Growing up, I distinctly remember my first sip of coffee from my mother's cup of joe. My mother loves coffee, but can you blame her? She was born in Vietnam, and if you have ever had Vietnamese coffee, then you probably understand her obsession—but I digress.
Most third graders would probably hate the taste, but I loved it (like mother like daughter). Soon I was ordering sugar- and caffeine-laden Frappuccinos when hanging out with friends after school. Those Starbucks runs were quickly substituted with daily morning coffees in college before class, not to mention multiple cups in between classes and while studying late-night during finals week. This routine stayed with me throughout my 20s as I navigated the New York City 9-to-5 hustle, sometimes mindlessly downing two to three cups of coffee throughout the day.
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Recently, with some lifestyle changes, I became more aware of the negative effects of caffeine and consciously decided to train my body to not be so reliant on it. According to the Mayo Clinic, up to 400 milligrams of caffeine a day is "safe" for most healthy adults (which is about four cups of coffee). If you drink more than four, you might experience side effects such as migraines, insomnia, irritability, nervousness, fast heartbeat, and muscle tremors. The Cleveland Clinic states that many people can develop a tolerance for caffeine, causing them to up their intake in order to feel more alert and focused. If you're in the four-plus camp, it might be helpful to cut back on caffeine to reduce those side effects and rely on it less.
I learned a lot from my experience, so I'm sharing some alternatives I tried to scale back my caffeine intake, break my addiction, and boost my energy naturally.
Getting Started: Wean Off
If you love the taste of coffee (which I absolutely do), you can slowly make the switch to decaf without the jittery side effects through a slow weaning process. The Cleveland Clinic advises starting small instead of dropping it cold turkey because you might experience withdrawal symptoms (headaches, fatigue, flu-like nausea, muscle pain) and end up going back to drinking coffee. Switching to 100% decaf off the bat might be difficult since your body feels like it needs the caffeine (read: you'd experience withdrawals). Start off by ordering "half-cafs"—half regular coffee, half decaf. This tricks your body (and mind) and cuts your caffeine intake by half. You can gradually lower the regular coffee portion. For example, round two would entail 75% decaf, 25% regular.
Pro tip: Since some coffee shops do not have decaf brewed (hot or iced), for a similar effect, you can order a decaf Americano (decaf espresso with water).
Balance Jitters With Matcha
If you get caffeine jitters, try having matcha instead. Matcha is a concentrated green tea powder that has 137 times more antioxidants than green tea itself. While matcha might give you the same amount of caffeine (or slightly less) as a regular brewed cup of coffee, the caffeine released from matcha is much more streamlined and stable, which will help you avoid the crash-and-burn effect. Because it contains the amino acid L-theanine, it provides a calming effect and allows more focus.
There are a variety of ways to enjoy matcha, whether out at your local matcha joint with fancy foam art or at home. At home, all you need are some tools to make it easier. The key to having smooth matcha is whisking and dissolving the powder fully so there aren't any clumps.
Chaga is a superfood mushroom and acts as another alternative to caffeine, but its earthy, slightly bitter, smooth taste mimics that of coffee. Personally, I love the brand Four Sigmatic, which came onto the scene with various elixirs and mixes—some without caffeine and some with (half the caffeine of regular coffee).
Chaga contains many antioxidants and has other benefits such as supporting the immune system and lowering blood pressure. Aside from tasting similar to coffee, Chaga tea can be a wonderful alternative to have any time of the day, providing that calming effect with increased health benefits.
In addition to Chaga, chicory root tea is another healthy caffeine-free alternative that boosts tons of key benefits, including anti-inflammatory properties and protecting the body from free radicals. In addition, because it contains inulin, a prebiotic fiber, it can promote healthy gut flora. Chicory root "coffee" is made from the roots of the chicory plant. It is roasted, ground, and brewed into a drink. With its nutty and smooth flavor, you can have it black like a tea or add a splash of your favorite milk for more creaminess.
Unless you've been living under a rock, you've probably noticed the influx of health and wellness enthusiasts drinking pure celery juice on your Instagram feed. Though it's not completely backed by science, studies have shown it has anti-inflammatory benefits. In my experience, having celery juice in the morning instead of coffee has been overall very positive. Although, I must admit, celery juice isn't for everyone, as some may need to get acclimated to the taste. However, its cleansing and refreshing taste does provide me a natural boost of energy in the morning. Some people add in a little apple or pear to make this elixir a tad sweeter.
Juice spots such as Juice Press and Pressed Juicery have started to sell pure celery juice, and you can see if your local juice store can create it if it's not on the menu. I've invested in a great juicer that makes juicing in the morning easier (and less expensive).
The Benefits of Cutting Caffeine
I didn't notice any changes overnight, but once I started to wean myself off of caffeine, believe it or not, I actually felt more energized. I felt less sluggish, and my mind was more focused and clearer during the day. I wasn't on a caffeinated, jittery roller coaster anymore. Eventually, my cravings for midday coffee subsided, not to mention I saved a couple of bucks here and there!
I must admit sometimes I still do drink coffee, especially when I am around a good place like La Colombe, Bluestone Lane, Blue Bottle, etc. But after going through some of these alternatives, I have significantly decreased my coffee intake to once or twice a week (usually just a small cup).
All in all, definitely listen to your body when it comes to your caffeine intake. When you feel jittery and anxious, it might be a telltale sign that you're over-caffeinated. These alternatives can decrease the side effects and allow you to switch up and explore different drink options.
This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be used in the place of advice of your physician or other medical professionals. You should always consult with your doctor or healthcare provider first with any health-related questions. See our full health disclaimer here.