Replacing anxiety: Coffee substitutes and caffeine-free alternatives

Either for health reasons, sustainable performance for athletes, during pregnancy and breast feeding for women, coffee substitutes intrigue these mindful of their consumption. The side effect of caffeine brings about nervousness, anxiety, and even panic attacks, for women it can also upset estrogen levels.

In spring, a healthy detox is always a wise choice to reset the body and mind into a relaxed pattern at first and then gain more energy for the year’s festivities. During detoxification the body has plenty to do and you better rest to aid the intense process affecting most organs. From liver, kidneys, the digestive system, pancreas, gall bladder to heart. Therefore, all serious health retreats I have been to cross of caffeine out their cleansing menus. 

Cichorium Intybus

The new vice for the global world on speed

Not only the health conscious skip caffeine or at least try to reduce it, but Europe did not have caffeine in any form – coffee or tea until 17th century. On Vice I read that up until 1616, London had no caffeine because of the global trade had not improved it yet. I love the post’s author (Jamie Steidle) lips lifting confession:

“I don’t like the feeling when you have one too many espresso shots and you’re moving so fast that you might phase through the space-time continuum like a quantum particle.” And I cannot be more in sync with him grasping that “Caffeine, it turns out, is not the soul of coffee; trust me. It’s more about the ritual and the mood, not just a jolt of energy and heart palpitations.”  

They especially entertain our mind as if you once were a genuine coffee lover, not just the caffeine kick seeker, but a connoisseur of the deep expression of the Earth’s divers terroirs. For with coffee like the real tea (Camelia Sinensis) and wine, in different soils, elevations, exposures to the sun and other elements, the beans’ expression changes. The human intervention also counts as with tea and wine. Selecting the beans and then gently roasting it can support or break the quality.

Healthy coffee replacements

My coffee appreciation yielded a casual poem once. While I was sipping a frothy cappuccino brewed by a Japanese barista in Le Marais, Paris, I was elated that finally, Paris has a good quality, perfectly brewed coffee.

No lid to screen my eager lips

Dipping like silky petals of tulips

Wet with a dew diving down

Into the soiled brew I now own 

Touching the frothy pleasure 

My nose elates beyond measure

Warmth under the milky cloud

Caresses my mouth, teases joy out


coffee alternatives

Health reasons to quit coffee and switch to an alternative

About six months ago I had to stop drinking normal coffee for health reasons. The bad headaches and dizziness were enough to warn me that something isn’t alright. Later, blood tests showing serious anaemia confirmed my body’s blinking orange light. Listen to your body as it has that red flag capacity to prevent further damage. Tannins in coffee, black tea, chocolate and wine are the major interferences with the absorption of iron from the food we consume into the blood. One needs to consume these at least an hour apart from iron-rich foods and supplements.

As there always is a bright side to any misfortune, I embarked on a research journey seeking what else with a similar taste profile is out there on the market. Still, I would enjoy one cup of decaf coffee without the headaches, but the tannins were still in. The aroma of an excellently roasted coffee bean is simply irreplaceable.

Like the 15th century spice traders I voyaged to America where most hotels serve terrible decaf coffee. I try a sip, but mostly the experience is so bad that I advise to rather skip it altogether. As my desperation and curiosity grew, I asked around and rejoice, I got plenty of tips on artisan coffee roasters from LA to Brooklyn making delightful, by natural methods decaffeinated beans. Most used more mild method of water washing to rid the praised coffee berries off the for some unwelcome caffeine.

From spring mountain water soaring with bright flavours to sugar sweetened water, it works very well but takes more work than the harsh chemical treatments used commonly. The majority of chemical decaffeination washes away not just the unwanted but also some desired flavour. More often than not, lesser quality of beans were being used for this purpose. Not any more. The hardness of the water used is also a key to success. Even the world’s best barista at Mame, residing like currently myself in Zurich, also adopted his decaffeinating method to using local Swiss water. Still, even more gentle and flavour friendly is using CO2 method to remove the caffeine from the green beans prior to roasting. This is so far the best method I found that shows in the taste.

Healthy coffee alternatives

My recommended decaf coffees: Alana’s sugar H2O decaf Colombian beans in Los Angeles; Mexican brew by Devocion in Brooklyn; the trophies winning Mame in Zurich has with Swiss water washed blend; Deep in Marseille has sublime CO2 decaf roast from Ethiopia called Chill Pills.

