Coffee alternatives

9 alternatives to coffee, and why you should try them

Whether you dislike the taste, are trying to cut back on caffeine, or just want something new, here are 9 delicious alternatives to coffee you should try.

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Coffee is the go-to morning beverage for many, while others choose not to drink it for a host of reasons.

For some, the high amount of caffeine — 95 mg per serving — can cause nervousness and agitation, also known as “the jitters.” For others, coffee can cause digestive distress and headaches.

Many simply don’t care for the bitter taste or are bored with their usual morning cup of joe.

Here are 9 delicious alternatives to coffee you can try.

1. Chicory coffee

Like coffee beans, chicory root can be roasted, ground, and brewed into a delicious hot beverage. It tastes very similar to coffee but is caffeine-free.

It is also a rich source of inulin. This soluble fiber may aid in digestion and support a healthy gut by promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria — particularly Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli.

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In addition, it can stimulate your gallbladder to produce more bile, which may be beneficial for fat digestion.

Chicory root can be found pre-ground and roasted, so it’s easy to prepare. Simply brew it like regular coffee grounds — in a filter coffee maker, French press, or espresso machine.

Use 2 tablespoons of grounds for every 6 ounces (180 ml) of water, or adjust this ratio based on your preferences.

Keep in mind that chicory root may cause digestive symptoms in some people. Although inulin is great for your health, it may have side effects such as bloating and gas.

In addition, you should avoid chicory root if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding since research on its safety under these circumstances is lacking.

Summary: Chicory root tastes similar to coffee but is caffeine-free and very high in the beneficial fiber inulin, which may aid in digestion and support a healthy gut.

2. Matcha tea

Matcha is a type of green tea made by steaming, drying, and grinding the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant into a fine powder.

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In contrast to brewable green tea, you consume the whole leaf. For this reason, you’re getting a much more concentrated source of antioxidants — epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), in particular.

Many of the proposed benefits of matcha are attributed to EGCG. For example, observational studies suggest regular green tea consumption may reduce your risk of high blood pressure.

Green tea has also been associated with reduced weight and body fat, as well as a lower risk of type 2 diabetes.

Matcha has a fresh flavor, which some describe as earthy.

How to prepare matcha tea:

  1. Sift 1–2 teaspoons of matcha powder into a ceramic bowl using a fine-mesh strainer.
  2. Add hot, but not boiling, water — the water temperature should be around 160–170°F (71–77°C).
  3. Stir slowly until the powder is dissolved, then whisk back and forth. A traditional bamboo tea whisk works best.
  4. The tea is ready once a light froth forms. You can also try adding 1 cup (237 ml) of steamed milk or a non-dairy alternative for a creamy matcha tea latte.

Because you consume the whole leaf, matcha is typically higher in caffeine than regular brewed green tea and sometimes higher than coffee. The amount in each serving can vary widely, with a range of 35–250 mg per cup.

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Summary: Matcha tea provides an abundance of beneficial antioxidants in a single serving. Depending on how it’s prepared, it may have more or less caffeine than coffee.

3. Golden milk

Golden milk is a rich, caffeine-free substitute for coffee.

This warm beverage incorporates invigorating spices such as ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, and black pepper. Other common additions include cardamom, vanilla, and honey.

Besides giving your drink a beautiful golden color, turmeric may have powerful anti-inflammatory properties due to the potent chemical curcumin.

What’s more, black pepper increases your body’s ability to absorb curcumin, as does fat. Therefore, you may want to consider using whole milk versus fat-free for this drink.

You can prepare basic golden milk in about 5 minutes.

How to prepare golden milk:

  1. In a saucepan, combine 1 cup (237 ml) of milk or a non-dairy alternative with ½ teaspoon of ground turmeric, ¼ teaspoon of cinnamon, 1/8 teaspoon of ground ginger, and a pinch of black pepper. Optionally, add honey to taste.
  2. Warm the mixture on low to medium heat, stirring frequently to avoid burning.
  3. Once heated, pour the drink into a mug and enjoy.

Summary: Golden milk is a rich, caffeine-free alternative to coffee that may have anti-inflammatory effects.

4. Lemon water

Switching up your morning beverage doesn’t have to be complicated. Lemon water is a great way to start your day.

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It’s calorie- and caffeine-free and provides an ample dose of vitamin C.

As an antioxidant, vitamin C plays a role in your immune system and protects your skin from sun damage. It’s essential for creating collagen, a protein that provides the basic structure for your skin, tendons, and ligaments.

Just one glass of lemon water — prepared by adding the juice of half a lemon (1 tablespoon or 15 ml) to 1 cup (237 ml) of cold water — provides 10% of your recommended daily intake for vitamin C.

You can also add other fruits and herbs for a variety of flavors — cucumbers, mint, watermelon, and basil are some popular options.

Summary: Lemon water is a simple yet refreshing way to start your day hydrated and with a boost of antioxidants.

5. Yerba mate

Yerba mate is a naturally caffeinated herbal tea made from the dried leaves of the South American holly tree, Ilex paraguriensis.

If you’re looking for a coffee substitute but don’t want to part with your morning caffeine, yerba mate is a good choice.

One cup (237 ml) contains roughly 78 mg of caffeine, which is similar to the caffeine content in an average cup of coffee.

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Yerba mate is also loaded with beneficial plant compounds that act as antioxidants. Some studies suggest it may be higher in antioxidants than green tea.

