It’s always nice to start the morning with a special bev, but when it comes to coffee, it’s easy to overdo it. While the drink is full of antioxidants, its high caffeine content can come with jitters or a crash halfway through the afternoon. Luckily, there are so many coffee alternatives, from brews that naturally contain less caffeine to non-stimulant herbal blends.
Coffee is largely touted for its antioxidant benefits, but teas are also rich in antioxidants and contain less to no caffeine. There’s a wide world of teas to explore, from stimulating Yerba Mate to herbal Ginseng for calming energy.
A powerful tea traditional in South America, mate is brewed from the stems and leaves of the yerba mate plant and historically consumed out of a gourd. In recent years, mate has become widely available chilled and canned as well.
Yerba mate contains beneficial plant compounds like antioxidants, anti-inflammatory saponins, and nutrients like Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, Riboflavin, and Thiamine (1). While yerba mate can be extremely caffeinated if brewed a certain way, your typical 8 ounce cup contains about 70 milligrams of caffeine, compared to coffee’s 96 milligrams.
Green tea is another kind famously high in antioxidants, including a catechin called epigallocatechin-3-gallate, or EGCG. This potent compound has been shown to have medicinal benefits useful in the treatment of certain cardiovascular and metabolic diseases (2).
Green tea provides caffeine at a lower rate than coffee and yerba mate (28.8 milligrams per cup), making it a calmer alternative to coffee if you’re looking to lower your intake. It also contains a unique amino acid called L-theanine that modifies the effects of caffeine, helping your alertness last longer without the crash of drowsiness at the end.
Matcha is a type of green tea whose leaves have been grown in the shade, causing them to retain a deep jade color. These leaves are then ground into a powder and the tea is traditionally prepared by stirring this powder into hot water using a matcha whisk, though matcha lattes and iced matcha are also popular options.
Matcha provides a high dose (70 milligrams) of caffeine, comparable to yerba mate, and an impressive antioxidant profile as well. Because you’re consuming the powdered plant itself instead of steeping the tea, you stand to consume 10x the amount of antioxidants drinking matcha that you would compared to regular green tea. Matcha also contains L-theanine in much higher amounts that regular green tea, making it great for calm, sustained energy (3).
Black tea typically has one of the highest rates of caffeine of all commonplace bagged or loose leaf teas (48 milligrams) but still considerably less than coffee if you’re looking for an energy spike that’s less pronounced.
Black teas are stronger in flavor than many teas, making them an apt switch for bold coffee at breakfast. They include varieties grouped based on the region where they’re harvested, such as Darjeeling, Ceylon, and Lapsang Souchong, or by blend, such as Early Gray and Scottish Breakfast.
Masala chai is a yummy alternative to coffee, offering warm, spiced notes that are similarly cozy. Traditionally made using black tea, milk, ginger, and spices like cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves, chai lattes contain caffeine to give you energy, but in a gentler amount than coffee.
If you’re looking for a caffeine-free alternative to coffee, Rooibos tea is naturally free of the stimulant. It’s made from the leaves of a shrub commonly grown in South Africa. Traditional Rooibos is also known as red tea or red bush tea, because the fermenting process used to create the tea turns the leaves a reddish brown color.
Roobois also has lower tannin levels than black and green teas and no oxalic acid. Why does that matter? Tannins can inhibit the absorption of some nutrients, like iron.
Another herbal coffee alternative is Ginseng tea. Ginseng, an adaptogenic root vegetable used for centuries in Traditional Chinese Medicine, has a bitter licorice flavor with earthy notes.
Though it’s a non-stimulating herb free from caffeine, Ginseng has been shown to help improve energy levels, making it an ideal alternative to your morning caffeine. One review of studies found that Ginseng could significantly reduce symptoms of chronic fatigue after only 15 days (4).