Sometimes, my body is cheated into believing that I am drinking the real thing, I get a slight buzz from it for a couple of minutes, but then as if the brain found out the fraud, suddenly I am at ease and no headache comes. How intriguing is observing closely the reaction of your own body, especially when you are impartial, knowing that what you bought came from the decaf bag. 

Perhaps it is not caffeine, the illusion of comfort and pick me up before setting out to work, but the warm brew, the fragrance of which you can inhale joyfully. Indeed, any beverage with a pleasant deep aroma, unique to you, can step in the place of coffee. 

coffee alternatives

The best coffee substitutes for your health

Don’t just sip any herbal infusion. For a chamomile, fennel, ginger or any other plant tisane won’t satisfy these who seek the specific chocolaty, nutty, perhaps even bitter, sometimes tobacco leaves reminding aromas. Some herbal and grain substitutes supply important minerals, vitamins and other potentially beneficial nutrients, often alkaline and better than the body acidifying coffee. Further, some are more suitable for mixing with coffee in order to lower the caffeine content in your daily consumption.

Barley is perhaps the most common. In Italy any gas station offers orzo. The roasted barley can unfortunately tasted as if burned so I am usually dissatisfied either with the espresso or cappuccino form of it. Plus if gluten bothers you, barley is not your friend. Yet, there are some cafes and restaurants that source more elegantly roasted barley so you might prefer it to my further suggestions. In Japan, I tasted Mugi-cha or Barley tea which is essentially the same but not ground into fine grains as the coffee substitute would be. 

Taste-wise and health-wise, I find a better option in chicory. This roasted previously dehydrated root from chicory plant (Cichorium Intybus) has a deep flavour like coffee, nutty, woody, not bitter, and is an ideal morning partner to your breakfast. Not irritating your bowels as coffee does, plus it does not acidify the gut more than it already is. In my native Czechia, chicory is still very popular as it was commercially made for two centuries. From health stand for hypertension, therefore older people tend to sip on it instead of coffee that rises your blood pressure rather fast. It is a wonderful paring with milk and milk alternatives such as almond, oat or soy to whip up a frothy cappuccino or macchiato.

coffee alternativesHealthy coffee alternatives

Less common alternatives to your daily coffee

Creatively and historically, the resourceful Czechs have also used oak (Quercus Alba) acorns blended with other substances such as rosehip. The acorns contain tannic acid, which for some sensitive individuals may not work. For example if you suffer from anemia, the tannins interfere with the absorption of iron into the blood, so you better have your iron and this brew separately.

Spelt is a less common ancient grain brew, but roasted and blended with chicory it tastes close to black coffee.

Rye can be also roasted and then ground into more breakfast porridge kind of meal rather than delightful coffee alternative.

Lupins (Lupinus Lutens) can also be ground to a powdery consistence for warm cuppa, yet many people have allergy to these leguminous beans and the taste is nothing close to coffee, rather a beverage on its own merit.

In Japan, particularly around Kyoto I was impressed by the deep roast of KuromamechaBlack Soybean brew served often by monasteries and temples.

Healthy coffee alternativesRoasted tea

Economising choices of tasty beverages

I remember that particularly wide spread was a blend of chicory, sugar beet, barley and rye still available in Czechia today. Sold under the brand name Melta it was fortified with additional vitamins (iron, B6, potassium) and minerals (magnesium), yet cheaper than coffee and vastly popular during economically harsh times like wars and the occupation by Soviet Union. With inflation striking high, banks collapsing once again, we are well into the economically sober cycle, therefore cheaper and healthier alternatives to coffee become handy. In hard times, some rather puzzling ingredients were used to balance the cost of coffee, by adding dried and pounded figs, carrots, grape seeds, even potatoes into the imported coffees.

Dandelion plantcoffee alternativestasting of coffee alternatives in Czechia

Herbal remedies as coffee replacements

The root of dandelion is beyond its European staple status now frequently on the shelves of health food stores in the US. It is more like a herbal infusion with the bitter taste wanted for its bile production inducing effect. The inulin in it supports immunity.

Burdock is popular in the West Arctium lappa as well as in Asia. In TCM this berberine and inuline containing herb is known as blood purifier and tonic, overall it supports liver by promoting the flow of bile, increases circulation to the skin, and is a mild diuretic. The Japanese adore the health benefits and the slightly sweet flavour of the burdock root that is also used in cooking.

