It appears we have come full circle. Starting a few years back, you had Bulletproof coffee, which is a French press that’s fattened up with MCT oil and ghee. Turning the 5 calorie black beverage into 441 obviously is not a selling point for everyone, which is perhaps why Bulletproof also focused on the alleged benefit of their brand not having mycotoxins – bad metabolites produced by certain fungi.

Now you have fungi being intentionally added to your average cup of Joe. Of course, the fungi in these mixes and recipes are supposed to be safe and healthy.

What is mushroom coffee?

It’s basically regular black coffee mixed with powdered medicinal mushrooms of some kind. The most popular fungi used are cordyceps for energy, chaga for antioxidants, and lion’s mane for nootropic benefits. One or more of these species is mixed with instant coffee, which is typically sold in single serving packets. You mix it with hot water.

What does mushroom coffee taste like? Nothing like portobello or white button. The species typically used in recipes have a more muted, yet earthy flavor. The Arabica or Robusta beans they’re combined with drown out the fungi flavor, leading to it tasting more like black coffee versus mushrooms. It’s also less acidic and therefore easier on the stomach.

pH scale

The reason for this is because fungi are low alkalinity by default, which helps to somewhat offset the acid, assuming you’re doing a 50/50 blend or something close to that.

Benefits

Caffeine content and energy

Expect roughly 50% less caffeine than your average cup of Joe, which is 95 mg per 8 ounces according to the USDA National Nutrient Database. The most popular brand, Four Sigmatic mushroom coffee, contains 50 mg of caffeine per serving when mixed with 7 oz. of hot water. (1)

50 mg is half the amount of black coffee and comparable to green tea. In comparison, Starbucks Pike Place is much higher at 180 mg for a short (8 oz).

Four Sigmatic cordyceps elixerWhile the relatively low caffeine may seem like a disadvantage for your morning perk, it might actually be better for boosting your energy overall (and with less jitters). That’s if you’re using a variety that contains Cordyceps sinensis, which is a rare species of high-altitude growing fungi used for generations in Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda, and other ancient practices as a natural energy booster.

Does it work?

Without even getting into the hundreds of scientific papers on this exotic species, all one has to do is look at recent sports history to see evidence that something seems to be going on.

In 1993, a few female runners set new world records for long distance running in Beijing and then took home 5 medals at the Track and Field World Championships in Stuttgart. Of course allegations of anabolic steroids were made. But those tests came back negative and the only unusual thing the coach disclosed was usage of cordyceps supplements.

With the exception of the 10,000 meter record which was broken at the 2016 Olympics, one of those ladies – Wang Junxia – is still a record holder for the 3,000 and she took home metals at the 1996 Summer Olympics. The latter would later be called into question on doping allegations, yet those remain just that. (2)

Over a decade later, results of a double-blind and placebo-controlled trial done at UCLA suggested that this supplement “improves exercise performance” as evidenced by the results:

graphs showing cordyceps vs. placebo for physical fitness in human trial

CS-4 = cordyceps supplement group in the study. (3)

It is theorized that cordyceps works by maintaining blood glucose levels during prolonged exercise and improving lactate clearance. It’s also known as “Himalayan Viagra” and while many men claim to use it for erectile dysfunction and women as a libido enhancer, there are no clinical studies evaluating those alleged sexual advantages. (4)

Even though this fungus has been used since ancient times as an adaptogenic herbal remedy and there is a great deal of scientific literature on it, when it comes to human clinical trials there is very little published to date. It therefore remains unproven for energy boosting and all other purported benefits, yet we here at Superfoodly have been using it for years.

We jokingly call them “the magic mushrooms” and when we forget to take them before a competitive event or extreme endurance activity, we can tell.

While we previously supplemented with cordyceps separately, the idea of getting them in your morning caffeinated pick-me-up makes a lot of sense. The coffee brand Four Sigmatic with cordyceps and chaga is available for a great price on Amazon. That would be the best version for those wanting energy.

K Cups? Yep you can get those too.

Lion’s mane for brain

The Hericium erinaceus species looks nothing like a white button shroom. Even the exotic oyster and maitake look normal in comparison.

lion's mane mushroom growing

By SKas [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikipedia

That’s because it literally looks like a lion’s mane of hair or fur. Found growing in Asia, Europe, and North America, its long spines look as if you could run a hairbrush through them. Yet you don’t have to, because they’re perfectly aligned by nature!

It’s one of the hottest nootropics (brain supplements) on the market today and for good reason. During the past 3 decades researchers have suggested that it might stimulate and/or support nerve cell growth.

This was first reported in 1994 by Dr. Kawagishi and his crew, who observed that the lion’s mane polysaccharides “could induce neuronal differentiation and promote neuronal survival” in cultured rat nerve cells. In plain English, it seemed to promote nerve cell growth.

Later on, they tested the extract in living mice with brain damage. They inflicted the injury on the animals’ middle cerebral artery and then fed them a mushroom extract, at a dosage of 300 mg per kg of body weight. They said “significantly decreased the size of the cerebral infarcts one day after the occlusion.” (5)

As with cordyceps, there is only one human double-blind trial which tests it for a purported brain boosting benefit.

Older Japanese men and women with “mild cognitive impairment” (AKA early signs of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease) were give 250 mg tablets, taken 3x daily for 16 weeks. No side effects were noted and these were their cognitive function results, according to the Hasegawa Dementia Scale (HDS-R):

graph of lion's mane used for dementia in Japanese men and women

As you look at weeks 1 through 16, you see the treated group improved much more. Once that was discontinued, they started to revert back (see the +4 weeks on the right). (6)

Is this proof that it works? Definitely not. One clinical trial is not enough to substantiate any claim, let alone lion’s mane mushroom coffee (which to be clear, was not used in this trial).

