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For many people, myself included, coffee is a daily ritual: Wake up. Measure. Grind. Brew. Only then does the day begin.
But it’s not a ritual that everyone loves. Making coffee takes time, and too much (or too little) caffeine can leave you with headaches, jitters, and an inability to concentrate. Though I don’t personally suffer from caffeine withdrawal, on rare occasions I do slip past my tolerance level, and the effects are almost worse than a hangover.
Just as nonalcoholic craft beer and Instagram-friendly virgin cocktails have arrived for drinkers fed up with alcohol’s downsides, so have droves of new-school coffee alternatives come for red-eyed cravers of caffeine, promising more healthy stimulation and fewer side effects. Perhaps the most visible of these is MudWtr (“mud water”), whose minimalist packaging recalls both the stripped-down honesty of RxBars and the cold, industrial chic of Soylent.
As Wirecutter’s resident coffee nerd (and mycology fan), I knew that it was up to me to give MudWtr a try. And while I was not particularly interested in replacing coffee in my daily routine, I was confident that I could taste MudWtr, live with it for a week, and judge it on its merits.
MudWtr’s most popular blend, Rise, replaces your morning joe with a mix of cacao, spices, tea, and powdered mushrooms. Yes, mushrooms—and a variety of them, too. According to the company’s PR material, it has chosen each of these shrooms for a specific benefit: chaga for energy, reishi for immunity, cordyceps for physical performance, and lion’s mane for mental performance. Ditto the tea and spices: masala chai for energy, turmeric for its anti-inflammatory properties, and cinnamon, an antioxidant. (Note, though, that MudWtr claims different benefits for the same ingredient, depending on which page you’re looking at on the site.)
MudWtr also makes various other products, including a nondairy creamer (made of coconut milk and MCT oil) and a reduced-sugar sweetener (two parts coconut sugar to one part lúcuma), because of course it does. And of course we tried them, too.
Though the Rise blend is drastically lower in caffeine than coffee—the company pegs it at 35 milligrams per serving, in contrast to 100 milligrams and up for an 8-ounce cup of coffee, which the FDA says is more like 80 to 100 milligrams—MudWtr is quick to claim that its product “leans on ayurvedic herbs, adaptogens, and cacao to give you natural energy, focus, and immune support.”
But while all of the mushrooms involved have been thoroughly studied and long used in cooking, traditional medicine, or both (yes, even cordyceps), there’s very little evidence to support MudWtr’s claims. (For its part, the company doesn’t offer any studies as proof.) Like many other wellness products, which tend to straddle an awkward line between nutrition and new-age pseudoscience, MudWtr’s marketing comes across as aspirational more than anything else. It’s selling a lifestyle, not science.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean MudWtr’s blend won’t give you a boost. Several studies have shown that mental acuity and alertness are, to some extent, as much belief-based as they are determined by what you ingest. In other words, believing that you’re drinking something that will make you feel more alive might just do the trick. Placebo or not, a lot of people love MudWtr and say they feel its benefits.
The Rise blend comes in an attractively minimalist can that feels well made and is satisfying to open and close. The instructions for a basic preparation are written on the can: The recipe calls for mixing 1 tablespoon of Rise with 12 ounces of 180 °F water and stirring to combine. I used a milk frother, since I had one handy.
Up front, the aroma—a blend of chai and hot chocolate—was quite appealing. The mushrooms were nowhere on the nose, except maybe a very faint “earthy” note in the background.
Unfortunately, the first sip is where it all started to fall apart. At the recommended dosage, MudWtr was weaker and more watery than I was expecting. The chai and chocolate from the nose were there on the palate, just disappointingly washed out. MudWtr is an apt name for a drink that tastes like dirty water (probably the mushrooms) with a bit of chai mixed in. It isn’t quite as unpleasant as that sounds, but there’s simply not a lot of flavor.
Adding the company’s creamer and sweetener didn’t really help. I tried making MudWtr’s recipe, as provided on the back of the sweetener bag, for a “Slightly Sweet Mud Latte,” which is the same as the basic Rise preparation but with a tablespoon each of the additives. The result was surprisingly watery, not creamy, and not sweet (not even “slightly”). There was a little more there than with the default Rise recipe, but I had hoped for more flavor and body. Still weak, alas.
Speaking of body, part of what gives well-made coffee its silky, luxurious mouthfeel is the oils that come out of the bean during the roasting process. MudWtr’s Rise has none of that. The result is a beverage that’s thin, with a drying, tannic aspect that increases as you get toward the bottom of the cup. In part, that occurs because the powder doesn’t dissolve into the water very well, so the beverage has a thick layer of sediment that you have to keep stirring up as you drink—if you don’t, you end up with a cake of, well, mud in your cup.
As part of my commitment to the bit, I gave up coffee and other caffeine sources cold turkey for the entire week I spent drinking MudWtr. (Or that was the idea, anyway—more on that later.) I wanted to evaluate a couple of things: whether MudWtr gave me an energy boost similar to coffee, and if not, whether its absence revealed that I had a real caffeine addiction.