Additionally, it contains several minerals and vitamins, including riboflavin, thiamine, phosphorus, iron, calcium, and vitamins C and E.

It has an acquired taste, which can be described as bitter or smokey. In the traditional method, yerba mate is prepared in a yerba mate gourd and consumed through a metal straw, adding water as you drink it.

To make drinking yerba mate easier, you can also steep the leaves using a tea ball or purchase yerba mate tea bags. In these cases, just steep the leaves in hot water for 3–5 minutes and enjoy.

Despite the purported health benefits of yerba mate, you should drink it in moderation. Studies have linked high, regular intakes of 1–2 liters per day to increased rates of certain types of cancer.

Summary: Yerba mate provides a similar amount of caffeine to coffee along with riboflavin, thiamine, phosphorus, iron, calcium, and vitamins C and E. It’s also loaded with antioxidants.

6. Chai tea

Chai tea is a type of black tea blended with strong herbs and spices.

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Though it contains less caffeine (47 mg) than coffee, studies suggest that black tea may still improve mental alertness.

Black and green teas are both made from the Camellia sinensis plant, but black tea undergoes a fermentation process, which changes its chemical makeup. Both types seem to have powerful antioxidant properties.

Although more research is needed, some observational studies have linked drinking black tea with a lower risk of heart disease.

Besides its potential health benefits, chai tea has a robust flavor and a comforting smell.

There are many recipes, but here is one simple way to prepare 2 cups from scratch.

How to prepare chai tea:

  1. Crush 4 cardamom seeds, 4 cloves, and 2 black peppercorns.
  2. In a saucepan, combine 2 cups (474 ml) of filtered water, a 1-inch (3 cm) slice of fresh ginger, 1 cinnamon stick, and the crushed spices.
  3. Bring the mixture to a boil, then remove from heat.
  4. Add 2 single-serving black tea bags and let steep for 10 minutes.
  5. Strain the tea into two mugs and enjoy.

To make a chai tea latte, simply use 1 cup (237 ml) of milk or your favorite non-dairy alternative instead of water in the above recipe.

Summary: Chai tea is a spiced black tea with robust flavor and a modest amount of caffeine. Observational studies suggest that black tea may lower your risk of heart disease.

7. Rooibos tea

Rooibos or red tea is a caffeine-free beverage that originated in South Africa.

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Unlike coffee and other teas, rooibos is low in tannin antioxidants, which can be beneficial but also interfere with the absorption of iron.

Despite a low tannin content, rooibos provides a substantial amount of other antioxidants.

Studies are extremely limited. One test-tube study suggests that rooibos may help protect against heart disease, while another found potential for reducing cancer risk.

Rooibos has a longer steep time than most teas and over-steeping does not result in a bitter taste. Instead, rooibos has a slightly sweet, fruity flavor.

To prepare yourself a cup, use a tea filter to steep 1–1.5 teaspoons of loose rooibos for up to 10 minutes. Optionally, you can add lemon and honey to taste.

Summary: Rooibos is a caffeine-free tea with a slightly sweet and fruity taste. It provides plenty of antioxidants and is low in tannins, a compound that interferes with iron absorption.

8. Apple cider vinegar

Apple cider vinegar is made by fermenting crushed apples using yeast and bacteria.

This process produces a compound called acetic acid, which may have beneficial effects on insulin sensitivity and blood sugar levels, according to some studies.

For example, one study found that when people with insulin resistance drank 20 grams (0.5 tablespoons) of apple cider vinegar before a meal, their rise in blood sugar levels was reduced by 64%. However, this effect was not seen in people with type 2 diabetes.

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Although there is not yet much evidence, apple cider vinegar may also increase feelings of fullness after meals and assist with modest weight loss.

A basic AVC beverage combines 1–2 tablespoons of raw or unfiltered apple cider vinegar, 1 cup (237 ml) of cold water, and optionally 1–2 tablespoons of honey or another preferred sweetener.

Do not drink apple cider vinegar without diluting it first. Apple cider vinegar contains 4–6% of acetic acid which may burn your mouth and throat. It can also wear away tooth enamel if used regularly, so swishing water before and after drinking apple cider vinegar is recommended.

Summary: Apple cider vinegar is a caffeine-free alternative to coffee that may have beneficial effects on blood sugar levels. It may even assist with weight loss.

9. Kombucha

Kombucha is made by fermenting black tea with bacteria, yeast, and sugar.

The fermentation process creates a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast, commonly referred to as a SCOBY.

After fermentation, kombucha contains probiotics, acetic acid, and antioxidants — all of which may have health benefits.

Animal and test-tube studies suggest that kombucha may boost your immune system, improve cholesterol levels and blood glucose levels in people with diabetes. However, the purported health benefits in humans are largely anecdotal.

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Making kombucha on your own is not recommended due to a high risk of contamination from harmful pathogens.

However, there are countless varieties available commercially that do not pose the same level of risk.

Summary: Kombucha is a fermented black tea that contains probiotics, acetic acid, and antioxidants. Many animal studies suggest potential health benefits, but few have been done in humans.

Summary

While coffee has many health perks of its own, it may not necessarily be for you.

However, there are plenty of other options. Many even provide benefits coffee can’t, such as antioxidant-rich herbs and spices, probiotics, and acetic acid.

If you’re looking for a healthy alternative to coffee, the beverages on this list are worth trying.

Last updated on November 28, 2021, and last reviewed by an expert on November 19, 2021.
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