Caffeine Alternatives: What They are and Their Benefits
This blog post was written by Victoria L. Freeman, Ph.D., CHFS, CMH, CBC.
Many folks find it challenging to jumpstart the day without their morning cup of coffee, or two. Although some truly enjoy the taste of coffee, for most, it’s the caffeine that gets their engines running. Coffee with caffeine is a mixed bag, though. That is, there are good as well as not-so-good things about caffeine intake, especially when you overindulge, which is likely why an increasing number of caffeine alternatives is one of the top nutrition trends for 20232,17. So, let’s take a look at some health implications of caffeine intake and the popular substitutions.
Pros and Cons of Consuming Caffeine
There’s a reason so many people are really attached to their morning cup of joe – caffeine in moderate amounts yields some pretty nifty effects. According to WebMD®, caffeine can make you feel awake, alert, and energetic, increase your metabolic rate, and improve exercise performance. In moderate amounts, it may even improve heart health.24 Additionally, researchers conducting a 2016 meta-analysis review study reported that as caffeinated coffee consumption increased from one to four cups daily, the relative risk of alcohol-induced cirrhosis decreased significantly.16
On the other hand, when you consume too much caffeine, which many consider to be above 400 mg per day16, you may experience some or all of the following: restlessness and shakiness, general anxiety or irritability, sleep disturbances, acid reflux, hypertension, and dizziness7,23. It’s important to note that some people are sensitive to caffeine and experience negative effects on much less. To make matters worse, once you’re hooked, which can happen on as little as 100 mg daily (approximately an 8-ounce cup of coffee), you’ll likely need more and more of it as your tolerance builds.21 Trying to wean off of caffeine can then result in withdrawal symptoms like severe headaches, drowsiness, nausea, difficulty concentrating, irritability, and fatigue.
If you think 400 mg seems like a lot of caffeine, hold that thought. You may be consuming more than you realize. Consider the caffeine content of several popular foods and drinks below1, and this expanded list with the caffeine content of many other products. Energy drinks, for example, can range from a modest 50 mg of caffeine to a shocking 505 mg per can or bottle, according to a 2009 review study in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.22 Consuming over 500 mg of caffeine in one setting – the equivalent of four to five cups of coffee - can actually be dangerous. Research has shown excessive caffeine intake can cause vomiting, cardiac arrhythmias, seizures, and even death.25
Dark Chocolate (1.5 oz bar) = 31 mg
Chocolate Ice Cream (1 cup) = 60 mg
Diet Coke (12 oz can) = 46 mg
Mountain Dew (12 oz can) = 55 mg
5-Hour Energy Drink (2 oz bottle) = 200 mg
Black Tea (8 oz cup) = 47 mg
Green Tea (8 oz cup) = 28 mg
Consider logging your caffeine intake for a few days to determine your average daily consumption. Knowing that number can tell you the likelihood of feeling withdrawal symptoms should you decide to make a full switch to caffeine alternatives. If your daily average caffeine intake is substantial, you can always reduce it a little at a time to minimize any withdrawal challenges.
Let’s explore some popular caffeine alternatives and their benefits, but before deciding what to try, ask yourself these questions: Why are you seeking a caffeine substitute, and what drew you to caffeine in the first place? The answers will help determine which caffeine alternative may be best for you. For example, if you got hooked on caffeine because of the energy boost, you’ll probably want to find an option that also increases energy. If you started drinking a lot of coffee because you enjoyed the taste of it and caffeine was a by-product, then having a coffee-like flavor to a drink may be more important than the energy enhancement effect.
Adaptogens like Ashwagandha and Rhodiola Rosea. Adaptogenic herbs are well-known for their capacity to help you handle stress. Additionally and more specifically, some evidence suggests that ashwagandha may sharpen focus and memory, and Rhodiola rosea may improve mood, concentration, and fatigue.4 If you prefer a tasty and satisfying drink to supplements, Teeccino® offers some adaptogenic herbal coffee blends.
Aromatherapy. Essential oils such as lemon, sweet orange, peppermint, and spearmint can be energizing caffeine substitutes. In particular, peppermint oil in water has been extensively researched for its performance-enhancing abilities. “Controlled experiments with athletes have demonstrated instant improvement in performance measures like jumping, grip strength, endurance, and respiration. Peppermint also improves bronchial smooth-muscle tonicity, which helps people breathe better by expanding their lung capacity.”25 As a bonus, the increased oxygen helps your body burn fat more efficiently!
