caffeine may cause jitters, indigestion, and discomfort. Many coffee drinkers also sometimes experience symptoms like heartburn and stomach pain when they overdo it.

So while coffee might be your go-to for a boost, here are a few alternatives you can consider so you don’t run the risk of ingesting too much caffeine in a day.

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13 of the Best Coffee Alternatives

Whether you’re searching for a comforting beverage or want an energy boost without depending on caffeine, enjoy this list of healthy coffee alternatives that actually work.

1. Matcha Tea

Matcha looks like your usual green tea. What sets them apart is that you consume the whole leaf in fine powder form in matcha instead of steeping the dried leaf in hot water.

Matcha is made by steaming, drying, and crushing the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. It has a more concentrated amount of antioxidants, like Epigallocatechin gallate or EGCG.

EGCG contributes to many potential benefits of matcha, such as weight loss and reduced inflammation in the body. It’s also associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes.1

Matcha also contains amino acids like L-theanine and Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). L-theanine helps with increasing your focus and reducing anxiety and stress.2,3

GABA, on the other hand, produces mind-calming effects. Health experts believe that GABA is essential in managing stress, anxiety, and fear.4

Matcha can be your new afternoon pick-me-up fix because it doesn’t affect your sleep cycle. It has a relatively lower amount of caffeine than coffee—only about 19–44 mg per gram.

Research also suggests that the amino acids in matcha can neutralize the aggressive effects of caffeine.5

Matcha drinkers describe its taste as somewhat earthy, with sweet notes and a hint of bitterness.

13 Coffee Alternatives That Actually Work 1

Organic Ceremonial Grade Matcha Green Tea Powder by Jade Leaf

  • 100g canister
  • Makes 50 servings (½ teaspoon per serving)
  • $49.95

2. Yerba Mate

Yerba mate is one of the most popular herbal drinks in South America. It’s a naturally caffeinated tea made by steeping the dried leaves and stems of the Ilex paraguariensis plant in hot water.

Traditionally, yerba mate tea is prepared in a hollowed-out calabash gourd and sipped with a metal straw. The straw’s lower end has a strain to filter out the fragments.

But nowadays, you can simply brew yerba mate tea bags.

Just like any other caffeinated drink, yerba mate boosts your energy level. But as opposed to coffee, it gives you a steady increase in energy, stimulating your mind and body.

Yerba mate is rich in theobromine—a beneficial plant compound found in cacao and tea leaves. It has a similar structure to caffeine but is slightly less stimulating.

Like caffeine, it blocks the specific chemical receptors of adenosine. Adenosine is a chemical compound in human cells that induces the feeling of sleepiness.

Scientists think that the combination of caffeine and theobromine is why yerba mate doesn’t give you jitters like coffee.6

According to tea drinkers who have tried yerba mate, it is an acquired taste. It has an earthier taste compared to green tea but is tart and bold, like black tea.

Some even say its aroma resembles that of tobacco.

13 Coffee Alternatives That Actually Work 2

Organic Super-Green Yerba Mate by U.S. Wellness Naturals

  • 453g (1lb) resealable pouch
  • $24.99

3. Neuro Gum

Neuro Gum is a chewing gum packed with caffeine developed by trained athletes with academic degrees in Neuroscience and Chemistry.

Kent Yoshimura and Ryan Chen started a company called Neuro. They make nootropics or supplements that improve cognitive functions like memory and focus.

Neuro Gum has 60mg of L-theanine that counteracts the side effects of caffeine. Combining L-theanine and caffeine makes you more alert and helps your brain work better.

It also has gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, an amino acid that helps the brain produce more alpha waves. Alpha brain waves can improve your memory and enhance your intelligence.

Neuro Gum has vitamins B6 (Pyridoxine) and B12 (Methylcobalamin). They help with protecting your nerves from damage and repair injured nerves.

Neuro Gum only has natural ingredients in it. Its caffeine is extracted from pure coffee beans—it has no added caffeine. Some of the other ingredients it contains are:

  • Spirulina extract
  • Monk fruit
  • Stevia
  • Fruit and vegetable juice
  • Turmeric extract

Since it comes in mint flavors, it might taste different than coffee. But it can give you an energy boost that lasts longer and doesn't leave you tired, unlike caffeine.

13 Coffee Alternatives That Actually Work 3

Neuro Energy & Focus Gums

  • 1 box, pack of 6
  • Contains 54 tablets
  • $23.99

4. Masala Chai

Masala chai, or chaa, is a traditional Indian preparation made from herbs and spices. Masala means “spice,” and chai means “tea.” The term “chai tea,” given this definition, seems to be redundant.

