Crave a cup of java but don't want a caffeine jolt? Try a delicious coffee alternative, such as yerba mate or chicory.
The world is mad for coffee. Cafés have cropped up on almost every corner. People rush around with steaming cups in hand or stashed in the cup holder of their cars. But some people are ready for a change; others are concerned about the health effects of too much caffeine.
Too much of a good thing
A naturally occurring chemical found in plants, caffeine can cause nervousness, irritability, and sleep disturbances. Other reported physical effects include an irregular heartbeat and elevated blood pressure. Caffeine can also react with a number of medications.
Health Canada suggests that 400 mg per day is probably safe for most healthy adults—that’s about two 8 oz (250 mL) cups per day. It also advises women who are pregnant, or who may conceive, to limit their consumption to 300 mg per day.
If you want to forgo your usual cup of joe, try some alternatives that have the comforting roastiness of coffee, with or without the added caffeine.
Brews without the buzz
The coffee aisle in most health food stores stocks a selection of caffeine-free coffee substitutes. Some approximate the taste of coffee better than others, but in the end, finding the one you like best is a matter of sampling the different products.
Just a note: if you’ve been a diehard coffee drinker, you may experience caffeine withdrawal if you give it up all at once. To avoid unpleasant symptoms, which may include headaches, irritability, and fatigue, gradually decrease the amount of caffeine you consume.
Bambu, described as a “Swiss coffee substitute,” is made up of a ground and roasted mixture of chicory, wheat, barley, acorns, and figs. Like instant coffee, preparing it is just a matter of adding a heaping teaspoon to hot water or milk. It’s also available as Bambu Filter, which is brewed in the same way as drip coffee.
Bambu is only one of a variety of coffee substitutes available in powdered form, including Krakus, Caf-Lib, and Postum, available at your natural health store. When mixed with hot water or milk, they form a pleasant froth, reminiscent of a freshly steamed espresso.
Chicory leaves are used as a spicy addition to salads, while the root, dried and finely ground, is one of coffee’s best-known stand-ins. It’s easy to find in most health food stores and spice shops.
Using a conventional percolator, French press, or drip coffee cone, measure 2 to 3 Tbsp (30 to 45 mL) dried chicory root for each cup of water, depending on your preference. The resulting dark brew looks like coffee, but has a more herbaceous, earthy taste. Add milk and/or your choice of natural sweetener, as you would to your regular cup of coffee.
A relatively new player on the coffee alternative scene is Teeccino. It is a roasted combination of carob, barley, chicory, dates, figs, ramon seeds, almonds, and dandelion root. It comes in a package just like coffee, is brewed just like coffee, and the resulting beverage looks just like coffee, but it smells and tastes spicy-sweet. Teeccino is available in a range of flavours including hazelnut, chocolate raspberry, and vanilla nut.
Drinks to satisfy that caffeine craving
When you need a small caffeine boost but don’t want to drink coffee, try these alternatives.
Yerba maté, made from the tropical plant Ilex paraguariensis, has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and blood lipid-lowering properties. It’s also a good source of vitamins A, C, and E; several B vitamins; and minerals such as potassium and zinc.
Yerba maté is a common drink in South America. In Canada, it’s available in most grocery and health food stores. Available in loose leaf form, it can be made just like coffee. It also comes in small packets, which are steeped in a cup of hot water for five to 10 minutes. The resulting infusion is much lighter than coffee, looking more like a green tea. It has a mild nutty flavour, making it a good choice for those who need an energy boost without the bitter taste.
Studies have suggested that yerba maté may increase the risk of some types of cancer. However, recent studies show that yerba maté may destroy colon cancer cells and increase bone mineral density in postmenopausal women. More research is required.
Compared to the sugary whipped cream coffee confections available at many coffee shops, hot chocolate may be a lower calorie, lower caffeinated alternative. One cup (250 mL) of hot chocolate contains between 3 and 13 mg of caffeine—fairly mild compared to the amount in a cup of regular coffee. And one cup of hot chocolate, without the whipped cream or mini marshmallows, has only 192 calories.
Of course, the secret to a good cup of hot chocolate is the quality of the chocolate that you start with. A number of organic fair trade hot chocolate mixes are available at your local health food store. Choose one that contains at least 70 percent cacao. Simply heat up some water or almond, soy, or dairy milk, and mix in the powder according to directions on the package.
Spice it up!
There’s a whole world of flavours that can be added to your cup of brew.
Cinnamon, Cloves, or Anise Seed
Add a pinch of any of these to your coffee alternative before placing in a French press, coffee filter, or cup.
1 tsp (5 mL) cinnamon
1 tsp (5 mL) ginger
1/2 tsp (2 mL) cardamom
1/2 tsp (2 mL) cloves
Combine all spices. Add a pinch of this mixture to coffee alternative before brewing.
1/2 tsp (2 mL) allspice
1/2 tsp (2 mL) cinnamon
Combine and add a pinch of this mixture to coffee alternative before brewing.