10 Best Coffee Alternative Choices
If you love coffee, you may be worried that there simply isn't a competing beverage that will satisfy as much as your morning cup of Joe. But that's not the case. From golden milk to brewed cacao, there are many coffee alternatives to try.
In this article, we're explaining why you'd want to switch your morning routine away from coffee, the health benefits of doing so, and the 10 best coffee alternatives to start with.
Why Switch Away from Coffee?
In the US, 64% of adults consume coffee every single day with an average consumption of approximately 3.1 cups per day.1 That's a lot of coffee!
So, why would you give this up? Here are some of the most common reasons we hear from ex-coffee drinkers who switch to Zest Tea:
- The price, especially where a certain well-known coffee chain is concerned,
- The high acidity, which can cause acid reflux and digestive issues,
- The flavor, which may no longer be appetizing due to parosmia or just over-familiarity,
- Health reasons, especially if coffee is only palatable with a bucket-load of sugar stirred in,
- Caffeine, particularly if you need to avoid caffeine due to medical reasons,
- The energy crash in the afternoon!
The unstable energy levels that coffee creates - from the sudden surge after you down that espresso shot, to the inevitable crash when 3pm hits - is one of the key reasons people choose to switch from coffee to Zest Tea in particular.
While the caffeine in coffee comes on all at once, then leaves just as quickly, tea has a slower onset with calmer vibes. No, that's not just marketing spiel! Research shows that L-Theanine, an amino acid found in tea leaves, regulates caffeine in your body for a smoother and more controllable energy boost.
L-Theanine has numerous other benefits that you can learn about in our article L-Theanine Tea - Everything You Should Know.
But for now, let's get back to the 10 coffee alternatives we recommend at Zest Tea.
10 Best Coffee Alternatives
We've explained each coffee alternative below, outlining the flavors you should expect, the average caffeine levels, and a few tips on how best to make each beverage.
1 - Zest Hot Black Energy Tea
- Flavors: 4 versatile flavors
- Caffeine: more than coffee
The great thing about coffee is that it provides you with energy and there are numerous ways to drink it. Take it black, add milk and sugar, cold brew it, ice it... and it's the same with Zest energy tea.
Our 4 black tea blends are made with black tea leaves, tea extract, and natural non-GMO flavors. All you need to do is add hot water and let the leaves steep for 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the leaves, add honey, sugar and/or milk to taste, and enjoy!
We recommend our masala chai, Spicy Masala Chai tea, for ex-coffee lovers in particular. The rich black tea and smooth spices create a depth and luxuriousness that's comparable to coffee. And as for caffeine, all of our black teas contain up to 150mg of caffeine per serving.
To put that in perspective, your standard cup of drip coffee contains only 96mg of caffeine.
Our black tea is available as tea bags or loose leaf. Explore ZestTea.com to learn more.
2 - Zest Ready-To-Drink Iced Energy Tea
- Flavors: 6 bubbly flavors
- Caffeine: more than coffee
For those that prefer iced coffee or energy drinks, our ready-to-drink range of iced energy teas is a winner. We have a range of black tea and green tea energy drinks, made with additional tea extract for a sizable energy boost, non-GMO flavors, nutritious vitamins, and bubbles!
These sparkling beverages need no brewing, so just crack open a can and get sipping. From our Cucumber Melon green tea to our Blackberry Lime black tea, each can provides between 120mg and 150mg of caffeine. Way more than coffee!
Coffee drinkers love these beverages for the fruity taste and healthy ingredients. All our teas are plant-based, vegan, gluten free, and free of artificial sweeteners. If you are cutting back on your coffee for your health, then our zero-calorie range will be most appealing. With just a touch of stevia leaf extract, they're deliciously sweet and energizing without the high sugar content.
Browse the full range of ready-to-drink iced teas.