It is a flavored black tea topped with milk to achieve that foamy creaminess. You can make a masala chai by brewing black tea with some or all of these aromatic herbs and spices:

  • Cardamom
  • Cinnamon
  • Clove
  • Black pepper
  • Nutmeg
  • Star anise
  • Ginger
  • Fennel

A cup of chai has less caffeine content than coffee. However, health experts still consider it a high-caffeine beverage because it contains black tea.

Studies show that the caffeine in masala chai affects us differently than in coffee because of a plant compound called tannin. Tannin is an antioxidant that naturally occurs in tea.

It leaves behind a bitter taste and dry feeling after taking a sip. All tea has tannin, but its concentration is highest in black teas.

Tannin neutralizes the effects of caffeine. It slows down your body’s absorption of caffeine, preventing the caffeine shock and crash you often feel when you consume coffee.

The combination of tannin and caffeine also promotes an alert, focused, yet calm mental state. It’s why you feel energized after a cup of masala chai without feeling jittery.

The taste of masala chai depends on which spices you include. But generally, tea lovers describe it as a complex and aromatic blend of sweet and spicy notes.

13 Coffee Alternatives That Actually Work 4

India's Original Masala Chai Tea Bags by Vahdam

  • 15 tea bags per box
  • $6.99

5. Chicory Coffee

Chicory coffee is made from the roots of the Chicory plant. Chicory is a woody, herbaceous plant with bright blue flowers, sometimes white.

You can roast, grind, and brew its roots like coffee beans to get a delicious coffee-like drink. Chicory coffee closely resembles the taste of coffee—minus the caffeine.

Unlike coffee, chicory coffee brew will not give you a boost of energy since it’s caffeine-free. But if you just love the taste of coffee and want to avoid the jitters, it might just be your cup of tea.

Chicory root has many other benefits, like improving digestion, because it is abundant in Inulin fibers. Inulin is a natural prebiotic that serves as food to the friendly bacteria in your gut.

It can also help alleviate symptoms of stress and anxiety. Studies show that chicory root aids in the increased production of neurotransmitters responsible for happy feelings, like dopamine and serotonin.6

13 Coffee Alternatives That Actually Work 5

Chicory Root Roasted Granules by Harbeila

  • 454g resealable pouch
  • $9.66

6. Golden Milk

Golden milk is a rich, naturally caffeine-free tea popular in traditional Indian medicine. Its main ingredient is turmeric, giving its beautiful golden color.

The turmeric is mixed with cinnamon, ginger, and black pepper. You can also add cardamom, vanilla, or honey as a sweetener.

It can be your new refresher drink since it’s likely to help you avoid midday crashing. A midday crash in your energy level happens when your blood sugar levels suddenly drop. The ginger in golden milk helps keep your blood sugar level steady throughout the day, keeping you energized.

Golden milk probably won’t give you the quick energy boost you get from your usual morning drink. Instead, however, it promotes more restful sleep, helping maintain your body’s natural vigor.

Most tea drinkers describe golden milk as a warming, winter-spiced yet sweet beverage with earthy flavors.

13 Coffee Alternatives That Actually Work 6

Golden Milk Supplement Powder by Gaia Herbs

  • 106g 
  • Makes 30 servings (1 teaspoon per serving)
  • $21.58

7. Rooibos Tea

Rooibos tea is a caffeine-free herbal tea that originated in South Africa. It is made from the leaves of the Aspalathus linearis plant. It is also known as red tea or red bush tea.

It has a lower tannin content than your regular green or black tea, making it less bitter. The lack of caffeine and lower tannin makes it a longer-lasting energy fuel for the body.

It may not give you the sudden jolt coffee does, but it does keep you hydrated so your body feels refreshed throughout the day. It’s also packed with antioxidants.

People who drink rooibos tea describe its tastes as dark and faintly sweet with a nutty flavor. They often compare its sweetness to hibiscus tea and its earthy notes to yerba mate.

Some also say it has hints of caramel, vanilla, and smoky tobacco-like essence.

13 Coffee Alternatives That Actually Work 7

Organic Rooibos Tea by My Red Tea

  • 80 tea bags per box
  • $14.99

8. Kombucha

Kombucha is a fermented black tea. Brewing kombucha involves fermenting the black tea by creating a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast called SCOBY.

Aside from a small dose of caffeine, the rush of energy you feel when you consume kombucha is from the following components:

  • B-vitamins
  • Iron
  • Probiotics 
  • L-theanine

During fermentation, black tea produces small amounts of B vitamins and naturally occurring caffeine. They contribute to the kick of energy you feel after drinking kombucha.

