By Starre Vartan, MNN.com
I have no desire to quit drinking coffee, and since I don’t have any contraindications for quaffing java, I enjoy a cup most days each week. But I’m a big believer in moderation and of carefully monitoring personal habits. And so after a winter of drinking coffee most days, I decided to enjoy my coffee — just not every day. These are my favorite drinks for those days when I’m taking a break.
Hot chocolate: My favorite sub for coffee is a hot chocolate. If you want to mitigate the extra calories from the sweetness, cut down on the fat level of the milk. For instance, I always drink full-fat (but small) eight-ounce cappuccino, which only contain six ounces of milk. My stomach is happier and the caffeine doesn’t hit my system as fast when combined with full-fat milk — and it tastes so wonderful. But when I get a hot chocolate, I go for 2 percent or low-fat milk (or unsweetened soy, if available) instead. Hot chocolate will give you a bit of a lift, and the warm, cozy feeling you get from coffee sans the jolt. And an iced chocolate on a warm day is almost as lovely a treat as an iced coffee.
Teeccino is the commercial name for a wonderful caffeine-free coffee substitute that seems to be everywhere in Los Angeles but is harder to find elsewhere. A mix of carob, barley, chicory nuts and other flavors (there are all kinds of varieties) it is truly tasty, can be brewed like coffee (in a French press, via tea bags or in an espresso machine), and mixes nicely with milk, soy milk or just plain honey if you’re more of a black coffee/milk-free person.
Green tea: If you are really in need of some caffeine but are trying to cut back, green tea is a great happy medium. With a pleasant taste (I always go for jasmine green teas, which have tremendous flavor but no additional calories), it serves up a subtle, but noticeable caffeine buzz. And, as you’ve probably heard, green tea contains plenty of antioxidants, which likely protect against free radicals and cancer.
Dandelion root tea is made from the root of the common dandelion, and like the rest of the plant has plenty of medicinal and health-promoting benefits. Slightly bitter (but with a delicious earthy undertone) with a dark brown color, it mixes with milks, sugar or honey well and is also great for liver support — so especially great after a couple of nights out drinking, or just for general health. I started drinking dandelion root tea after a bout with adult mono, which, for the duration of the illness, brings your liver’s ability to process down to almost nothing. I drank plenty of this tea when I was recovering from mono, and my doctor told me my liver was back to full capacity in a lot less time than it normally takes, so there’s some anecdotal evidence that it works.
Rooibos is another full-flavored tea that can be mixed with any kind of milk and has plenty of flavor all on its own as well. It’s widely available (Starbucks’ offering is particularly tasty) at good restaurants and coffee shops throughout the U.S., although its roots are in Africa — the leaves come from the African red bush and it has been drunk in Africa for thousands of years. Some health experts say it has immune-boosting properties.