3 - Zest Hot Green Energy Tea
- Flavors: 2 unique flavors
- Caffeine: more than coffee
While a comforting chai tea with a splash of almond milk might taste the most like coffee, there are other tea options to explore. If you're craving something lighter, smoother and more refreshing than coffee, then green tea is the answer.
Our green tea blends use the same formula as our other energy teas, harnessing additional tea extract to boost the caffeine levels above that of coffee in a natural way. Combined with delicious non-GMO flavors, our green teas are totally plant-powered. There's up to 135mg of caffeine per serving.
If you've been tempted by the grassiness of yerba mate or interested in reducing fat, digestion benefits and other health perks, green tea is another avenue to explore. Rather than making our green tea with boiling water, we recommend letting the hot liquid cool to around 80°C so as not to scald the leaves and create bitter flavors.
Discover green energy tea at ZestTea.com and read our article Best Way to Drink Green Tea to learn more about how to prepare it.
4 - Black Tea
- Flavors: unlimited varieties
- Caffeine: approximately half of coffee caffeine levels
Standard black tea - also known as red tea in some Eastern countries - that hasn't been boosted by Zest contains approximately 47mg of caffeine per 8oz serving. This is about half the caffeine of a coffee beverage of the same fluid volume. So, if you'd like to reduce your caffeine intake but still need a small boost in the morning, black tea is a decent choice.
Like the Zest black energy teas, standard black tea is great with sugar and blends well with many traditional coffee flavors, e.g. vanilla, nut varieties, chocolate, etc.
Furthermore, black teas have a positive effect on those with high blood pressure2 and modulate gut microbiota, promoting beneficial bacteria in your gut.3
Ultimately, regular black teas - whether you have it with half a lemon slice or a good splash of milk - are a good flavor substitute for coffee, but lack the caffeine content to be a viable energy drink alternative.
5 - Yerba Mate
- Flavors: grassy, bitter, hay, herbs
- Caffeine: comparable to an espresso shot
Like tea and coffee, yerba mate is made from a plant that naturally produces caffeine. Although yerba mate isn't technically made from the Camellia sinensis tea plant, it is still made by steeping the leaves and stems in water, so it's commonly referred to as a tea.
Like green teas, yerba mate has a grassy flavor (although you can find roasted yerba mate tea that has a more rounded flavor profile) and less caffeine than coffee.
How much caffeine is in your cup of yerba mate greatly depends upon how you brew it. If you make your yerba mate in a French press, you can expect to consume around 70mg of caffeine which is close to a single shot of espresso at 64mg.
If you prepare your yerba mate in the traditional style, sipping it through a metal straw, then you could consume up to 180mg of caffeine! Finally, if you opt for yerba mate tea bags, you'll consume a meager 30mg of caffeine.4
Yerba mate also has a few associated health benefits, although more research is needed to confirm them. If you have blood sugar problems, then mate could have a beneficial impact according to one study reviewing the effect of mate on the metabolism of diabetic rats.5
6 - Matcha
- Flavors: grassy, umami, sweet
- Caffeine: comparable to an espresso shot
Just like mate, matcha is a tea that has more caffeine than regular black teas, but still way less than Zest Teas. At 70mg per scoop, matcha has a considerable amount of caffeine that's comparable to a shot of espresso.
Matcha is a very specific green type of tea that's very popular in Japan. Usually, green teas are made by steeping the whole leaves in water and then removing them before consumption. However, matcha is made by powdering the tea leaves and whisking them directly into the water. As such, you'll consume 100% of the caffeine in the tea leaf when you drink matcha. This works out to around 70mg per serving.
Matcha has a bright, grassy and sweet flavor, although low quality matcha teas can be unbearably bitter. You'll also find a curious savory note in matcha, known as umami.
So, although matcha offers a good dose of caffeine, the flavor and preparation method mean that it's often reserved for more prolific tea drinkers.