Whether you’re looking to replace your morning or afternoon cup of joe, Ting™ is the perfect caffeine-free energy supplement. It’s full of B Vitamins, which work to stoke metabolism, your body’s natural form of energy production. B Complex provides cofactors to help convert fat, protein, and carbs into cellular currency, Methylated B12 supports healthy serotonin levels, and adaptogenic Ginseng brings the calming energy. B12 vitamins are also great on their own for increasing energy levels.
Brewed from roasted chicory root (a plant from the dandelion family), chicory “coffee” doesn’t actually contain any coffee beans—or natural stimulants, for that matter. This coffee alternative became popular in New Orleans during the Civil War, when blockades resulted in a coffee shortage. While it doesn’t provide the same perk, chicory’s coffee-like flavor and color make it a good substitute if you’re trying to cut the caffeine.
Juicing alchemizes vegetables, fruits, and leaves into highly medicinal nectars that can help revive a depleted system. Unsweetened juices are some of the most nutrient-dense fuel around, loaded with enzymes, vitamins, trace minerals, and other vital elements. Vitamin C, in particular, plays an important role in energy metabolism. Green juice is often made with produce like celery, cucumbers, kale, spinach, apples, ginger, lemon, parsley, and mint. Just beware of ultra processed packaged juice that could be high in added sugars.
For some added probiotics in your diet, look to kombucha, or fermented tea. When tea leaves and sugar are fermented, they produce gases that carbonate the drink, so kombucha also has some fizz. While kombucha is made from teas like black, oolong, and white tea, it’s technically caffeinated, but at only 15 mg per serving.
We call Cosmic Cocoa™ instant alchemy because all you need to do is mix it into milk. In just 2 tablespoons you get full doses of Spirit Dust®, Sex Dust®, and Collagen Protect® to arouse energy and mood. The stimulating effects of Cacao in this adaptogenic hot chocolate come from theobromine, which is gentler and longer-lasting than caffeine.
If you’re giving up coffee, you’re likely going to feel some side effects. Magnesium can help even out your sleep at night, helping you get a fuller night’s rest so that you wake up with more natural energy to combat your caffeine withdrawals.
Most of us are deficient in this essential mineral, so it’s a good idea to ensure you’re getting adequate amounts with a daily supplement. Try the Awake + Unwind Stack: Ting™ daily to awaken energy, metabolism, and mood and Magnesi-Om® nightly to unwind, relax, and sleep.
Magnesium can help even out your sleep at night, helping you get a fuller night’s rest so that you wake up with more natural energy to combat your caffeine withdrawals.
How Does Coffee Boost Energy?
Let’s bring it to the basics. As your body uses energy throughout the day, this produces a byproduct called adenosine, the neurotransmitter that promotes your sleep drive. Caffeine is molecularly similar to adenosine and binds to adenosine receptors in the brain. This blocks signals to your brain to feel tired. As a result of this process, caffeine increases brain activity and releases norepinephrine and dopamine, causing you to feel energized and alert.
Because coffee is high in caffeine, it arrests the function of adenosine in your brain, causing you not to be tired. But as this effect wears off 4 to 6 hours later, adenosine returns, leading to the dreaded crash when your brain is directed to feel sleepy.
Coffee is high in caffeine, a stimulant that blocks the function of adenosine in your brain. That’s the neurotransmitter that promotes your sleep drive. As a result of this process, caffeine increases brain activity and releases norepinephrine and dopamine, causing you to feel energized and alert.
Other foods, like chocolate and tea, contain caffeine, but not as much as coffee. Like these ingredients, coffee’s impressive antioxidant content can also help support energy metabolism.
The micronutrients in coffee can also help with energy conversion in the body. Coffee’s B Vitamins, in particular, help your body turn food into fuel that your cells can use, also known as ATP.
Is Coffee Bad for You?
It’s tempting to think about foods in terms of “good” or “bad,” but it can be more useful to look at an ingredient holistically for its benefits and downsides before making a decision about its net value in your life and how you choose to incorporate it into your day.
Coffee is no different. It has plenty of health benefits, as well as some undesirable aspects to pay attention to when contemplating its role in your diet. Coffee is loaded with powerful antioxidants like polyphenols and hydrocinnamic acids (5, 6). It’s also rich in vitamins like B2 and B5. Particularly if you have several cups a day, these nutrients add up.
