We think tea is great (shocker, right?) There’s nothing better than a hot brew on a morning to wake you up and get you ready for the day. That said, the same cup of black tea again and again can wear a little thin – so we’ve put together a definitive list of the best alternatives to your normal cup of tea.
On average, matcha green tea is the best alternative to a normal cup of tea. Its high caffeine content leaves you alert, and it’s flavorful. The only downside is that it can be awkward to prepare, but it’s definitely worth trying!
We’ve assessed all sorts of teas and beverages you might consider instead of a cup of black tea and ranked them on the basis of alertness (including, but not limited to, caffeine content), flavor, and the overall brewing experience. Let’s dive in!
1. Rooibos tea
Rooibos, pronounced ROY-boss and meaning ‘Red Bush’ in Afrikaans, is a tea native to South Africa. While it’s been popular in Southern Africa for hundreds of years, rooibos is now becoming a prized tea worldwide for its smooth flavor. It also has 0% caffeine!
Incidentally, rooibos was once subject to a trademarking controversy in the US, which could be why the tea only became widely available relatively recently. Management consulting firm Burke International (now known as The Burke Group) which typically specializes in union-busting, trademarked the term ‘rooibos’ in 1994, effectively establishing a monopoly on the product. They went on to aggressively enforce their trademark until it was eventually overturned in 2005, with the term returning to the public domain. It just goes to show that tea can be a cutthroat business!
Rooibos tastes earthy (though not grassy like green tea), and it’s complemented by sweeter flavors such as vanilla and mango. It certainly ranks highly on our list for taste, and its preparation is indistinguishable from a normal cup of tea. That said, its natural lack of caffeine can be a blessing and a curse: rooibos simply won’t wake you up in the morning like a black tea. That makes it a great night-time tea, but no good as a replacement for your morning brew!
2. Peppermint tea
There’s no doubt that peppermint tea is invigorating – and you won’t have any issues with drinking it after brushing your teeth, unlike orange juice! Peppermint tea is simple to prepare and it’s incredibly refreshing, but its natural lack of caffeine could mean it doesn’t give you the morning kick you’re looking for.
Peppermint tea is not to be confused with Maghrebi mint tea, which is a traditional Moroccan beverage prepared with spearmint, green tea and sugar. It’s delicious, but its sugar-mint taste and time-intensive preparation make it generally unsuitable as a morning drink. That said, there’s no reason why you couldn’t make a simpler mint tea, by infusing mint in hot water, with spearmint or indeed any other variety of mind you prefer.
Mint tea has been shown to help relieve tension headaches, improve digestion and, unsurprisingly, freshen breath, so if any of those specific issues affect you – no judgement from us on the breath! – then mint tea might be the tea alternative for you.
3. Oolong tea
Oolong tea, as well as being a fun to say, is more subtle than a typical black tea but will still give you the caffeine kick to get you out of the door on time. Deriving from the Chinese for ‘dark dragon,’ oolong teas vary widely in flavor and profile, but the most popular blends lean more towards honeyed tastes.
For an identifiably different tea-drinking experience to your usual black teas, why not try Jin Xuan? Developed as recently as 1980, the tea is popularly called ‘milk oolong’ for its creamy taste – but don’t worry, the tea itself doesn’t contain any milk and can be sweetened in whichever way you please.
Oolong teas aren’t going to shake off your morning blues completely, but if you want a less caffeine-rich morning brew that still packs flavour and wakes you up, a mellow oolong blend should be your first port of call.
4. Pu-erh tea
Also spelled Pu’er, this is a fermented tea traditionally produced in Yunnan Province, China. Like wine and beer, Pu-erh tea ages over time, developing a rich and earthy flavour. Raw tea is often stored and labelled by province and year of production – again like tea – making matured Pu-erh tea among the most valuable tea in the world.
That said, you don’t have to sell all of your family heirlooms to get your hands on Pu-erh: less-aged, but almost as delicious, teas are commonly available. Just be careful: because of the value and rarity of some Pu-erh teas, significant under-the-table counterfeiting industries have sprung up, with a particular hotspot of fraudulent tea-trading occurring in the 90s. Since then, some companies have taken to microprinting identification on their tea so consumers can be sure of its authenticity.
If you feel like your morning brew doesn’t quite wake you up enough, Pu-erh is the one to try: with its deep taste and high caffeine content, the experience is in some ways more like drinking coffee. This is a bonafide Chinese black tea, or hēichá; what is traditionally considered black tea to Western consumers is instead termed hóngchá, or ‘red tea’ – which goes to show how rich Pu-erh tea can be!
5. White tea
White tea can be a little controversial: unlike rooibos and Pu-erh, which derive from specific areas and can be prepared in traditional ways, there is little agreement on what white tea actually is. The ‘white tea’ moniker is applied broadly to teas that use young camellia sinensis leaves; since that’s the same leaf used in all black teas, and the exact point at which a ‘white tea’ becomes a ‘black tea’ has never been properly defined, you can understand why there’s some confusion!
Put that to one side, however, and there’s a lot to like about white tea: because the camellia sinensis leaves are less aged, they release fewer tannins when brewed. That means the tea tastes smoother, less bitter, and also has a slightly lower caffeine content.