7 - Energy Drinks
- Flavors: varied
- Caffeine: varied
If you want to avoid tea altogether (and we think you should really reconsider!) then an energy drink could be an alternative to your morning mug of coffee. Energy drinks contain a wide range of ingredients, from innocent cinnamon bark, black pepper, and natural flavors, to complex chemicals.
What all energy drinks have in common, however, is caffeine. Some of the most highly caffeinated energy drinks will have as much caffeine as Zest Tea, while others will have less than coffee. So, you really need to read the label carefully.
Furthermore, energy drinks are often ladled with sugar, so if you want to avoid spiking your blood sugar in the morning (and experiencing a sugar crash later on) then energy drinks should be avoided unless you can find a zero-sugar option like our ready-to-drink zero cal range.
8 - Soda
- Flavors: varied
- Caffeine: less than coffee
Some soda drinks are also a source of caffeine and may be on your radar when looking at coffee alternatives. However, most sodas are full of sugar which is not great for your health. Furthermore, they tend to be low in caffeine. The Mayo Clinic estimates that cola-style sodas only have around 22mg of caffeine per serving.6 This is even less than standard green teas!
It's also worth noting that even though some sodas are sugar-free, they also tend to be nutrition-free. Unlike tea which contains antioxidants, amino acids, and great polyphenols from tea leaves, most sodas are void of nutrients altogether. They're just flavoring and bubbles.
So, do you really want to start your day with a soda beverage? The flavor may be tempting, but we reckon our sparkling iced teas can beat them.
9 - Herbal Tea
- Flavors: varied herbal
- Caffeine: caffeine-free
Herbal tea refers to any infusion (plant matter + water) that isn't from the Camellia sinensis tea plant. These teas are therefore caffeine-free and a good option if you are cutting out coffee to avoid caffeine altogether.
There is a seemingly endless list of herbal teas, so you really are spoilt for choice when it comes to flavor. Just like regular tea and coffee, you can consume these teas hot or cold. However, herbal teas are typically consumed without milk (excluding latte-like beverages such as a turmeric golden milk).
One particular herbal infusion that you may want to consider as a coffee alternative is rooibos tea. This South African herbal plant produces a rich tannin-like flavor which is comparable to black teas. If you are craving warm, comforting and rich flavors, rooibos is a great choice.
Learn more about the different types of herbal teas in our article Types of Herbal Tea - A Comprehensive Guide.
10 - Hot Chocolate
- Flavors: rich, sweet, chocolatey
- Caffeine: trace of caffeine
Last on our list is the ultimate winter beverage - the hot chocolate. There's approximately 10mg of caffeine in a teaspoon of cocoa powder, so it's not quite caffeine-free.7 However, this low amount of caffeine will be undetectable if you are accustomed to the heavy hit of caffeine from a strong cup of coffee.
Hot chocolate made with milk and sugar will also be higher in sugar than Zest Tea and plain coffee. So, you may want to consider a sugar-free hot chocolate powder if you are switching away from coffee for your health.
Drinking hot chocolate in the summer months is also unusual, while tea can be consumed all year around.
Odd Coffee Substitute Options
If you love the taste of coffee but want to avoid caffeine altogether, then these unusual caffeine-free coffee alternatives may be of interest. Head to your local health food store or search online to find these hot beverage options.
Mushroom coffee is a coffee substitute that's made from either a blend of regular coffee and mushrooms, or just pure mushrooms. The mushrooms used to make this coffee include lion's mane, chaga, and reishi. These mushrooms are dehydrated and ground down into a powder or coarse textured grind. This means that you can find mushroom coffee pods, instant coffee, and fine powder that's suitable for your home espresso machine.
The flavor of mushroom coffee is quite dark, nutty and roasty. As for the caffeine content, most mushroom coffees have less caffeine than traditional coffee. If they're made purely of mushrooms, they will be caffeine free. However, most mushroom coffees are blended with regular coffee grinds too, so they'll have less caffeine than your usual morning coffee but way more than a decaffeinated alternative.