Here's a performance-booster aromatherapy inhaler recipe from the book The Healing Power of Essential Oils by Eric Zielinski, D.C.25
10 drops peppermint essential oil
5 drops sweet or wild orange essential oil
5 drops spearmint essential oil
Pre-cut organic cotton pad
Place the cotton pad in the inhaler tube, and drop the essential oils directly onto it. Or, you can drop the oils into a glass bowl and soak them up with the pad, then place it in the tube with tweezers. Open the inhaler tube and take five deep breaths before your workout or between exercises.
Bambu coffee alternative. Developed in the 1950s by Alfred Vogel, Bambu is an instant powdered coffee substitute made from chicory, acorns, figs, and other cereals organically grown in Europe. Since it’s caffeine-free, it’s gentle on the nervous system and heart, non-addictive, and has no negative effect on sleep. If you enjoy the taste of coffee but wish to reduce your caffeine intake, Bambu is worth a try. It can be consumed hot or cold, in water, milk, or milk substitutes. It even works well in recipes in place of coffee. It is not gluten-free, however.5
B-complex vitamins (especially B6 & B12). Caffeine acts as a stimulant to the central nervous system, but B-complex vitamins feed directly into the energy production cycle in your body. They’re also necessary for the functioning of your brain cells. Good B vitamin sources include broccoli, brussels sprouts, leafy greens, chickpeas, kidney beans, meat, seafood, eggs, and dairy products. If your food intake of B vitamins is insufficient, a high-quality supplement may be a good idea. Energy actually comes from the food you eat, but B vitamins are catalysts that help convert your food into usable energy. The entire B-complex is essential, but B6 is particularly good at assisting with muscle repair, brain function, and regulating hormones and neurotransmitters. B12 excels at supporting nerve function and nerve tissue synthesis, the formation of red blood cells that carry oxygen, DNA synthesis, and is directly involved in energy production.6,10
Brewed cacao coffee alternative. Not to be confused with cocoa (which is usually sweeter and is often used in baking), cacao brews like coffee but tastes and smells like unsweetened dark chocolate. Crio Bru is a popular brand available in different flavors and roasts. The health benefits of cacao are numerous, including antioxidants to boost immunity and high amounts of magnesium that support bone, brain, and heart health. Some say cacao naturally suppresses appetite, enhances mood, and improves sleep.8 Crio Bru is 99.9% caffeine free, yet it does contain theobromine, a naturally occurring stimulant that can be longer-lasting, milder, and more pleasant than caffeine, according to the company’s website. It can be brewed using a French Press or an automatic drip coffee machine, but Keurigs and espresso machines don’t work as well.8
Dandy Blend coffee alternative. Botanist Dr. Peter Gail created herbal Dandy Blend in the 1990s using just four ingredients: roasted barley extracts, roasted rye extracts, roasted dandelion extracts, and roasted chicory root extracts. Dandelion is the star ingredient due to its well-known health benefits, such as promoting liver health, aiding digestion, providing antioxidants, and regulating blood sugar.11 It’s organic, caffeine-free, powdered, and instantly dissolves in any liquid at any temperature. Dandy Blend can also be used instead of coffee in recipes, but it’s not gluten-free.
Hot sauce (capsaicin). Jazzing up your morning eggs with a little hot sauce may offer a similar energy boost as your java thanks to an active component called capsaicin, which has been shown to boost metabolism and fat burning.3,13 If you’re not into hot and spicy foods, these studies show that non-pungent capsaicin analogs or equivalents, known as capsinoids, can have the same effects.4,14 Capsinoids can be found in CH-19 non-pungent, sweet red peppers.14
Lemon water or plain water. Our adult bodies are roughly 60% water. So, it’s no wonder that the primary sign of dehydration is low energy or fatigue. By the time you feel thirsty, you’re already dehydrated, so don’t wait until thirst sets in to drink water. It’s not uncommon for people to feel tired, but instead of drinking more water, they reach for a caffeine drink. While caffeine can result in a short-term energy boost, it also exerts a diuretic effect, thereby increasing dehydration and fatigue in the long run. How much water is enough? A minimum of half your body weight in pounds in ounces of water. Thus, a 150-pound person would need at least 75 ounces of water per day. As activity or sweating increases, so does your need for water. Adding lemon juice to water makes it tastier, increasing your likelihood of drinking it. Lemon also contains some minerals that aid digestion and stimulate healthy bowel function, and it yields a bit of vitamin C to boot. Finally, the tart citrus flavor may help curb your appetite and reduce your desire to binge on sweets.