Healthy coffee alternatives

The superfood adaptogenic coffee is a blend of medicinal mushrooms (Chaga, Cordyceps, Lion’s mane and Reishi are most common), and herbs like Ashwagandha that help the body to fend off stress. Basically the opposite effects of caffeine, you get an energy boost without the jittery crust. In the eastern traditional medicine these ingredients were used for millennia and I also like the taste of some of the blends broadly available in the US and UK organic shops such as Moon Juice, Chagaccino (made with there chaga mushroom), reishi mushroom blends as well as Maccacino based on the libido and stamina-increasing South American powdered maca root. With chaga you need to be alert before any surgery or if you take blood thinners since it increases bleeding.

I like to buy it pure, organic and then experiment with blending other ingredients in for the best taste and effect on the specific day. For example I splash in a pinch of maca, houjicha powder (very low caffeine roasted green tea twigs now available at Blue Bottle coffee across the US and Kettl tea in New York) and even some cacao, plus oat milk for creamy texture. Get creative with your healthier cup of morning delight and also in touch with what your body and mind need, mindfully, not just robotically brewing a pick me up, but reflect first how do you feel and why?

roasted teabest tea in Paris

If you like something spicy without the caffeine then the alternative to chai is turmeric latte. The blend of sunshine-hued turmeric root with its inflammation effect enhancing black pepper and other spices like cardamom, cloves and sweet touch of honey, maple, brown or coconut sugar is brewed in hot milk for a cosy warm cold day remedy.

Ready to chill? My caffeine-free tips will keep you levelled, not up and down. Most importantly, find what you enjoy, savour, sip, love.

Matsuhisa grows from Aspen, LA, Athens through St Moritz

Chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa is worldly known as Nobu, the legend of contemporary Japanese cooking blending Peruvian and other elements into his special sharing plates. Swiping the globe with his nikkei cuisine from New York, London, Dubai to Hong Kong, chef Matsuhisa most effectively blended his Japanese skills with the alluring ingredients that he found during his stint in Peru over 20 years ago.
chef Nobu Matsuhisa
Nobu’s partnership with the actor Robert De Niro and restaurateur Drew Nieporent gave birth to the international network of the chic Nobu restaurants. Nevertheless, his namesake Matsuhisa restaurants remain his most cherished babies, so he shows up often. I have repeatedly dined at Matsuhisa in Aspen, Los Angeles, Paris and St Moritz, and while the first two are the most Nobu style, the newest Paris location is by far the best. The main reason being that the executive chef Hideki Endo was given a free reign from Nobu Matsuhisa and creates sublime, Michelin stars deserving plates in the chicest atmosphere of the Royal Monceau hotel. Chef Hideki, originally from Hokkaido, has helmed the scenic Hong Kong Nobu for over a decade, and moved to Paris to open the by celebrities touted Matsuhisa Paris.
nikkei cuisine Paris
Traditional Japanese manners grace Nobu and his wife as either of them often greet the customers in the first ever Matsuhisa restaurant in Los Angeles. The local glam-set still frequents the causal restaurant after almost two decades in business. Whether you are a Hollywood star or just a devote fan of his cuisine, Nobu shares his humble smile and a gentle handshake as he strolls around.
Nobu sashimi
His second branch in Aspen, as excellent and casual as his La La Land firstborn, was the last that strayed away from the overt commercialisation that swoop the intimate charm away from the Nobus, and his growing suite of Matsuhisa restaurants (Athens riviera, Mykonos, St. Moritz, Paris). Much larger than its LA base, Matsu in Aspen further accommodates two bars. One for casual eats upstairs and the other just by the entrance downstairs. In embracing the essential American flare, large Tv screens in the bar area lure in the football and cricket fans to virtually coach their teams. A spectacle in itself as you walk in. Like in an orchestra, these conductors with chopsticks instead of a baton indulge in a decadent meal. Some locals just pop in for a bottle of Asahi beer and a snack (like the crunchy crab tempura salad, the beef or fish tacos), yet the food’s quality would satisfy an Arab sheikh. Being the most fashionable and for almost two decades the most popular restaurant in Aspen, while keeping its informal allure, make Matsuhisa tirelessly attractive. In Aspen, young folks with sometimes ridiculously weird ski hats mingle with the mature, fur-adorned bejewelled ladies, older couples and families enjoy their meal, all naturally sinking into the buzzing atmosphere. Booking ahead is highly advised.
Nobu new style sashimi