Studies also show that coffee drinkers are at a lower risk of some conditions, like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, liver disease, depression, and type 2 diabetes.
And of course, coffee provides caffeine and the stimulating effects that come with it.
Downsides to Coffee
Caffeine crash. The downside to this burst of energy? Many people experience a caffeine crash later on, with symptoms like deep fatigue, crankiness, or headaches, especially if they’ve consumed too much or lost out on sleep. When the fatigue-blocking effects of caffeine start to wear off, adenosine signals are received again, causing you to feel drowsy.
Caffeine slumps are common in the afternoon, which can make it difficult to accomplish the tasks you still have on your plate.
Caffeine dependence. That’s because caffeine is an addictive substance, and triggers withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking more. When you drink caffeine often, your brain compensates by creating more adenosine receptors. Over time, you may you need to drink a greater amount of joe for your brain to feel the same energy boost. And when you cut coffee, your brain is flooded with adenosine, leading you to feel drowsy.
Hormonal & lymphatic issues. Too much caffeine can affect hormones by increasing cortisol, a stress hormone. Caffeine has also been shown to increase estrogen in women.
An excessive amount of coffee can also dehydrate your body, causing your lymphatic system to get backed up.
Anxiety & sleep disruption. The energy that coffee brings can cause many people to experience jitters and anxiety. If you’re having too much caffeine, you might get poor sleep as a result, especially if you’re taking it later in the day, and that could lead to a vicious cycle of needing it even more the next day. Excessive use has been known to cause heart palpitations.
Unethical supply chains. Commercial coffee can also have a major impact on the communities that grow it. Look for fair trade coffee that ensures proper working conditions and wages for the workers and growers.
When you drink caffeine often, your brain compensates by creating more adenosine receptors. Over time, you may you need to drink a greater amount of joe for your brain to feel the same energy boost.
Mind What You Put in Your Coffee
One of the health detractors to drinking coffee has to do with what we put in it, like creams, gums and sugars. Adding cream to your coffee can decrease the absorption of the antioxidants and drive up the calories.
For instance, a traditional cup of black coffee is only about 2 calories, but adding a tablespoon of cream can drive that number up to 40 or 50 per cup, and more if you add sugar.
Most non-dairy milks and creamers on the market tend to be filled with gums, fillers, oils, and hidden sugars that can further compromise the net benefits of what’s in your mug.
Consider a vegan creamer like Collagen Protect®, which contains 3 vegan ingredients that help protect and preserve your natural collagen: Tocos, Silver Ear Mushroom, and Hyaluronic Acid.
Are There Any Side Effects to Quitting Coffee?
If you’re feeling puffy or generally blah, it might be time for a caffeine reset. But if you’re an everyday coffee drinker, it’s likely you’ll notice some side effects if you give it up cold turkey. You might experience irritability, headaches, fatigue, decreased alertness, or low mood.
It’s a good idea to supplement with a coffee alternative that boosts natural energy and mood to help keep you functioning at your best. By replacing your morning cup with something gentler, you can kick the caffeine and get your natural energy back in place.
- National Library of Medicine, Yerba Mate as a Source of Elements and Bioactive Compounds with Antioxidant Activity https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8868397/
- National Library of Medicine, Molecular understanding of Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) in cardiovascular and metabolic diseases https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28864169/
- National Library of Medicine, Effects of L-Theanine Administration on Stress-Related Symptoms and Cognitive Functions in Healthy Adults: A Randomized Controlled Trial https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6836118/
- The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, Ginseng as a Treatment for Fatigue: A Systematic Review https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/acm.2017.0361
- National Library of Medicine, Polyphenols: food sources and bioavailability https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15113710/
- National Library of Medicine, Identification of the 100 richest dietary sources of polyphenols: an application of the Phenol-Explorer database https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21045839/
- National Library of Medicine, Coffee consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes: a systematic review https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15998896/