Trying to Cut Back on Caffeine? 20 Coffee Alternatives That Still Brighten Your Day

coffee alternatives"
coffee alternatives
Source: Elevae Visuals
Source: Elevae Visuals

Coffee and bright awakening go hand in hand. Like a fog lifting, a flower opening, or an energy current suddenly being activated, whatever that feeling is, that first sip sure feels good. And that’s precisely how coffee and caffeine charm their way to having a hold on you. 

Before you start to worry, this isn’t an attempt to flash caution lights at you and steer you away from the pleasures of your favorite caffeinated beverages. Actually, there’s a reason caffeine culture, and coffee culture in particular, is something that’s celebrated practically everywhere. Caffeinated beverages taste good, wake you up, and can often be a key part of your morning ritual. But if you have ever wondered if it’s possible to be free from the rather addictive and routine-like nature of caffeine and still feel as energized—it is!

You may be trying to detox from caffeine for health reasons, or because you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, or simply don’t want to depend on it for your energy. Like the sober curious movement, you might just wonder what less caffeine feels like (beyond the preliminary slump!). Disclaimer: Perform a quick search, and you’ll just as easily find reasons a daily cup of coffee or two is healthy. That being said, whatever your motivation, we wanted to inspire and empower you with reasons why reducing your caffeine intake can still be a beneficial and welcome change. Here, we’re sharing some of the benefits of cutting back on caffeine, plus tasty coffee alternatives to help break the caffeine habit.

Benefits of Reducing Caffeine

As you succeed in lightening your caffeine load, what you may find on the other side is that you have a surprising well of untapped energy. And that’s not the only benefit—there are other emotional and physical rewards to enjoy as well.   

1. Lower anxiety

Sometimes, you know you’ve had one too many sips of a caffeinated beverage because suddenly you’re jittery and on edge. (Any Friends fans out there who remember one of Chandler’s botched attempts to break up with Janice?) Rather than looking forward to riding your caffeine high, you’re looking forward to coming down from it. It turns out, caffeine can indeed activate feelings of nervousness and imitate the symptoms of anxiety. That’s not to say anybody who drinks caffeine will feel anxious. However, if you do struggle with anxiety or bouts of anxiousness on a given day, caffeine might exacerbate it.  

2. Improved quality of sleep

Many of us turn to caffeinated drinks precisely because we’re trying to shake off our sleepiness and stay more awake. For that, you’d think when it comes time to get some shut-eye, drifting off to sleep after another full day would be easy. Nevertheless, studies have shown that consuming caffeine can alter our sleep patterns. 

For example, caffeine can delay the start of REM sleep, which is the phase of sleep where much of our brain’s processing and strengthening happens. It can also affect how long it takes you to fall asleep and reduce how long you spend sleeping. As you might expect, the more caffeine you drink and the closer you do so before going to bed, the more likely it is you may experience these disruptions. 

3. Dependence on one less thing

There are some things we love to count on—our children’s smiles, our loved one’s affections, beautiful weather. Then there are those things we know we’re dependent on, but in our heart of hearts maybe wish it was a little less so. Screen time and particularly binge-worthy TV shows or snacks come to mind. As does that daily or multi-daily “must” of coffee (or whatever form your preferred caffeine fix is). 

If you’ve ever kicked a hard-to-break habit before, you know how liberating it can be. It can show us the power we have to evolve on our own terms. What’s more, imagine how freeing it could feel to wake up in the morning or coast into your afternoon and not feel so compelled to focus on ensuring you get caffeine into your system first. You start to realize you’re the one who controls your energy, not the beverage.  

4. More sustained energy throughout the day

Ever feel like you hit a deep afternoon slump despite having had your energizing cup of coffee in the morning? That’s because, naturally, your body produces a chemical called adenosine throughout the day. When enough adenosine has built up, it tells your brain it’s time to head to sleep. Meanwhile, caffeine blocks adenosine. If you’re regularly taking in caffeine, your body will compensate by producing more adenosine, which can leave you feeling like you need another caffeine boost later in the day. 