It’s also naturally rich in iron, a mineral that helps your red blood cells distribute oxygen throughout the body. Kombucha may help alleviate the feeling of tiredness and fatigue.

Kombucha is a probiotic drink. It is abundant in probiotics or the good bacteria found in your gut.

Probiotics can help lower your cortisol or stress hormone level, making you feel more relaxed. It also plays a role in your brain’s serotonin or the happy hormone release.7

Kombucha also contains L-theanine, an amino acid that stimulates your brain. It helps with focus and relaxation.8

The taste of kombucha is a perfect balance between fragrant, fruity, and fizzy. You can compare it to a sparkling apple cider.

13 Coffee Alternatives That Actually Work 8

Probiotic Kombucha Zero Sugar Variety Pack by Humm

  • 16 cans per pack (12 oz per can)
  • $48.00

9. Barley Coffee

Barley coffee or orzo coffee is an Italian coffee substitute made from roasted and grounded barley grains. It can be an excellent alternative espresso drink if you’re weaning off traditional espresso.

Like chicory coffee, barley coffee is caffeine-free, which may only give you a light energy boost. Take note that it does contain starch, a sugar that the body can easily absorb and provides instant energy.

Barley coffee may not necessarily energize you, but it has potassium, which can help replenish lost electrolytes in your body. It can help you sustain your energy levels.

It has other health benefits from its antioxidant properties. Additionally, it has essential nutrients like magnesium, vitamins B and E, and phosphorus.

It doesn’t taste like your usual espresso—it has an earthy, nutty, and somewhat bitter taste. But it has a rich, brown appearance like your favorite morning cup of coffee.

13 Coffee Alternatives That Actually Work 9

Organic Roasted Barley by Worldwide Botanicals

  • 454 g
  • Makes 45 servings
  • $11.39

10. Mushroom Coffee

Mushroom coffee refers to a healthy coffee alternative made by brewing dried and powdered mushrooms. It is a delicate fusion of coffee beans and ground mushrooms, resulting in a nutty coffee.

Typically, it is made from medicinal mushroom extracts like the following:

  • Chaga
  • Turkey’s tail
  • Lion’s mane
  • Reishi
  • Cordyceps

A cup of mushroom coffee has half the caffeine content of your regular coffee. It keeps you awake without causing jitters because the mushroom neutralizes the effect of caffeine.

The medicinal mushrooms included are often adaptogens. Adaptogens are natural substance in plants that helps your body counter stress, anxiety, fatigue, and so on.9

They naturally promote body balance and homeostasis by helping you cope with physical and mental stressors.

13 Coffee Alternatives That Actually Work 10

Organic Adaptogen Ground Coffee by Four Sigmatic

  • 340g per resealable pouch
  • Comes in 6 variants — Balance, Chill, Gut Health, Immunity, Perform, Think
  • $14.79 to $18.94

11. Lemon Water

Warm water with lemon is a staple in traditional Indian medicine.

Nowadays, lemon water is gaining a reputation when it comes to replacing coffee as a morning beverage. It’s easy to make—just get a cup of water and squeeze half a lemon into it. 

You can enjoy it with hot water or drink it cold. It may not give you the same jolt as coffee does, but it helps significantly with hydration, especially in the morning.

Staying hydrated can save you from extreme fatigue, brain fog, and headaches. 

According to research, lemon is rich in vitamin C and potassium, which helps stimulate your brain functions.

12. Brewed Raw Cacao

Brewed cacao is a low-caffeine drink with a rich, dark, earthy taste. Although some may refer to it as cocoa, the two are somewhat different.

While both came from the same plant, cacao is the unprocessed version of cocoa. Cacao drink is made from unroasted beans or the seeds inside the cacao fruit.

It has less caffeine than coffee but is naturally rich in theobromine. Theobromine and caffeine belong to the methylxanthine chemical group. It acts as a central nervous system stimulant.

But theobromine is milder. Unlike caffeine, it slowly boosts your energy level, giving you longer-lasting energy.

You can enjoy this decadent drink like hot chocolate, with or without a splash of milk.

13 Coffee Alternatives That Actually Work 11

Choffy Brewed Chocolate

  • 10 oz resealable bag
  • Makes 36 to 42 servings (6 oz cup)
  • $15.74

13. Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is made by fermenting distilled apple juice from crushed apples. It’s a versatile household ingredient used as a home remedy for health problems like sore throats.

Drinking ACV diluted in water as your new go-to morning drink can help boost your metabolism. According to some studies, your body breaks down ACV into acetic acid during digestion, which increases AMPK.13

AMPK is an enzyme that helps the body switch from storing fats to burning them. When the AMPK activity increases, so does your metabolism.

