- Caffeine can boost energy, and physical and cognitive performance, but it can have negative side effects like jitters, anxiety, and dependency.
- Caffeine alternatives offer an energy boost (or at least a solid swap for your caffeine ritual) without the side effects.
- The best caffeine alternatives include adaptogen coffees and teas, dandelion tea, chicory root ‘coffee’, lemon water, and fermented options like kombucha or apple cider vinegar.
Whether you’re a coffee or tea person, we can all agree that nothing hits better than that first sip of caffeine. Except maybe the second, and okay fine, the third. But there is such a thing as too much caffeine. That point is different for everyone, but if you’ve found your caffeine limit (hello, jitters, anxiety, bad sleep, or worse, dependency) you might be open to cutting back. That’s where caffeine alternatives come in.
While caffeine can make you feel more alert, and boost cognitive and physical performance (1), it isn’t the only energy-boosting compound out there. We’ve rounded up the best science-backed caffeine alternatives to help you stay awake. Plus, a few options that offer a 1:1 swap for your beloved coffee or tea ritual while keeping your energy at baseline.
The Best Caffeine Alternatives
1. Lemon water
This might seem like a no-brainer, but dehydration (even at a minor level) causes fatigue (2). Meaning, drinking water might actually help perk you up. A plain ol’ glass of water will do the trick, but a squeeze of lemon provides a hit of antioxidants and a welcome immune boost.
2. Golden milk
Golden milk is a rich, caffeine substitute that involves a blend of spices like ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, and black pepper. Besides giving your drink a beautiful golden color, turmeric contains curcumin, which has anti-inflammatory properties (3). “Golden milk won’t provide immediate energy like caffeine, but it may help improve sleep and thus provide steady energy throughout the day,” explains registered dietitian Cesar Sauza, MS, RDN.
3. Chicory root ‘coffee’
“Chicory root, much like coffee beans, can be transformed into a hot beverage through roasting, grinding, and brewing, offering a similar experience to coffee without caffeine,” says registered dietitian Kelsey Costa, MS, RDN. While chicory root ‘coffee’ won’t boost your energy, it may improve digestion and have anti-inflammatory properties, she adds. Bonus: According to one Reddit thread chicory root ‘coffee’ actually tastes pretty good. Just start with a small cup—apparently, the digestive effects can be intense.
4. Dandelion root tea
Dandelion root tea is another option if you love the taste of coffee, but not the caffeine or acidity. It’s also rich in vitamins C and A, potassium, and calcium which play an important role in energy production, metabolism, and immune function. Some blends are better than others, but Dandy Blend—which boasts over 18k reviews and 4.7 stars on Amazon—seems like a solid bet.
5. Adaptogen coffees and teas
Adaptogens are a broad spectrum of functional herbs, plants, and mushrooms—like ashwagandha, Rhodiola rosea, maca, and lion’s mane—that help the mind and body adapt to stress. Adaptogen drinks range from fizzy non-alcoholic cocktails and sparkling waters to adaptogenic coffees and teas like maca or mushroom coffee. What adaptogen drinks lack in caffeine, they make up for in a cocktail of good-for-you adaptogens that work together to increase focus and cognition, and squash stress fatigue (4, 5, 6, 7).
“Ginseng tea has been used for centuries in place of highly caffeinated drinks,” says Sauza. Siberian ginseng (also known as eleuthero) is an adaptogen and nootropic which may enhance memory and endurance, improve concentration, and reduce stress (8). Ginseng is traditionally brewed in tea, but you’ll also find it in adaptogen drinks like Curious Elixirs and Recess Mood, energy drinks like NOOMA, and a swath of supplements.
7. Peppermint tea
Peppermint just feels refreshing, so it’s not surprising that studies show it may boost exercise performance and oxygen concentration in the brain (9). And peppermint tea is the perfect way to get your daily dose. Peppermint tea is also supremely sippable, so if you never really liked the taste of coffee anyways, it’s a welcome sub. And if you’re coming from drinking caffeinated teas like black tea or green tea, peppermint tea feels like a natural shift to the non-caffeinated side.
Kombucha is a fermented drink that’s rich in probiotics—good-for-you bacteria that have been linked to a healthy gut (10). Because kombucha is typically made by fermenting green, black, or rooibos tea it is *slightly* caffeinated at around 15 mg of caffeine per serving. So, if you don’t mind a little caffeine it might be a better bet than coffee (at 95 mg) or black tea (at 47 mg). “Just watch the sugar content,” warns Sauza. Many kombucha brands add heaps of sugar to balance out the sour taste. Slurping back a sugary drink is a guaranteed blood sugar spike (and subsequent crash), tanking energy, he says.
9. Apple cider vinegar
This one is a little out there, but stick with us. Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is made by fermenting the sugar from apples, which creates a compound known as acetic acid (11). Acetic acid has been credited with helping to regulate blood sugar levels (12). “Steady blood sugar levels may help maintain energy throughout the day,” explains Sauza. That said, ACV can be harsh on your teeth, so drink it in a tonic like Bragg Organic Apple Cider Vinegar Refresher, or dilute one or two tablespoons into a warm mug of water.