MUD\WTR® coffee alternative. Founder and CEO Shane Heath created mushroom-based MUD\WTR® to help people reduce their dependence on caffeine. Ingredients include marsala chai for taste, lion’s mane mushroom for focus, chaga and reishi mushrooms to support immunity, cordyceps mushroom for natural energy, turmeric and cinnamon for their antioxidant benefits, and cacao for mood and energy.18 Compared to coffee’s caffeine content of approximately 90 – 100 mg per cup depending on the beans and growing method, MUD\WTR® comes in at 35 mg of caffeine per serving for their product, “:rise Cacoa.” However, caffeine content varies for different flavors, with 55 mg on the high end and 0 mg on the low end. Not all the flavors are caffeine-free, but they’re much less than coffee. Certifications for the products include 100% organic, non-GMO, gluten-free, Whole30, and Kosher.18
Spearmint tea. If you’re looking for an instant energy jolt akin to caffeine, spearmint tea may not be the best choice for you. However, spearmint tea tastes amazing and has many other potential benefits that may support your health, which could, in turn, indirectly improve your energy. For example, research suggests that spearmint may improve arthritis pain, help reduce stress and anxiety, balance blood sugar, and relieve digestive upset.12
Teeccino coffee alternative. Motivated by her own caffeine and acid sensitivities, tea designer Caroline MacDougall created Teeccino® in 1993. Both caffeine-free and gluten-free with beneficial effects on gut health and immunity, Teeccino® is now available in over 35 organic blends made from herbs and blended with fruits, nuts, and spices. Early endorsements from healthcare practitioners and health educators helped catapult Teeccino’s® market growth. Another great benefit is that all unflavored and natural flavors of Teeccino® are organic. Their products are available in loose-leaf and tea bag varieties.20
Zynamite®. A proprietary standardized extract made from the leaves of Mangifera indica or the mango tree, Zynamite® became available in 2018 as an ingredient to use in supplements or functional foods. The goal of the company that created Zynamite®, Nektium Pharma S.L, was to develop an ingredient that could increase both mental and physical energy, and according to nine human trials, eight publications, and three patent families, they were successful. As a nootropic (cognitive enhancer), Zynamite® has been shown to improve cognitive function and decision-making, speed up reaction time, and decrease fatigue.19 In the areas of sports performance and sports recovery, research indicates it can boost energy, increase mean and peak power output, increase VO2 max, reduce muscular fatigue, accelerate recovery, support pain reduction, and reduce muscle damage.19 In supplement form, Zynamite® is available here.
Cinnamon-Nutmeg Latte Substitute
You might be surprised at just how good these caffeine alternatives are in action. Here’s a simple recipe for a coffee alternative latte. Give it a try. There is life beyond caffeine!
8 ounces of hot or cold milk or milk alternative (e.g., oat, almond, or coconut milk)
1 rounded teaspoon of Dandy Blend, Bambu, or MUD/WTR® (a heaping teaspoon if you like it stronger.)
1/8 rounded teaspoon of cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg
Agave nectar, stevia, monk fruit, or another sweetener of your choosing
Non-dairy whipped cream (optional)
Combine all the ingredients and enjoy! If you want a frothier texture, combine all the ingredients and add the mixture to a blender or froth the milk. Top with “whipped cream,” and sprinkle with more cinnamon if desired.
1. Alex of Ryan and Alex, LLC. (June 24, 2021). Caffeine Alternatives, Ryan and Alex LLC, downloaded May 10, 2023, https://www.ryanandalex.com/caffeine-alternatives/.
2. Arthur, R. (March 28, 2022). Wake Up and Smell the Coffee Alternatives: ‘We See a Pronounced Trend Away from Caffeine as People Want More Healthy Energy,’ Beverage Daily, downloaded May 3, 2023, https://www.beveragedaily.com/Article/2022/03/27/Coffee-alternatives-We-see-a-pronounced-trend-away-from-caffeine-as-people-want-more-healthy-energy.