Food at Matsuhisa

Nobu is about his inventive dishes and not the classic simple sushi and maki cuts. His bold, creative and high taste-profile flatters to the salt and rich flavours accustomed American diners. In St Moritz, the food is more subdued and does not show the full spectrum of his special plates as the Aspen and LA Matsuhisa do. Also there his is creative cooking mastery and the accent on top quality fresh ingredients show off at his namesake US based restaurants most vibrantly. Like a rainbow, Nobu’s dishes cover the flavours and textures from delicate and light to deep, rich and intensely accented plates. It is wise to start light and move to the heavier or more seasoned dishes, so your taste buds detect the suppleness of the delicate fish and seafood creations such as the refreshing Peruvian style tiraditos (which Nobu learned when cooking in Lima), crab tacos or the new style yellowtail sashimi with jalapeños. The spaghetti-like shaved Hearts of palm salad with lobster and Nobu’s special savoury dry miso crumble is excellent to share at the beginning. You can buy this superb condiment at both restaurants, and use it at home over anything craving its umami flavour. The superb King crab tempura salad with red onions marinated in spicy vinaigrette is refreshingly touched up with coriander.
bao in Paris lobster bao

The superbly trained staff usually brings them in an appropriate sequence, which is essential for the enjoyment. Since the fish is marinated in an oil-based sauce with sesame most of the New style sashimis are moving towards the richer side, therefore it is better to get them after the simpler lime and lemon-based plates like Tomato ceviche or the seafood tiraditos. My favourite is the New style salmon sashimi. The fatty and smooth salmon goes hand in hand with the oily sauce drizzled with chopped green chives. The abalone, a rare type of sea shell, is always very expensive whether you order it in Japan, China or in Colorado. If you can afford to treat yourself to something very special, inquire whether the lucky day shipped some of these porcini textured sea wonders. Served broiled, they impress. Usually only in the US Matsuhisa.

Matsuhisa does wonders with mushrooms. At Nobu as well as at ‘Matsu’ I usually order the sizzling hot Mushroom tobanyaki, but in Aspen, I also like the unique warm Mushroom salad with lobster. These forest gems top up even the flavour and texture of the Maine lobster, but still this plate is a wonderful marriage between Western and Eastern ingredients. I highlighted my personal bests at ‘Matsu’, although I have eaten almost the entire menu a number of times and enjoyed most, so go for it.
Nobu parisRoyal Monceau restaurant
From the Japanese sweets try the Shaved ice or the Mochi ice cream. These gooey, thin, dumpling-like rice flour buns filled with ice cream are homemade. You can select from multiple flavours. The green tea and vanilla never disappoint, but chocolate or li-chi may seduce too.
Drinks: The wine list at Aspen Matsuhisa has the widest selection of wines that go well with this style of food. To stay local at least with the wine, we usually go for a bold California Chardonnay. A refreshing dry white wine with a higher acidity like Riesling would be my top choice, but a lush white Bordeaux, Rhône’s Rousanne and Marsanne blend or a mineral slightly oaky California Chardonnay like from Aubert de Villaine’s Aubert (DRC winemaker) or Littorai suit to most of the fish and seafood Nobu dishes. Pinot Noir works well too. Williams Selyem are a great bet if you are willing to spend a couple hundred dollars. Their Chardonnay from the Heintz Vineyard (not to be mistaken for the Heitz Cellars in Napa Valley) ages gracefully so if you see an older vintage, try. In St Moritz, the impressive wine cellar is shared with the Badrutt’s Palace Hotel luxurious restaurants, and there are many great European wines on the list. Here, try the local impressive Pinot Noir Monolith by Obrecht, very savoury and not too fruity like most Swiss Pinots. In Paris French bottles impress, usually we go for white Alsace (Riesling Clos Ste Hune) and red Côte Rotie or Burgundy.
California ChardonnayTop California Pinot Noir wineTop quality Swiss Pinot Noir
At the Los Angeles Matsuhisa the wine options are more limited so we often get a bottle of Kistler Chardonnay that is creamy, rich, yet balanced with a good acidity and a long, tremendous aftertaste. Beer or sake are popular choices and there is a very good selection from Japanese, American as well as European brews. Not in the mood for alcohol? The Nobu’s own Japanese green tea, which you can also buy, is very good and its youth-prolonging antioxidants refresh and relax at the same time. Magic, isn’t it?
I have dined at the Matsuhisa in LA regularly for over a decade and in winter Aspen each February. I am grateful for so many years of consistent pleasure there. Arigato! Sadly the same cannot be claimed about the Athens and St Moritz locations.

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