Coffee is among the most consumed drinks in the world, with an estimated two billion cups served up every day. That’s big business: the global coffee market was valued at US$102 billion in 2020. The health implications of drinking coffee have always been under vigorous scrutiny. The list of studies of coffee’s potential health benefits is long: its consumption has been linked to increased longevity, protection against type 2 diabetes and liver cancer, and increased energy levels, among others. Coffee, or its key ingredient, caffeine, doesn’t work for everyone, though. For some it causes anxiety and jitters; for others it can cause digestive complications and upset stomach. Innovators are taking fresh approaches to traditional brews, with potentially healthier takes on the cup of joe. We look at three companies that are brewing things differently. Mud\\Wtr – less caffeine, more mushrooms “I liked coffee: the smell, the taste, and, most importantly, I liked the ritual. There was something about a freshly brewed cup that made me feel like I could take on more and do it better,” says Shane Heath, co-founder of US drink maker Mud\\Wtr. “But ‘the dream’ stopped there. I would finish the cup and have an anxious peak of sprinting alertness, followed by a jittery, unproductive crash.” Mud\\Wtr products have been heavily advertised online and are gaining a following. Essentially, they are a blend of mushroom-based powders. One, known as :Rise, is taken once in the morning as a substitute for the coffee regime. The other, caffeine-free :Rest, is meant to be drunk before bed. Mud\\Wtr :Rise contains 1/7th the caffeine of coffee (about 35 milligrams; a regular cup contains from 100mg to 300mg). Its ingredients include mushroom varieties lion’s mane for focus, chaga and reishi (lingzhi) to support a healthy immune system, cordyceps to promote natural energy, as well as turmeric and cinnamon for their antioxidants, and cacao for mood and energy. Overall, the company promotes Mud\\Wtr selections, with adaptogenic ingredients that help your body respond to stress, anxiety, fatigue and overall well-being, as a way to achieve increased focus, energy and performance – without any crash or addiction. Bulletproof – high-fat breakfast replacement for keto followers Bulletproof founder Dave Asprey introduced the bulletproof coffee recipe in 2011, to be served as a high-fat drink substituted for a breakfast meal. It consists of freshly brewed coffee blended with two tablespoons of unsalted grass-fed butter and one to two tablespoons of medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil. Popular among those on the keto diet , it has been touted as a filling, energy-boosting drink. Bulletproof sells coffee from small farmers, taking extra steps to reduce microbiological contamination. Its product line has widened to include: MCT oil, a creamer made with MCT oil and grass-fed butter; grass-fed ghee (clarified butter); pods that contain all the bulletproof ingredients; ready- made cold-brewed bulletproof coffee; and collagen-based coffee add-ins. Lifeboost – the ‘cleanest’ low-acid coffee Lifeboost keeps its offering simple: “helping you achieve the healthiest, tastiest, lowest acid cup of coffee possible.” Its Trustpure process aims to eliminate contaminants sometimes found in mass-produced and packaged coffee products. “Trustpure helps us find the cleanest, healthiest beans from farm to cup, allowing the coffee beans to be grown to full maturity to ensure the beans have time to develop the maximum amount of antioxidants possible,” says Lifeboost CEO Charles Livingston, a chiropractor and nutrition researcher. “Focusing on low acid also makes the coffee easier on your stomach and teeth .” Lifeboost roasts are third-party tested for mycotoxins – toxic substances produced by fungus, moulds, heavy metals, pesticides and 400 other toxins that might contaminate batches. Says Livingston: “Healthy coffee is simply removing as many toxic components as possible while maximising the natural health benefits.” A dietitian’s tips on coffee drinking “Caffeine is not considered an essential nutrient, but it is commonly consumed because of a personal choice or learned as a result of one’s environment,” says Rekha Menon, a registered dietitian and member of the Hong Kong Dietetic Association. “For most adults, low to moderate coffee consumption (50mg to 300mg of caffeine a day) can be positively incorporated as part of a healthy diet,” Menon says. The US Food and Drug Administration considers 400mg (about four cups of brewed coffee) a “safe” amount of caffeine for healthy adults to consume daily. The caffeine content in coffee can vary significantly with serving size, Menon notes. An average cup of coffee is 8oz (236ml) with 100mg of caffeine; a Starbucks “grande” size is 16oz with 310mg. “And how many of us know the exact volume of our travel mug?” she asks. As an avid coffee drinker myself, I have yet to stumble upon the most effective yet satiating alternative to a traditional cup of brew Rekha Menon, registered dietitian The US-based Cleveland Clinic in Ohio recommends low-acid coffee options for those who develop stomach troubles after having regular coffee. Some regular coffee contains a high amount of acids, which may cause heartburn, acid reflux and bloating, and can speed up food digestion and have you running to the bathroom more urgently. The clinic recommends trying low-acid coffee – or new mushroom or other blends. For those strictly following a keto or paleo diet, having a Bulletproof coffee made to recipe may be fine; those who aren’t may find it packs on the kilos. Menon has reservations about the Bulletproof coffee recipe’s high fat levels. “A cup (8oz) of a Bulletproof coffee has well over 230 kcal and 21g of saturated fat and these numbers increase as more … MCT oil and grass-fed butter are added, as per their recommendations.” The numbers are based on the assumption that flavourings, creamers or any other mix-ins have not been added. “In today’s world of convenience and increased portion sizes, many of us are already over-consuming saturated fats and the inclusion of this high-fat drink would simply increase it further.” Menon recognises that though there are many alternatives, sometimes the most basic approach is the best. A dietary consultation can help you find a balance. “When a client does seek advice on caffeine alternatives, understanding the intent behind the appeal helps to guide counselling and education, making recommendations highly individualised,” she says. “Companies are quite skilful at marketing their products, which can make it more challenging for consumers.” For Menon, nothing beats an ordinary cup of coffee. “As an avid coffee drinker myself, I have yet to stumble upon the most effective yet satiating alternative to a traditional cup of brew.” Like what you read? Follow SCMP Lifestyle on Facebook , Twitter and Instagram . You can also sign up for our eNewsletter here .