3. Baboota, R. K., et al. (2018). Dihydrocapsiate Supplementation prevented high-fat diet-induced adiposity, hepatic steatosis, glucose intolerance, and gut morphological alterations in mice. Nutritional Research, 51:40-56. DOI: 10.1016/j.nutres.2017.11.006
4. Bailey, D. (June 9, 2023). 16 Top Coffee Alternatives, According to Experts. Forbes, downloaded May 12, 2023, https://www.forbes.com/health/body/coffee-alternatives/ .
5. (n.a) (n.d.) Bambu Coffee Alternative, https://www.avogel.co.uk/food/products/coffee-substitute-alternative/.
6. Brazier, Y. (April 24, 2023). The Benefits and Food Sources of Vitamin B6, Medical News Today, downloaded May 5, 2023, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/219662.
7. (n.a) (n.d.) Caffeine, Medline Plus, downloaded May 14, 2023, https://medlineplus.gov/caffeine.html.
8. (n.a.) (n.d.) Crio Bru, https://criobru.com/pages/crio-bru-brewed-cacao.
9. (n.a.) (n.d.) Dandy Blend, https://dandyblend.com/product/dandy-blend-coffee-alternative-organic/.
10. Felman, A. (April 24, 2023). Vitamin B12 Benefits, Food Sources, Deficiency Symptoms, and More, Medical News Today, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/219822.
11. Fletcher, J. (January 10, 2023). 11 Health Benefits of Dandelion, Medical News Today, downloaded May 1, 2023, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324083.
12. Groves, M. (October 24, 2018). 11 Surprising Benefits of Spearmint Tea and Essential Oil. Healthline, downloaded May 20, 2023, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/spearmint.
13. Inoue, N., et al. (2007). Enhanced Energy Expenditure and Fat Oxidation in Humans with High BMI Scores by the Ingestion of Novel and Non-pungent Capsacin Analogues (Capsinoids). Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry, 71(2): 380-389. DOI: 10.1271/bbb.60341.
14. Izawa, K., et al. (2010). Capsinoids: Capsaicin. ScienceDirect, downloaded May 12, 2023, https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/biochemistry-genetics-and-molecular-biology/capsinoids.
15. Kennedy, O.J., et al. (January 25, 2016). Systematic Review with Meta-Analysis: Coffee Consumption and the Risk of Cirrhosis. Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics, 43(5): 562-574. https://doi.org/10.1111/apt.13523.
16. Mayo Clinic Staff. (March 19, 2022). Caffeine: How Much Is Too Much? Mayo Clinic, downloaded May 14, 2023, https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/caffeine/art-20045678.
17. (n.a.) (December 20, 2022). The Rise of Coffee Alternatives, Advanced Biotech, downloaded May 3, 2023, https://www.adv-bio.com/the-rise-of-coffee-alternatives/.
18. (n.a.) (n.d.) Mud\Wtr®, https://mudwtr.com/.
19. (n.a.) (n.d.) Nektium Pharma S.L., https://nektium.com/zynamite/.
20. (n.a.) (n.d.) Teeccino®, https://teeccino.com/#.
21. Petra, A. (February 19, 2017). Can Drinking Coffee Lead to Caffeine Addiction?, Healthline, downloaded May 14, 2023, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/caffeine-addiction.
22. Reissig, C.J., et al. (2009). Caffeinated Energy Drinks – A Growing Problem. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 99(1-3):1-10. DOI: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2008.08.001
23. Spritzler, F. (August 14, 2017). 9 Side Effects of Too Much Caffeine. Healthline, downloaded May 14, 2023, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/caffeine-side-effects#TOC_TITLE_HDR_6.
24. WebMD Editorial Contributors. (June 30, 2021). Caffeine: Are There Health Benefits? Nourish by WebMD, downloaded May 14, 2023, https://www.webmd.com/diet/caffeine-health-benefits.
25. Zielinski, E. (2018). The Healing Power of Essential Oils: Soothe Inflammation, Boost Mood, Prevent Autoimmunity, and Feel Great in Every Way. Harmony Books: New York, NY.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Victoria L. Freeman, Ph.D., CHFS, CMH, CBC, has traveled a long and winding professional road that includes working as a teenage fine artist, later a personal trainer and wellness coach, a college professor and administrator in exercise science and education, a freelance natural health and fitness writer for national magazines, a property manager and interior designer for vacation and executive rental properties and most recently returning to the natural health arena while attending Trinity School of Natural Health to become a Certified Holistic Fitness Specialist, a Certified Master Herbalist, and a Certified Biblical Coach.