10. Protein shake
Aside from caffeine, breakfast is one of the easiest ways to naturally boost your energy early in the day. While any food provides calories (and thus, energy), protein is king for slow and steady energy. “Protein is one of the most satiating nutrients and having a protein shake in the morning instead of a high-carb pastry will result in sustained energy levels instead of a crash,” he says.
11. B vitamins
If you’re always feeling tired (even after the caffeine withdrawals have come and gone) you might have a vitamin deficiency. B vitamin deficiencies can result in fatigue and poor concentration (13). Vitamin B12, in particular, can boost your energy levels and mood. To get more, pack your diet with vitamin B12-rich foods—like meat, fish, nuts, seeds, and dairy. Or consider a B12 supplement.
How Much Caffeine Is Too Much?
According to the FDA, most people can safely consume 400 milligrams a day, which shapes up to around four cups of coffee (14). However, this can vary depending on your sensitivity and tolerance to caffeine, says Costa. This is why some people may feel the negative effects of caffeine like jitters or tachycardia with only a few sips of coffee, while others may be able to tolerate much more.
When to Consider a Caffeine Alternative
Caffeine has a lot of perks, but when the cons start to outweigh the pros, it’s time to consider an alternative. “Pay attention to how your body reacts to caffeine and adjust your intake accordingly,” says Costa.
Even if you aren’t feeling any direct negative effects of caffeine, it might be worth exploring how you feel off of it. “Regardless of your predisposition to caffeine, it can spike cortisol levels,” registered dietitian Imashi Fernando, MS, RDN, CDCES previously told The Edge. Cortisol is anti-inflammatory by nature (as are the polyphenols found in coffee and tea), but prolonged levels of cortisol can have the opposite effect, contributing to low-grade chronic inflammation—which is linked to everything from erectile dysfunction to heart disease (15).
“Overall, reducing caffeine intake and exploring alternative options can lead to better sleep quality, improved mood, and reduced anxiety for some people,” adds Costa.
Frequently Asked Questions About Caffeine Alternatives
You’ve got questions about caffeine alternatives, we’ve got answers.
What is a substitute for caffeine to stay awake?
There are safer and healthier alternatives to caffeine if you’re in a slump. Try these tips to help you power through:
What is the healthiest coffee alternative?
Teas, adaptogen drinks, apple cider vinegar, and lemon water are all healthy options. Adaptogen drinks like mushroom coffee, maca coffee, and ginseng tea have a decided advantage since they may help boost cognition and relieve stress without caffeine. And teas like green tea, matcha, chai tea, and black tea are packed with polyphenols which offer protection against the development of certain cancers, diabetes, and neurodegenerative diseases. Apple cider vinegar and lemon water offer more short-term benefit, helping to keep hydration and energy levels in check.
What is the best coffee alternative with caffeine?
Matcha, green tea, black tea, and chai tea all have caffeine, just less than coffee. Caffeine supplements are also an option if you simply hate the taste of coffee, but you’ll lose out on the polyphenols and other beneficial compounds that are naturally packed into a cup of coffee or tea.
What coffee alternatives actually taste like coffee?
Chicory root ‘coffee’ is the closest-tasting coffee alternative, and it doesn’t have any caffeine. Some dandelion blends can have a similar taste since they often contain chicory root along with dandelion root and other beneficial compounds.
The Bottom Line
Caffeine has several perks including boosting energy and performance, but it doesn’t agree with everyone. The best caffeine alternatives that boost energy include adaptogen coffee or tea, ginseng tea, peppermint tea, apple cider vinegar, a protein shake, or plain water. To fill your coffee or tea ritual void without the energy boost consider golden milk, chicory root coffee, dandelion tea, or kombucha. And if you’re constantly low on energy, it might be worth checking if you have a vitamin deficiency. B vitamins play an essential role in regulating energy and mood, and can be depleted if you consume high levels of caffeine.
About the Experts:
Kelsey Costa, MS, RDN, is a registered dietitian nutritionist, nutrition consultant, master certified wellness coach, and author.
Cesar Sauza, MS, RDN, is registered dietitian nutritionist with over nine years of experience as an outpatient clinical dietitian specializing in pediatrics, maternal nutrition, obesity, and diabetes.
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2. Popkin, B. et al. (2011). Water, Hydration, and Health.
3. Sharifi-Rad, J. et al. (2020). Turmeric and Its Major Compound Curcumin on health: Bioactive Effects and Safety Profiles for Food, Pharmaceutical, Biotechnological and Medicinal Applications.
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10. Wang, X. et al. (2021). Probiotics Regulate Gut Microbiota: An Effective Method to Improve Immunity.
11. Budak, N. et al. (2014). Functional Properties of Vinegar.
12. Santos, H. et al. (2019). Vinegar (Acetic Acid Intake on Glucose Metabolism: A Narrative Review.
13. Harvard Health (2022). Vitamin B12 Deficiency Can Be Sneaky and Harmful.
14. Food and Drug Administration (2023). Spilling the Beans: How Much Caffeine is Too Much.
15. Hannibal, K. et al. (2014). Chronic Stress, Cortisol Dysfunction, and Pain: A Psychoneuroendocrine Rationale for Stress Management in Pain Rehabilitation.