If your least favourite part about your morning cup of tea is a bitter aftertaste – one which you might be counteracting, a little unheathily, by adding sugar – why not give white tea a try? It could be your new favourite.
6. Matcha tea
If you had to pick a tea that’s trending right now, it would be matcha. With Japanese cuisine becoming more and more mainstream in the US and UK, it’s getting harder to find someone who’s never tried matcha. If you’re one of the matcha newbies, a world of discovery awaits!
Put simply, matcha is a powdered variety of green tea that is whisked – yes, whisked! – into hot water or milk to create the classic Japanese beverage. In fact, matcha is so popular in Japan that it’s used as a cooking ingredient in a wide range of dishes, such as mochi ice cream and even Kit Kats.
The key difference between matcha and typical teas is that the leaves are grown in the shade, which instills in the leaf more caffeine and theanine, a mood-boosting amino acid. In many ways, the experience of drinking matcha is like drinking a coffee (including the caffeine boost!) but with a green tea flavor. That’s why its proponents claim that matcha is a healthier alternative to coffee – packing in all the benefits of green tea – that still keeps you alert.
However, there is one major downside to matcha: the preparation. While you don’t necessarily have to invest in a matcha whisk, simply adding the powder to hot water can have significant effects on the taste and health benefits of the tea. This is especially true if you buy cheaper, lower-grade matcha, which have been shown to possess lower quantities of caffeine, theanine and vitamin C than their higher-grade equivalents. Nevertheless, there’s almost certainly the right matcha out there for your tastes and budget, so why not give it a go?
7. Infused water
What if the replacement for your morning cup of tea wasn’t actually tea at all? While we’re reluctant to suggest anything but a lovely brew, there’s certainly a case to be made for drinking infused water instead.
One of the major benefits of drinking tea is hydration and an increase in your metabolic rate, which encourages gut health and helps maintain a healthy weight. Those benefits aren’t present in coffee, but they are present in a simple glass of water. Infuse your water with lemon, mint, cucumber, and more and you get a flavourful beverage that keeps you healthy and refreshed.
That said, the downsides of drinking infused water in the morning are obvious: there’s no inherent alertness boost that you’d get from caffeine-rich tea or coffee. Plus, if you’re used to a hot drink in the morning, simple water just isn’t going to match that feeling of steam clearing your sinuses and a mug of something tasty gently warming up your hands. Better luck next time, water!
8. Ginger tea
So far, you’d be forgiven for thinking that caffeine has a monopoly on alertness. In most articles on tea, that would be true: teas would be ranked by caffeine content, and the most caffeinated blend would be declared the best. Caffeine, however, isn’t for everyone. Like all stimulants, even though it occurs naturally in tea, caffeine can be addictive and cause allergy and intolerance issues.
Thankfully, the world doesn’t run on caffeine alone. Ginger tea can be an excellent substitute for those looking to feel alert without the influence of caffeine. Made easily with ginger root and often sweetened with cinnamon and lemon, ginger tea is also a natural remedy for everything from pain relief to inflammation, to nausea during pregnancy – and that really is backed by the science!
That said, the spiciness of ginger isn’t to everyone’s tastes, however much you sweeten it, and the flavor of a ginger tea is significantly different to the rich earthiness you might want in your morning brew. Why not add some ginger to your cup of black tea as a taster?
9. Fruit tea
First, a disclaimer: fruit tea is an enormously broad category, and your mileage may vary. For example, some fruit teas can be delicious, and others can be watery and disappointing. Fruit tea can differ hugely from a ‘normal’ cuppa – and from herbal teas you might have already tried! – but that can be a good thing.
For one thing, fruit tea isn’t even tea, technically speaking, as it contains no camellia sinensis or indeed any other form of tea leaf. Instead, you brew dried fruit and other herbs, such as echinacea, for an infusion that’s typically sweet and entirely caffeine-free. That means you aren’t going to get the depth of flavor you would get from a black tea; instead, there are lighter, sweeter notes and a sharpness that can pack a real punch when brewed correctly.
If you have a sweet tooth, fruit tea is certainly something to try instead of your typical cuppa!
10. Yerba mate
The origins of tea are well-established: most people know that tea was cultivated predominantly in China and India and became an integral part of British culture in large part due to colonialism and empire. But in fact, that’s not the whole truth: infusing plants into hot water has been practised by civilisations all over the world, and no single country can claim ownership (ironically, Britain has one of the worst cases for having tea as a national symbol, with most of its tea imported from India).
Yerba mate is one such example of an underrated infusion, from a part of the world less associated with tea. Originating in what is now Paraguay, yerba mate (translated from Portuguese as ‘herb tea’) is a tea cultivated by the indigenous Guarani people and famed for its invigorating properties. Today, it’s used in everything from tea blends to energy drinks, which should tell you that it’s potent stuff!
Like camellia sinensis, ilex paraguariensis – the shrub from which yerba mate is derived – is naturally abundant in caffeine. As for the taste, it’s not unlike green tea, but with the semi-smoky, floral aftertaste of a Darjeeling. It’s certainly an acquired taste, but if you’re looking for something off the beaten path when it comes to your brew, yerba mate could be the next big thing for your morning routine.