There are some ingredients made to go together: peanut butter and jelly, bagels and cream cheese, whiskey and ice cubes. And then there are those combinations that raise eyebrows from the outside looking in – like mushrooms and coffee. Yup, you read that right ... mushroom coffee. Despite the strange taste that may leave in your mouth, this steadily growing superfood drink has been slowly gaining traction over the past few years, reigniting the classic question: How do you take your coffee?!
In 2012, Four Sigmatic founder Tero Isokauppila came up with the idea of mixing mushrooms with coffee, packaging up and selling it to the masses after taking cues from his ancestors. But let's backtrack: It all starts in Finland, where Chaga tea is regularly consumed as a relaxing treat. Chaga is a nutrient-dense, birch tree-dwelling mushroom that contains valuable vitamins and minerals like vitamin D, potassium, rubidium, fiber, copper and more. One study even "concluded that bioactive compounds found in certain mushrooms may help protect against dementia and Alzheimer's disease." So, yeah, these mushrooms are a big deal.
Hailing from Finland, Isokauppila, decided to mix the superfood from his home turf – organic Chaga and cordyceps mushroom extract – with the unofficial best drink of the universe: coffee. The result is mushroom coffee.
"Mushroom coffee is made with adaptogenic superfoods, which helps to create balance in your body so you can better handle the overwhelming demands of modern living," says Danielle Ryan Broida, RH, AHG, national educator at Four Sigmatic, in an email.
Mushroom coffee is made in a way similar to how regular coffee beans go from plant to cup. Each mushroom is picked, dried and ground into a powder before it's made. Some players in the mushroom coffee game use a blend of cordyceps, chaga and lion's mane – a powerful trio of fungi believed to prevent Alzheimer's, reduce risk of heart disease and boost the immune system. All you need to make this modern concoction is hot water, but the team says there's nothing stopping you from adding their mix into a smoothie or stirring it into hummus and soups.
So how does it taste? Luckily, nothing like the kinds of mushrooms you'd find swimming in your plate of pasta. Surprisingly enough, this stuff – at least Four Sigmatic – doesn't taste like mushrooms at all.
"The [mushroom] species used have a more muted, earthy flavor compared to portobello or white button mushrooms." Broida goes on to explain that Four Sigmatic uses a combination of Organic Arabica coffee beans elevated with Lion's Mane mushroom – a mushroom that supports productivity and creativity without the jitters.
Functional mushrooms – i.e., mushrooms that are good for you – and coffee make for a natural combination. Both contain essential nutrients and antioxidants and both can be pretty damn tasty when prepared correctly. When added to coffee, one may experience a smoother digestive system (thanks to the natural prebiotics and polysaccharides in mushrooms) and stress management thanks to the adaptogens in mushrooms that mitigate caffeine's jittery side-effects.
"Medicinal mushrooms have been used in Eastern medicine for thousands of years, which should not be ignored," says registered dietician Ayla Gentiletti. "However, more current research needs to be done on human subjects to support these health claims." Gentiletti confirms that both the chaga and coffee in mushroom coffee both contain antioxidantsand can be a nice pick-me-up for those suffering from anxiety. So, what are the other purported benefits of mushroom coffee?
"It varies based on the type of mushroom used," continues Gentiletti, "but claims include improved energy, focus, stamina, productivity, immunity, stress-relief and skin health."
The million-dollar question: how does Gentiletti feel about the taste of the coffee itself?
"As a habitual black coffee drinker, the bitterness did not deter me, however, I had a hard time overcoming the earthy flavor. I've heard it tastes much better with coffee creamer and sweetener!"
As long as you can get past the idea that you're sipping on something that – more or less – contains powdered fungus, you can find solace in the fact that what you're drinking can potentially prevent Alzheimer's, reduce your risk of heart disease, and boost the immune system without a case of the caffeine jitters.