How Chicory Coffee in My Diet Turned Me Into a Morning Person

Woman drinking from a mug

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Have you ever heard of chicory coffee? I hadn't because I love coffee; I drink a few cups daily and have never sought an alternative. There is nothing better than a warming cup on a cold day or an ice-cold one on a summer morning. I once had a DNA test done, and of all the things they test you for, the caffeine tolerance result was the one I feared most. Luckily I was tolerant of it, meaning coffee and I could continue our love affair. But that all changed when I headed to the Yeotown Health & Fitness Retreat in Devon.

At the retreat, caffeine is off the menu; it's a banned stimulating substance. I love coffee (did I mention that?), so the shelves filled with various fruit and herbal teas did little to lift my caffeine-deprived spirits. Of course, like a coffee-obsessed sniffer dog, I noticed a jar filled with what looked much like my favorite instant brew. Had I perhaps found an emergency stash? Not exactly. What I discovered instead was chicory coffee, an alternative to your standard java. I wasn't convinced—at first—but after 24 hours, I decided to give it a try. I also consulted Amy Shapiro to find out more about this coffee substitute.

Meet the Expert

Amy Shapiro MS, RD, CDN, is the founder and director of Real Nutrition. She is based in NYC.

Keep reading to learn what chicory coffee is all about and determine whether it's right for you.

What Is Chicory Coffee?

Still life with notebook and chicory coffee

@sarah_e_lizabeth / Instagram

At first sight, chicory coffee may seem like the latest health and wellness fad, but in actuality, it's been around for quite some time. It debuted in the coffee shops of 19th-century Europe before being traded globally, eventually making its way to American shores. It became especially popular in New Orleans during the Civil War when coffee was in short supply and remains a significant part of Big Easy culture today. And let's not forget how most recently, chicory coffee has become one of the go-to drinks among those looking for caffeine-free coffee alternatives. "It is a beverage that tastes like coffee and is [prepared] in a similar way as coffee, but is made from roasted chicory root instead," explains Shapiro. It's worth noting that the root of chicory, an herbaceous plant that is part of the dandelion family, is said to wield several health benefits.

Benefits of Chicory Coffee

I began noticing the positive effects of chicory coffee almost immediately. The first day back from the retreat, I was up with the birds and sprang out of bed. Of course, it was just because I was rested. But then it happened the next day, and the day after that. It's now been 10 days, and I'm still waking up to my alarm, switching it off, and hopping into the shower. Now, according to the DNA test I mentioned earlier, I can tolerate caffeine supposedly with no side effects, but it seems like it does affect me. After years of trying to find reasons why I can't just get up in the morning, I have found it: coffee. Caffeine can cause sleep disturbance, and while I always thought that meant trouble falling asleep (which has never been my problem), it can mean difficulty waking up. But avoiding the snooze button isn't the only upside of drinking chicory coffee.

The chicory root used to make this coffee alternative contains inulin, a soluble plant fiber that's used in various weight-loss supplements on the market. Inulin is also prebiotic, a food source for our gut's friendly bacteria to feed on and thrive. A study has also found that consuming 16 grams of oligofructose (found in chicory) daily over 12-16 weeks can reduce appetite. While totally anecdotal, on the days when I drink a chicory coffee mid-morning and mid-afternoon, I find the urge to snack is dampened. Finally, "[Chicory coffee] also contains manganese and vitamin B6, two nutrients that may increase cognitive function," says Shapiro. However, she adds that if you want to get the most out of chicory root, consider eating it raw, which will give you additional benefits that the brewed variety doesn't boast.

Who Should Drink Chicory Coffee?

If you're looking for an alternative to coffee either because caffeine gives you the jitters, messes with your shuteye, or isn't available at your wellness retreat (really, though), then consider chicory coffee. "It provides that coffee flavor without the caffeine and is great for those who cannot tolerate caffeine. I recommend it for anyone trying to cut back on caffeine or for those who want to enjoy a cup of coffee in the evening without losing sleep," says Shapiro.  

How Do You Prepare Chicory Coffee?

Although the routine of waking up to a hot cup of coffee is a tough one to break, chicory coffee has helped me. It's roasted, and some come blended with figs and barley to give it that rich, coffee-like flavor. Plus, it looks like coffee and doesn't smell too dissimilar. My first chicory tipple was laden with hemp milk (I was at a retreat, after all), but it tastes good with almond milk too. Shapiro suggests, "You can either drink it solo or mix it in with your coffee grinds. You brew it just like you would regular coffee, or you can mix the chicory root into your coffee grinds to lessen the intensity of the caffeine. Many products combine coffee and chicory to lower the caffeine but not the flavor. You can purchase it solo or combined with coffee." The famed Coffee Du Monde ($7) is a blend of dark roasted coffee and chicory that is worth indulging in.

Are There Any Side Effects?

Ever the skeptic, I started to wonder: Could a caffeine-free coffee substitute that is just like coffee—but without its downsides—be too good to be true? According to Shapiro, "There are no side effects of chicory coffee, and you can enjoy it as you would coffee,"—sans caffeine crash. However, keep in mind that some research suggests that certain herbs should not be consumed in large quantities if you're pregnant as they may cause complications. So before reaching for a cup of chicory coffee, talk to your healthcare provider first to determine whether it's right for you.

The Takeaway

Although I was hesitant to try a coffee alternative at first (#coffeeaddict), I'm certainly glad I did. All that it required was keeping an open mind and—if I'm being totally honest— a little desperation to make the change, but hey, I did it. And now that I've kicked the habit, I doubt I'll ever drink coffee again, or at least if I do, it will most definitely be decaf. The changes that came from switching from coffee to chicory have been so remarkable I don't ever think I'll look back.

Article Sources
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  1. Smithsonian Magazine. "The History of the Chicory Coffee Mix That New Orleans Made Its Own." 2014.

  2. Risk Manag Healthc Policy. "Effects of Caffeine on Sleep Quality and Daytime Functioning." 263-271. 2018.

  3. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. "Fructooligosaccharides and Appetite." 377-380. 2018.

  4. American Pregnancy Association. "Herbs and Pregnancy." 2017.

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