ACV helps restore energy levels and fight fatigue because it contains:

  • Potassium
  • B vitamins
  • Amino acids
  • Enzymes
13 Coffee Alternatives That Actually Work 12

Organic Apple Cider Vinegar by Bragg

  • Pack of 2 (16 fl. oz per bottle)
  • $14.99

Why Substitute Coffee?

People have different reasons for reducing their caffeine intake, but they mostly revolve around health concerns.

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the recommended threshold for coffee is three to five cups daily. Some people may experience health problems if they exceed this level, especially in one sitting. You can expect symptoms like:

  • Nervousness
  • Jitteriness
  • Heart palpitations
  • Rapid breathing
  • Increased stress levels
  • Sleep interruption
  • Indigestion
  • Acidity

As the stimulating effects of coffee wear off, it’s typical to feel less focused or alert. Being overly reliant on coffee and drinking too much of it can also cause some pretty uncomfortable caffeine crashes. You may feel the following during a crash:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Headaches
  • Irritability

Caffeine crashes can also be a sign of caffeine dependence. You are more likely to experience caffeine crashing when you consistently consume too much coffee while previously feeling tired.

Replacing coffee with alternatives can help you cut down on your caffeine intake. Many other options can boost your energy and keep you focused without causing jitters or crashing.

Doctors may advise people with medical conditions like high blood pressure or heart problems or who are dealing with stress and anxiety to avoid having too much coffee. 

Coffee can disrupt your sleep. People who experience insomnia or sleep disorders may want to reduce the amount of coffee they drink, especially before bedtime.

Health Benefits of Quitting Coffee

Some studies link drinking too much coffee to negative health effects, including depression, stroke, and heart disease.

Quitting coffee can impact your health positively, especially if you are struggling with your mood and other mental health issues like anxiety or insomnia.

Here are some of the health benefits of going caffeine-free.

1. You’ll Have Better Quality Sleep

The caffeine level in your blood spikes about an hour after having coffee and stays elevated for several hours.

Caffeine has a half-life of about six hours in the body and remains in your system for up to ten hours after you drink it. It can disrupt your sleep and cause restless nights.

Cutting back on your coffee consumption can improve your quality of sleep. You may quickly fall asleep at night, especially if you avoid drinking coffee six hours before bedtime.

2. You’ll Feel Less Anxious

When taken in small doses, caffeine gives us a burst of energy, causing alertness and the ability to focus. However, that same energy may also activate your fight-or-flight or stress response.

It’s how too much coffee can make you nervous and even cause panic attacks. You can lessen your stress or anxiety when you quit coffee.

3. You May Restore Balance to Your Hormones

Women can benefit from breaking the coffee habit because studies show that caffeine alters your estrogen level.10

Too much caffeine contributes to elevated estrogen levels, which is the associated cause of reproductive health problems like endometriosis and breast or ovarian cancers.

No studies confirm that caffeine directly causes these conditions. However, cutting down on coffee may help you avoid an elevated estrogen level, especially if you have a higher risk of developing these conditions.

4. Your Body Can Absorb Vitamins and Minerals Better

Research shows that caffeine can deplete the essential vitamins in your body, like vitamin B6. It can also inhibit your body’s absorption of the following essential minerals:11

  • Calcium
  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • B vitamins
  • Manganese
  • Zinc
  • Copper

Avoiding caffeine can help ensure that your body can absorb all the nutrients it needs from your foods.

5. Your Teeth Will Be Healthier and Whiter

You probably know this or have noticed this—coffee stains your teeth. The high tannin content is behind the build-up and discoloration coffee brings to your tooth enamel.

Coffee’s acidity can also contribute to the wear and decay of your teeth’s enamel. You’ll notice a difference in your teeth’s appearance when you reduce your coffee consumption.

Is Caffeine Bad for You? 

No. Coffee isn’t inherently bad for you. Coffee is an excellent stimulant and perfect for starting your day. Caffeine has many health benefits.

For instance, studies show that coffee can help lower your risk of chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, colon cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, and so on.12

However, too much coffee may have adverse effects on your health. To ensure you harness the benefits of coffee, you must stick with the recommended daily intake.

When taken in moderate amounts, coffee can boost your energy, give you mental alertness and help you focus on finishing your tasks.

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Updated on January 31, 2024
Cristine Santander
Cristine Santander
Content Contributor
Cristine Santander is a content writer for KnowYourDNA. She has a B.S. in Psychology and enjoys writing about health and wellness.
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