There’s nothing quite like a hot cup of coffee—or is there? As more and more of us try to cut down on our caffeine intake, the prospect of ditching coffee beans for an alternative becomes increasingly appealing. Surprisingly, many of these substitutes made from herbs, fruits, and mushrooms, are more similar to the flavor of your preferred bean than you might expect, and some even offer an energy boost.
There are a surprising number of products on the market calling themselves coffee substitutes. This guide provides some information to help you identify what you’re looking for in a coffee substitute, along with recommendations for the best coffee substitute, some help with brewing options, and answers to questions you might have.
Coffee vs. Coffee Substitute
Coffee is brewed from roasted and ground coffee beans. Depending on the type and origin of the bean, the size of the grind, and the method of brewing, coffee can have many different strengths and flavor notes. Adding sugar, milk, or cream changes the flavor profile as well. Coffee naturally contains caffeine, which people with some medical concerns need to avoid, and which can cause sleeplessness or agitation if consumed too late in the day.
Coffee substitutes, on the other hand, attempt to replicate or develop the flavor of coffee using plants and herbs, similar to the way tea is brewed but with more body. The most common coffee substitute is chicory root, but barley and other grains, flowers, herbs, and mushrooms are also incorporated into many substitute brews. The goal of these substitutes is to mimic the taste of coffee, but also the fullness of flavor and slightly viscous texture that freshly brewed coffee offers so that the only thing you miss is the caffeine.
What Makes a Good Coffee Substitute
When it’s time to choose a substitute to satisfy those coffee cravings, there are several components to consider.
A substitute might not taste exactly like coffee, but a good coffee substitute should be enjoyable to drink. What this means to you will depend upon your individual flavor preferences, and it can be difficult to tell whether you’ll like something before you’ve given it a try. For this reason, a little trial and error is usually involved when it comes to finding your new favorite drink. If you enjoy coffee for its rich, full-bodied flavor, a chicory based option is probably your best bet. Mushrooms add an earthy depth to the flavor, as can barley.
One of the great things about coffee is that it can be enjoyed hot or cold, or in a myriad of other ways, and a good substitute should also. For maximum versatility, choose a coffee substitute without additional flavors added to it, which will allow you to customize your additions or bake with it. If you’re interested in branching out your flavor options, there are many substitutes with flavors added.
Ease of Use
When you’re trying to cut back on caffeine, the last thing you need is the frustration of a beverage that’s difficult to make. For this reason, it’s important to choose a coffee substitute that’s just as easy—or easier—to brew as your regular cup of joe. Luckily, this shouldn’t be too hard to find: most substitutes are either granular, like instant coffee, bagged in a flow-through bag like a teabag, or ground to use in any coffee pot.
Since many coffee substitutes are made from herbs, some of them provide actual health benefits. For instance, chicory root, a common coffee alternative, is known to support healthy digestion, thanks to its high prebiotic content. Another common substitute is dandelion, which is rich in iron and can help prevent urinary disorders. Most coffee alternatives are also low in sugar, fat, and calories overall. Plus, as they’re pleasant to drink, you may find that you’re drinking more during the day and maintaining a better level of hydration. And don’t forget—in choosing a coffee substitute, you’re cutting back on caffeine, which will lead to better sleep, less bloating, less agitation, and better heart health.
Our Top Picks
These recommendations include a variety of formulations and flavors—choose the coffee substitute best suited to your taste preferences.
Free from caffeine, gluten, sugar, dairy, and wheat, Dandy Blend Herbal Beverage provides full-bodied coffee flavor in granules similar to those of instant coffee. The drink’s flavor is achieved through a blend of dandelion root, chicory, rye, and sugar beet. Together, these ingredients recreate that bittersweet coffee taste—without caffeine jitters. The Dandy Blend is also non-acidic, so it’s easy to drink if you have a sensitive stomach, and suitable for those with wheat, milk, or gluten sensitivities.
Thanks to its rich antioxidant content, this tasty herbal beverage can even help to protect your cells against free radicals in the body. On top of its myriad health benefits, the beverage is also easy to brew: simply add freshly boiled water to a teaspoon of the soluble crystals and give it a vigorous stir. You’ll be left with a rich, dark beverage, which can be easily adjusted to match your tastes. For a stronger flavor, add more crystals, for a milder flavor, add less.
The versatile formula can also be used hot or cold to craft milkshakes, mochas, and lattes. If you’re a baker, you can also swap in Dandy Blend for instant coffee in your favorite recipes. Easy to use and one of the best-flavored coffee substitutes on the market, this Dandy Blend beverage comes in a 32 ounce (2 pound) bag, and is available in several other sizes.
Specially formulated to promote digestive health, this coffee substitute from Four Sigmatic combines turkey tail mushrooms, reishi spores, and carminative spices like cinnamon, turmeric, and ginger. The formula is also rich in herbal ‘adaptogens’, which improve energy levels over time–without the buzz and crash cycles that caffeine can cause. As well as being caffeine-free, this unique blend is vegan, paleo-friendly, dairy-free, and gluten-free. Coconut milk powder brings creaminess to the latte without the need for dairy.