By reducing your caffeine intake, you’ll be able to tap into your body’s ability to energize on its own. It will produce a more balanced stream of adenosine without the added stimulus of caffeine. Instead of having that disproportionate caffeine burst at the outset of your day and feeling it taper off as time goes on, you’re bound to feel a more even and reliable supply of energy. If you’ve been a steady caffeine consumer for years, then obviously this shift won’t happen overnight. Still, our bodies are capable of so much, and they certainly have the inclination to generously fuel us with energy.       

5. Improved skin quality

Caffeine is a diuretic—it signals to your kidneys to get rid of salt and water. That’s why you might notice you have to pee more often after you drink a caffeinated beverage. If you’re not staying hydrated with enough water to balance it out, too much caffeine can lead to dehydration. This can mean dry and faster-aging skin as well, as caffeine has been shown to interfere with collagen production (a protein that helps create healthy and hydrated skin cells).  

Although you might see caffeine being touted as an ingredient in popular skincare items, its effect is usually short-term and temporary. By reducing your caffeine intake, you can focus on drinking more hydrating beverages, which better quench your skin cells so they leave you with that fresh glow.        

6. Less stains on your teeth

Unless you’re brushing your teeth after every sip of coffee and perpetually covering your teeth with whitening strips (which would be problematic for their enamel anyway), some degree of darkened staining from caffeinated beverages like coffee (or espresso, black tea, etc.) is inevitable. While, sure, it can be somewhat polished off after a teeth cleaning at the dentist, those visits are usually a couple of times a year at best. So, if you take pride in having pearly whites, think of preserving them as another perk to scaling back on your daily cup(s) of joe.   

7. Lower blood pressure

Just after you’ve had a beverage containing caffeine, it can cause your blood pressure and heart rate to rise. Though the amount of caffeine, your tolerance to it, genetics, and overall risk for hypertension impact the extent of this rise, it can help explain any exaggerated rush you might feel after drinking it. This might be especially true if you’re stressed and your blood pressure and heart rate are already climbing. While caffeine hasn’t been linked to long-term blood pressure issues, if you think you could benefit from calming your cardiovascular system down, it may be worth exploring how less caffeine feels.      

8. New and creative beverage opportunities

Visit any coffee shop, and most options usually fall into the coffee- or espresso-based category. Even so, there are tons of ways you can broaden your beverage horizons while keeping caffeine levels to a minimum, whether at home or out and about. You just have to know what sorts of ingredients to look for, the flavor combinations that excite you, and what to order. The good news is that with more and more people embracing a low-to-no caffeine lifestyle, the availability of options is as abundant as ever. 

coffee alternatives
Source: ColorJoy Stock

How to Cut Back on Caffeine

Our bodies are wired to naturally energize us. If anything, caffeine is what gives our system a reason to deactivate those mechanisms. So much of having that ritual cup of morning and/or afternoon coffee, for example, is precisely that—a ritual of habit. Teach your body you’re going to change the rules, and it will support you!

That being said, there’s absolutely the whole your-body’s-used-to-caffeine part. The withdrawal headaches you can experience when you detox from coffee can make doing so seem extra daunting. Fortunately, there are thoughtful resources that can help you cut back on caffeine comfortably. Here are some of the approaches they suggest.

Reduce your intake slowly rather than going cold turkey

Depending on how much caffeine you consume, a sudden and complete caffeine break-up can put such a toll on your body that you might be all the more convinced you “need” it. Instead, take stock of your average daily caffeine consumption and decide where you can begin to cut back. Is it half a cup less? A quarter? Can you replace one cup with decaf? Can you try dosing your intake a bit differently?  

For instance, if it’s the caffeine buzz you count on, doctors have suggested relating to caffeine as though it’s medicinal: “One of the things that people don’t realize is, if you think of [caffeine] as a medicine, then the best way to use it is in small, frequent doses… 20 milligrams to 100 milligrams at a time as opposed to the standard American mug of coffee,” said Dr. Shannon Kilgore in the AMA’s What Doctors Wish Patients Knew™ series. You might find you actually drink less with this approach because the full cup part may be just out of convention or routine.