To that second point, I must acknowledge that I’m not MudWtr’s target audience. Most days, I drink one or two cups of coffee in the morning (usually a single preparation of Japanese-style cold pour-over), and I do not exhibit any of the side effects that MudWtr attributes to “caffeine use disorder” in its coffee detox program. I don’t have anxiety, insomnia, high blood pressure, or digestive issues. (In fact, at the risk of going into TMI territory, I find coffee to be a wonderful way to stay regular.)
I have experienced unwanted side effects on occasion—headaches, racing heartbeat, and so on—but only when I exceed my personal tolerance, drink coffee on an empty stomach, or have a cup too late in the day. And it has never been a recurring issue.
As the workday drew to a close, I found myself daydreaming about making a pour-over the next morning. Oh, coffee, how I’ve missed you.
Here’s what I experienced in my week replacing coffee with MudWtr:
Day 1: Though I was disappointed by MudWtr’s flavor, I’ll admit that I did feel a slight energy boost around the time I drank it. Was it just the effect of consuming a hot beverage on a cold morning? Was it actually the mushrooms and spices? Was it a placebo effect? Who knows. What I do know is that the effect wore off quickly—more quickly than with coffee. By noon I was dragging, and by the evening I felt more tired than usual.
Day 2: This time around, I added some milk and honey to my mud in an effort to boost the drink’s body. I also increased the ratio to 1.5 tablespoons of Rise to 16 ounces of water and milk. The result was a little punchier, but still nothing I would want to drink every day. And though I would have loved to feel a real energy boost, since I was fighting a nasty hangover, the truth was, I felt nothing. By 3:30 in the afternoon, my headache was still raging.
Day 3: This just wasn’t working. No energy boost, no clarity of mind, nada. It was an early-release day from work, so I took my dog for a hike to the top of Tumalo Mountain outside Bend, Oregon, dragging ass the whole way. Thanks, MudWtr.
Day 4: Ugh, whatever.
Day 5: …
Day 6: I added some coffee ice cream to my mud today in the hopes that it would conjure the ghost of mornings past. It did not, and now I feel like a cheat.
Day 7: For my last day, I doubled the coffee ice cream. Better. But now I’m basically having a hot milkshake instead of coffee—way more calories, way less benefits. As the workday drew to a close, I found myself daydreaming about making a pour-over the next morning. Oh, coffee, how I’ve missed you.
Now, to be completely fair to MudWtr, it might take more than seven days to get the full benefits of a Rise regimen, whatever those benefits may be. But personally, I wasn’t willing to subject myself to another day of its mediocre flavor, texture, and body.
Since the coffee-replacement trend has generated a huge variety of brands, of which MudWtr is merely the most prominent, I decided to give a notable competitor—Ryze, not to be confused with MudWtr’s Rise—a try.
Unlike MudWtr, Ryze actually contains coffee, albeit a very small portion in comparison with a properly brewed cup. (Ryze also doesn’t specify where it sources its beans, or how fresh they are.) Along with the coffee, it features a mushroom blend (cordyceps, reishi, king trumpet, shiitake, lion’s mane, and turkey tail) and a bit of MCT oil. In other words, you’re getting something like a blend of MudWtr’s Rise and creamer, minus the chai, plus some actual coffee.
Considering those ingredients, I expected Ryze to have more flavor than Rise, but I came away disappointed. If anything, Ryze was even more watery than MudWtr. In part, that may be because the blend lacks the aromatic chai spices that add a pittance of complexity to the MudWtr brew. Adding insult to injury, my cup of Ryze had a faint aroma of vomit—a trait that I’m assuming came from the butyric acid present in coconut-oil-derived MCT.
Well, yes, of course you can improve the taste. Any number of creamy, sweet ingredients could make these drinks taste better. But at some point, adding things is likely to counteract two of these products’ main selling points: their convenience and their health claims.
And even if you’re willing to weigh down your drink with cream and sugar, there are limits to what such additives can do for a fundamentally underwhelming beverage. In my experiments, even adding a generous dose of coffee ice cream didn’t fully salvage MudWtr, at least to my taste buds. Your mileage may vary. For what it’s worth, MudWtr provides an extensive list of recipes that make use of Rise and the company’s other blends. We simply didn’t have the time—or the inclination, following our experience with the basic preparation—to test them all.
So here’s what I suggest: If you enjoy the taste of coffee, need to get away from caffeine, and want some of the many nutritional benefits that mushrooms can provide, find a good decaf coffee. (This isn’t the blasphemy it sounds like. Lots of great roasters, including Atlas Coffee Club, Heart, Onyx Coffee Lab, and Vibrant, now have solid decaf options.) Then, enjoy it with a nice mushroom omelet.
This article was edited by Marilyn Ong and Marguerite Preston.
Ben Keough is the supervising editor for Wirecutter's working from home, powering, cameras, and hobbies and games coverage. He previously spent more than a decade writing about cameras, printers, and other office equipment for Wirecutter, Reviewed, USA Today, and Digital Camera HQ. After four years testing printers, he definitively confirmed that they all suck, but some suck less than others.
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