As a die-hard coffee addict, I tend to be leery of any product that claims to have similar benefits. I’ve tried green tea and I’ve been known to drink the occasional matcha latte. I enjoy a healthy smoothie as much as the next girl, but have yet to find one that helps me wake up in the morning. In the end, I’m a huge fan of coffee, and it’s always been unparalleled at giving me a good start to the morning.
But near the end of 2017, my coffee drinking started to feel a bit out of control. I was brewing coffee first thing in the morning, making another pot midday, and pouring myself a cup before I did anything that required energy, whether that was working out or tackling a big meeting. I was drinking so much coffee that it didn’t even give me much of a boost anymore—it simply helped ease my tiredness a bit—and I was having trouble sleeping at night.
So when I read about the coffee-replacing abilities of one mushroom-based superfood tea, chaga, I figured it was worth a try.
Chaga is a type of mushroom that grows on the side of birch trees in colder countries, and—in its original state—admittedly doesn’t look all too appetizing:
But when chaga is ground up and used for tea, it looks a surprising lot like black coffee. And it offers multiple health benefits to those who drink it—with its anti-inflammatory properties and high levels of antioxidants, it helps boost metabolic health, healing and immunity. It’s also revered for its ability to lower stress and ease digestive issues.
While I’m all for adding a new superfood to my diet, what I was most interested in was chaga’s reported ability to jump-start you in the morning, with more longstanding energy than coffee provides and none of its jitters. So I purchased a package of Teaveli’s ground chaga powder and committed to a week without coffee.
To prepare the chaga, I boiled water and added it to the ground chaga powder in a French press. I also added ground cinnamon, unsweetened cocoa and a couple of cloves to taste. If you like your morning drinks a little sweeter, you can always add a dash of honey, sugar or stevia, or experiment with different chaga recipes. Either way, the concoction turned out powdery but tasty, with an aroma and warmth as comforting as coffee’s.
Still, the first day of my experiment was, to put it honestly, not very pleasant. Caffeine withdrawal is a very real (and fairly wicked) beast, and the first day, I experienced headaches, lethargy, fatigue and irritability. Try as I might, concentration was difficult, and I procrastinated for an hour before heading out for my evening run. I yawned a lot throughout the day. When I hit the mattress that night, though, I fell asleep instantly.
On the second day, those withdrawal symptoms were still present—but I was pleased when, after a cup or two of chaga tea, I actually managed to get down to my writing (and with a bit more happiness than I was able to muster up during the previous day’s tasks). I didn’t feel the spike of energy I usually get with coffee. Rather, I simply felt my morning tiredness disappear, replaced by a quiet energy that lasted well into the afternoon. After a cup of green tea in the afternoon, I did my workout happily. Once again, I fell asleep quickly, and stayed asleep longer than usual.
By day three, I felt like something had shifted. After two nights of longer, more restful sleeps than usual, I was feeling more well-rested, and I didn’t feel my usual craving for coffee. I made my chaga and launched into my day easily, getting my workout in during my work break and feeling less hungry, less tired and less irritable than I often do by the time my usual “afternoon slump” rolls around. In fact, to my surprise, I skipped the slump altogether.
By the end of the week, I decided that I probably won’t go back to drinking coffee. I’m not sure how many of the benefits I experienced were attributable to chaga itself, or whether they were due simply to cutting off my coffee consumption. But what I can say is that I have tried quitting coffee in the past—with the crutch of different teas and green smoothies instead of chaga—and all of those attempts have been far less successful. Whether it’s because of a placebo effect or the sucker punch of nutrients that chaga provides, this time it stuck.
If you’d like to try the nutrient-dense chaga tea, you can find it in most health food stores or online—either as a tea or mixed with coffee (hey, we don’t all have to quit it!). I never thought I’d be starting my mornings with a mushroom tea, but I’m glad that I did and I plan to keep doing so. Hopefully chaga tea treats you just as kindly if you decide to give it a try.