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Fancy an alternative to coffee? Try a cup of Joe Schmo...

There’s a time and a place for coffee, writes Lisa Williams. Hot, steaming, caffeinated coffee. Warm, frothy, milky coffee. Sweet, crunchy, iced coffee. It comes to our aid when we’ve been woken up every 30 minutes due to hunger, teething or monsters, it’s our comfort and it's our pick-me-up. But, sometimes, there’s a limit. If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, on a health kick or if you’ve just reached your caffeine peak for the day and have that dry-mouth, heavy-eyelid feeling, then it’s time to look for an alternative. I tried some instant coffee substitutes and was pleasantly surprised with what I found…

1) Bambu Fruit & Grain Coffee

This blend of chicory, wheat, barley, figs and acorns doesn’t look promising. In fact, the packaging - bad clip-art getting sucked into an ominous vortex of froth - resembles something you’d find on a breakfast buffet in a 2-star German hotel. But it tastes amazing, like a spicy version of instant coffee with none of the bitter aftertaste. I added ground ginger to my second cup, and it could be that I’m so sleep-deprived I’ve lost all sense of perspective, but it was verging on gingerbread latte territory.

Cost per cup: 0.06p
Calories per cup: 5

£3.99, from A. Vogel

2) Symingtons Instant Dandelion Coffee Compound

The carton is so tasteful and classic, it wouldn’t look out of place at Fortnum & Masons. Pop open the lid, however, and the contents don’t look quite so appealing: a child might describe them as mouse droppings. I’d never dream of being so immature. When you add hot water, it looks like thin instant coffee. The taste is a strange coffee-and-herbal-tea hybrid which is also a bit sweet for my liking (it contains dextrose and glucose syrup). If you’re used to sweet coffee and are desperate to give up caffeine, it might be the one for you. (And if it is, let me know as I have a carton I can send you).

Cost per cup: 13p
Calories per cup: 19

£6.89, from Holland & Barratt

3) Barley Cup

From a design point of view, this is the hot drink equivalent of one of those nylon zip-up cardigans worn by people who park their cars on airport perimetres to catch sight of rare Boeings. Made from nothing but barley, rye and chicory, you can’t get more wholesome, and it’s easier on the palate than it is on the eye. The dandelion version is worth a try too.

Cost per cup: 0.06p
Calories per cup: 10

£2.02 from Naturally Good Foods

4) Whole Earth Wake Up

For a brief, wondrous spell, Cadbury’s sold a special-edition Boost bar with guarana. It coincided with my final year at university and a combination of those little wonder bars and the Strokes got me through some pre-deadline all-nighters. I may as well have been drinking espressos, however, as guarana contains high levels of caffeine. Whole Earth, which makes delicious nut butters, has made a guarana coffee substitute, which is a bit like having alcoholic orange squash instead of a beer; great if you prefer the taste (which I found a bit meh), but pointless if you don’t.

Cost per cup: 0.07p
Calories per cup: 9

£3.69, from Holland & Barrett

5) Lima Yannoh Instant Original

Someone really needs to have a word with the makers of coffee substitutes because most of their packaging is so stuck in the 1970s it thinks Karen Carpenter is still alive. This is another case in point. That aside, Yannoh is the most savoury of all those I tasted, and it also formed an impressive head of froth when I added hot water. As close to instant coffee as you can get, and no nasties. There’s also a vanilla flavour.

Cost per cup: 0.04p
Calories per cup: 5.5

£7.43, from Aurovita


Ben Tantrum
@Lisa - no deal. You'll have to prise the coffee beans from my cold, twitching, high blood pressure, heart palpitating, insomniac body!!!! you just try it!