Take baby steps if you need to, with your overall focus being on how little by little you can consistently cut back. It might be day by day, week by week, or month by month, and that’s OK!  

Hydrate as much as possible

Our cells love drinking up water for energy. When you find yourself dragging, try to be intentional about sipping on as many refreshing glasses of water (or other hydrating beverages, like sparkling water or coconut water) as you can instead. Imagine it flooding you with well-being, and see if you can feel it bringing life to your system.

Focus on decaf and low-caffeine drinks

It’s important to give yourself pleasurable alternatives so you’re not suffering from a beverage void. Start befriending decaf coffees and espressos—while they still contain caffeine, it’s on a much lower scale and at least you’ll still get to savor the taste. On the other hand, try to see this as an opportunity to connect with new and lower caffeinated drinks (we provide lots of options below!). They might not ever replace your ultimate faves, but being open to giving them a chance might make the acceptance part easier.  

15 Recipes for Coffee Alternatives

There are plenty of beverages with minimal to no caffeine that not only taste good but support even the most active and busiest of us. They’re also pleasant coffee alternatives you can turn to for an updated daily beverage routine or ritual that leaves you feeling at least as revitalized. The following alternatives to coffee are starting points for some barista inspo, and our list of best Starbucks drinks for kids is full of non-caffeinated options, too. 

If you do plan on trying your hand at brewing up something at home, having a trusty frothing wand can make the final result so much smoother. Another useful hack if you’re short on time is preparing multiple servings of your recipe of choice so it’s an easy pour in the days to come. Cheers to a free-from-caffeine you!         

1. 5-Minute Caffeine-Free Chai Mix

Having a fragrant chai mix to blend with your favorite milk is a staple when you’re nixing caffeine. This recipe covers all the chai spice essentials, leaving you with dozens of servings to prepare this lively beverage.    

2. Magical No-Coffee Cacao Collagen Latte

Have you been waiting for an opportunity to explore the touted benefits of collagen? This scrumptious latte recipe shows you how you can incorporate it into a coffee-free beverage that you actually want to keep sipping. 

3. Cinnamon Vanilla Dandelion Tea Latte

Dandelion—you mean, like the weed I’m trying to eradicate from my garden? Exactly! In tea form, roasted dandelion root is not only slightly reminiscent of coffee, but it can support digestion and the liver. Paired with this latte’s recipe of cinnamon, vanilla, maple syrup, and cashew butter, it’s super yummy.         

coffee alternatives
Source: Minimalist Baker

4. The Best Maca Latte

Maca is another adaptogen that may help improve energy as well as support libido and fertility. It possesses a nutty flavor, making it particularly enjoyable in a nourishing latte mix like this one. 

5. 5-Minute Mushroom Latte (2 Ways!)

This recipe’s mushroom cacao latte is what convinced me to give up coffee. It does a pretty darn good job whipping up something that’s flavorful and aromatic yet barely caffeinated. The added health benefits of the adaptogenic mushrooms can’t hurt, either.      

6. Pink Drink

Starbucks isn’t the only locale where you can grab a pretty (and tasty!) drink like this. While the grande Starbucks version has about 45 milligrams of caffeine, this recipe’s juicy fusion of hibiscus, fresh strawberries, coconut milk, and orange juice is caffeine-free.

Source: Cookie + Kate

7. Easy Chai Latte 

Chai is a no-fail option when you’re trying to find something toasty and vibrant tasting that’s not coffee. This recipe’s got the ratios of spices to milk down and calls for optional black tea bags if you’re still trying to wean off of caffeine completely.   

8. 3-Minute Matcha Latte

The Japanese swear by the energizing and antioxidant benefits of matcha. If you’re seeking to reduce how much caffeine you’re drinking, ½ to 1 teaspoon of matcha is typically less than a cup of coffee. Despite it having an entirely different flavor profile than coffee, when you find the right sweeteners, it can still taste really good. 