In terms of health benefits, medicinal mushrooms are linked to:
- Reduced cholesterol which is great for your heart health,
- Boosted immunity,
- Lower anxiety levels, thanks to adaptogens found in mushrooms.8
Whether you'll receive these benefits from drinking a mixture of mushrooms and coffee remains to be seen. You'll also have varying benefits depending on which mushrooms are used in the blend.
Chicory coffee is made with chicory root. This coffee alternative is popular in New Orleans and around the world for its earthy and nutty flavor that can complement or replace regular coffee entirely.
Chicory root is a tough and fibrous root that needs to be dried, roasted and ground before it can enter our coffee makers. Like mushrooms, it is entirely caffeine-free but is often blended with traditional coffee to create a low-caffeine hot beverage. Health food stores often stock chicory root coffee and it can also be found in some tea blends.
As for the health benefits, chicory root contains a small amount of vitamin B6, which could assist brain function when consumed as part of a healthy diet. The fiber content may also be beneficial if you want to lose weight, as inulin is great for gut health and reducing body fat.9
Be mindful when you consume chicory root coffee as it is possible to have an allergic reaction to the substance. If you know you are allergic to birch pollen or ragweed, then it's best to avoid this coffee alternative.
Roasted Barley Coffee
Our final coffee substitute is barley coffee. Made from roasted and ground barley kernels, this grain-based alternative to drinking coffee provides a naturally sweet, roasty and nutty flavor that coffee lovers find very enjoyable. The roasted and ground barley can be brewed with hot water in the same way you'd usually use coffee grounds, e.g. in a French press, cold brewed, etc.
Bear in mind that barley coffee (and barley tea, for that matter) are made with the barley grain. This means that they are not gluten-free beverages like Zest Energy Tea. If you're dead-set on trying a roasted grain beverage and want to avoid caffeine, try buckwheat instead as it's completely gluten free.
Roasted barley coffee is said to reduce blood sugar levels and promote a healthy gut, as it stimulates gastric juices. It also relieves constipation, so it may be a viable morning beverage to help get things moving ready for the day ahead.10
What is the best replacement for coffee?
The best coffee alternative is definitely tea. Black tea is our top choice, but green tea will also suffice. Not only do these drinks taste great with hot water or iced, but they're also a source of caffeine.
To get as much caffeine as a cup of coffee from your morning cuppa, choose Zest Energy Tea. We use a plant-powered formula to enhance your morning coffee alternative with up to 150mg of caffeine.
What is the healthiest alternative to coffee?
The healthiest alternatives to coffee are all plant-based and natural beverages. If you need caffeine, then tea is a great alternative. Water, fruit juices, smoothies, and other drinks are all also good for hydrating your body.
If health is your primary concern, look for zero-sugar formulas and organic ingredients that are packed with beneficial antioxidants for numerous health benefits.
What tastes like coffee but is not coffee?
Some coffee alternatives that are made with chicory root, lion's mane mushrooms, or malted barley can mimic the flavor of a dark roast... However, you can definitely tell that they aren't coffee from the taste and texture. Furthermore, a caffeine-free alternative may taste like coffee but won't give you the energy boost.
That's why we recommend a strong black tea as a replacement for coffee. A masala chai in particular has a richness comparable to coffee beans, tastes great with milk, and provides a stronger energy boost than regular coffee.
What is the best milk alternative for coffee?
Any dairy-free milk alternative will be great in your coffee, like almond milk, coconut milk and cashew milk. To make a latte, however, you need more than just hot milk. The milk must be steamed and frothed at a high temperature to create a micro-foam.
Dairy milk is so good for this because it has a high protein content, which enhances the stability of the foam. Along with a high fat content, dairy milk has a smooth texture and richness when steamed. Plant-based alternatives that are lower in protein are harder to froth up, and won't stay frothy for long. Consider buying a milk alternative that's designed for baristas, with a higher protein content, to combat this.11
The same applies for creating a chai tea latte or golden milk latte with organic turmeric.