Golden Latte may taste deliciously sweet, but each serving contains just one gram of sugar and added sweetness with stevia. To make a latte, all you have to do is add freshly boiled water and stir—it’s that easy. This invigorating yet soothing drink can be enjoyed hot or cold at any time of day. Certified organic by the USDA, Four Sigmatic really makes a splash in the world of hot beverages. The mushrooms add an earthy flavor, and the sweetness and lightness of the coconut milk makes this a reasonable substitute for a frothy latte.
While it has a similar flavor profile to coffee, some people really don’t care for the taste of chicory. For those buyers, Coffig’s coffee substitute uses roasted organic figs to emulate the flavor of ground coffee beans. Each bag of Coffig is made using only the highest quality figs, grown and dried in California. This slow roasting process causes the figs to take on a rich, distinctive flavor, which closely mimics coffee without the caffeine. Caffeine-free, gluten-free, and containing zero additives, Coffig is easy to brew—simply scoop into any coffee maker.
The Coffig blend is twice as concentrated as regular ground coffee, allowing each small bag to produce as many as 65 cups. The tasty beverage can be consumed hot or cold, with or without milk, and can be added to home baking for a subtle coffee taste. You can even add a scoop to smoothies and milkshakes. The dark color and rich flavor of the brew allows coffee fans to continue the ‘ritual’ without the acidity or the caffeine, adding the energy and digestive benefits of organic figs to the diet.
Kaffree Roma’s all-natural formula has been carefully blended from just three grains—chicory, barley, and rye—to mimic the taste of coffee, without the pesky caffeine. Thanks to its soluble granules, the beverage is easy to brew by stirring a heaped teaspoon to a mug of boiling water and stirring vigorously. The natural low acidity formula offers a complex flavor that will satisfy coffee cravings left and right while giving you a serving of potassium, which many people lack in their diets.
Just like coffee, the Kaffree Roma Roasted Grain Beverage is versatile. Add soy milk and cinnamon for a light yet indulgent latte, or add vanilla syrup and low fat milk for a tasty hot chocolate alternative.
Rasa Koffee developed their Herbal Coffee Alternative with a simple goal in mind—to help curb stress. Although regular coffee has certain health benefits, such as antioxidants, it’s also high in caffeine. Consuming too much of this mild stimulant can lead to high blood pressure, and stress. In response, Rasa created this tasty herbal blend, designed to stabilize your energy levels without the buzz and crash cycle of caffeine.
The Rasa Koffee formula is based on a component of herbal medicine called adaptogens. These herbs are thought to improve daily energy levels over time, and improve the body’s ability to handle stressful situations. Rasa has combined 12 herbs, seven adaptogens, and two kinds of mushrooms to achieve great flavor and the maximum stress-relief benefit that’s gluten-free, vegan, paleo- and keto-friendly, and containing no common allergens.
Rasa Koffee is a soothing stress-relief drink that is grown organically and sustainably, helping you reduce your environmental impact. While it is best brewed in a French press, Rasa can also be made using an espresso machine, drip machine, or aeropress. Overall, the rich and subtle flavor is a great substitute for your average cup of joe, and in the long run, it may well leave you feeling more energised even without the caffeine.
Roasted barley, rye, chicory, and sugar beets combine in Caffix Coffee Substitute Crystals for a robust and lightly sweet taste. Easy to brew, the Cafix crystals work just like instant coffee: spoon into the cup, add boiling water, and stir, then enjoy a tasty drink that mimics the rich and complex flavor of coffee—without the drawback of caffeine jitters and stomach irritation.
Each cup of Cafix is free from trans fat, cholesterol, and artificial additives. It’s also very low in sodium, helping to prevent water retention and bloating. Cafix can be consumed hot or cold, and added to milkshakes, smoothies, and baked goods for extra taste.
The Advantages of Using a Coffee Alternative
People choose to give up coffee for a number of health reasons, including high blood pressure, acid reflux and stomach concerns, insomnia, pregnancy, and other factors—or simply because they’re tired of the jittery agitation too much caffeine can bring on, or the crushing headaches when they miss their morning cup. Although some studies suggest that coffee may carry some health benefits in moderation, introducing an alternative into your lifestyle could also be a good idea for a number of reasons.
Coffee substitutes make it easier to cut down your caffeine intake and in some cases add health benefits through natural vitamins and minerals present in the substitutes. Coffee and caffeine are natural diuretics and can cause dehydration, even as your drink more, while substitutes rehydrate your body. Far lower in acid than coffee, substitutes can ease digestion and be gentler on your stomach overall. Even if you choose to hang on to your morning cup of coffee, having flavorful alternatives at hand to help you reduce your overall intake is a great idea.