9. Hibiscus Adaptogen Latte

Adaptogens help your body respond to stress, and this latte’s ashwagandha powder is a known adaptogen whose plant is native to India, the Middle East, and parts of Africa. Blended with hibiscus, chamomile, honey, and oat milk, you’re greeted by a lovely floral treat.  

coffee altneratives
Source: Abra’s Kitchen

10. 24k Gold Vanilla Turmeric Latte

For a fun and distinctive set of flavors, this turmeric latte blended with coconut milk is definitely a treasure waiting to be found when you’re parting with caffeine.     

11. Mexican Hot Chocolate

OK, try to suspend your judgment that hot chocolate is reserved for a wintertime treat. When you’re trying to find something that holds any kind of flame to coffee, it’s time to reframe hot chocolate as a knight in shining armor of sorts. Gear up with a good quality cacao powder and the perfect recipe, and you’ve got yourself a mug of something special.    

12. Blue Butterfly Pea Latte

Besides its enchanting appearance, this tea latte is packed with antioxidants thanks to its dried blue butterfly pea flower powder. With sweet, floral, and earthy flavor notes, it’s a refreshing caffeine-free companion whether it’s morning, noon, or night.  

coffee alternatives
Source: The Picky Eater

13. Powerhouse Pink Latte

What gives this drink its striking pink hue are beets, which are known for being heart-healthy,  anti-inflammatory, and high in fiber. This recipe shows you how to tastefully incorporate fresh, packaged, powdered, or juiced beets for the ultimate superfood latte.

14. Hibiscus Tea

If it was never coffee’s flavor and more so its effect that had you hooked, then swapping in a heavily steeped cup of hibiscus tea can offer its own rich zing to boost your energy.  

15. Rose Latte (Hot or Iced)

Romanticize your latte time with this appealing and flowery recipe that’s swirled with rose water, maple syrup, vanilla, and ginger. 

Caffeine-Free Starbucks Drinks to Try

Though they’re not shouting at you from the menu, you can totally order an assortment of caffeine-free possibilities on your next Starbucks run. The only word of caution is to be mindful of how much added sugar is making its way into your cup. Pure coffee and espresso do have the advantage in that they’re sugar-free. The last thing you need is to begin successfully curbing your coffee habit, only to find you’ve replaced it with a sugar addiction! Where you can, try asking for fewer pumps of sweetener/syrup and select a milk that is lower in sugar, like almond or coconut milk.

1. Cinnamon Dolce Crème Steamer

While a traditional steamer—steamed milk and flavored syrup—might sound like a sleepytime tonic, a dose of eye-opening cinnamon is the key here. The combination to order is steamed milk, cinnamon dolce syrup, and cinnamon dolce topping. 

2. Iced Passion Tango Tea

This thirst-quenching and sugar-free tea is a rejuvenating blend of hibiscus, lemongrass, and apple. Ask for less ice and no water if you’d like it to pack more of a punch. Unfortunately, if you gravitate toward hot beverages, they only offer this one iced. 

starbucks caramel frap
Source: Olena Bohovyk | Pexels

3. Caramel Ribbon Crunch Crème Frappuccino

If your go-to caffeinated Starbucks order featured caramel, try switching it out with this caffeine-free Frappuccino instead. To cut down on the sugar—customize your drink with no whip, caramel drizzle, or crunch toppings. Be sure you specify the créme version, not the standard version, otherwise, it will contain espresso.

4. Hot tea with steamed milk

For something simple, steeping a non-caffeinated tea in hot water for a few minutes and then topping it off with steamed milk and a touch of sweetener can be wonderfully uplifting. Currently, Starbucks offers Mint Majesty and Peach Tranquility herbal teas.

5. Steamed apple juice

When it’s not coming straight out of a juice box and it’s been jazzed up with a steam wand and a Starbucks cup, the tart sweet taste of apple juice can awaken your senses. For some added indulgence, have it topped off with a dollop of whipped cream. 

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