And we won’t even talk about the weight loss or anti-obesity effects observed in rodent research, or the cancer research and anti-aging effects that scientists suspect might be helped by certain compound in this fungus. All of that is very preliminary and unproven, yet still intriguing to read nonetheless. (7) (8)

There were no adverse reactions notated in that dementia trial that could be definitively connected, as even placebo has side effects. Likewise for the other pieces of human research. The 2nd trial was about chronic gastritis and the 3rd was on depression and anxiety. Both of which reported better results vs. placebo. (9) (10)

So as with cordyceps, there is no proven health benefit yet for lion’s mane, other than the basic nutrition fact that it contains a little vitamin D2. That alone is good for immunity and health regardless, so at least there’s something good for you in it that’s certain. (11)

Four Sigmatic sells the coffee with lion’s mane which is popular among nootropic supplement users. You can get it on Amazon.

Chaga for antioxidants

The lion’s mane and cordyceps coffee flavors from Four Sigma both contain chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus). In Russia and Eastern Europe this rare species, which only grows on birch, has a long history in traditional medicine.

raw chaga mushrooms

For the uses in folklore as well as research, much revolves around cancer. Triterpenes, lanostane derivatives, and aromatic compounds found in the fungus have demonstrated anti-tumor activities in numerous lab studies. (12)

You will find over 50 pieces of literature in the PubMed database for everything from using it on tumor-bearing mice to cultured melanoma, colon and non-small cell lung cancer cells in Petri dish-like settings. (13) (14) (15) (16)

No clinical human studies have ever taken place. Remember what works in a Petri dish doesn’t necessarily happen in an actual body. The preliminary cancer research remain theoretical and unproven.

The antioxidant activity has been evaluated in at least one human study out of South Korea, involving 20 healthy young adult men. Basically they tested it for hangovers after drinking and claimed that it…

“…reduced oxidative stress and hangover by mitigating plasma alcohol concentrations and elevating antioxidative activity in healthy male adults.”

The problem? It was a multi-ingredient mixture used, making this study somewhat irrelevant. (17)

However in the lab, the antioxidants in chaga have produced insane ORAC values, which is the best measure currently known for gauging free radical scavenging.

One chaga sample produced an ORAC value of 146,700. That’s 44x higher than goji berries of the same weight, at 3,290.

Its use in coffee, tea, or any brewed beverage makes complete sense. Why? Because on their own, the antioxidants in chaga are not digestible in humans, because our bodies can’t break down the cell walls of this fungus (we lack the enzyme).

In Siberia where it has been used for centuries, boiling it is how they traditionally consume it. Call it an herbal coffee if you will. It’s only modern science which has discovered that actually, they probably were drinking it the right way all along. Boiling it to break the cell walls is needed if you want to digest the antioxidant-rich phytonutrients.

Reishi, lingzhi, and ganoderma

These are different names of the same thing… sort of.

The fungal genus Ganoderma includes the following species:

  • Ganoderma lucidum
  • Ganoderma tsugae
  • Ganoderma lingzhi

They’ve been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for some 2,000 years. Most often they refer to it as lingzhi. For centuries, the Japanese and Koreans have also been using it. (18)

While there are differences and uses for each, generally they’re all called reishi. The mushroom coffee Oregano Gold chooses to call it ganoderma. It’s a signature ingredient in their black coffee and latte mixtures.

red reishi mushroom

One distinction is red reishi, which is only in reference to Ganoderma lucidum. To make things even more confusing for you, not everyone calls it red. When someone says reishi, they may or may not be referencing red reishi!

There have been preliminary human clinical trials evaluating these species for heart health (including cholesterol), HPV, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, and immunity. Most notably, there is a great deal of interest in reishi mushrooms and cancer. (19) (20) (21) (22) (23) (24)

As with the other mushrooms discussed, there is not enough clinical data on any one specific reishi use to validate it. So as of today, there are no proven health benefits for any species of Ganoderma and they should not be used as a treatment for anything.

Unfortunately people associate reishi or lingzhi mushroom coffee with an alleged “pyramid scheme.” Not our words, but rather that’s how some reviews describe the brand Organo Gold, since they sell through multi-level marketing. (25)

As far as our personal reviews, a couple of us here have tried this brand and were not impressed. In fact, out of the samples provided by a friend (who yes, was trying to sell it) we tossed the Organo Gold Cafe Latte in the rubbish. It was loaded with sugar and an unidentified “non dairy creamer.

Now in defene of the company, Organo Gold gets many 5-star ratings online. Controversy or not, it seems to be the bestselling ganoderma mushroom coffee. Though if you want a red reishi brand that’s not a MLM company and is certified organic, try Real Mushrooms pure red reishi powder which you can add to your morning brew.

Agaricus blazei murill

This species can be found in the Brazilian rain forest, where locals have used it for traditional medicinal purposes including infections, allergies, and cancer treatments. All of those uses remain unproven. (26)

The Agaricus blazei Murill – or ABM for short – is a mushroom that Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s website describes as:

“Agaricus extract may benefit patients with certain cancers. But more studies are needed to confirm these observations.”

In their description of how it works, they say “Compounds present in agaricus prevent formation of blood vessels needed for tumor development.”  (27)

What they’re talking about is angiogenesis, which is the growth of new blood supply that tumors need to grow. That effect has only been seen in lab research. The two human cancer studies were looking at totally different things.

In a 2004 South Korean study, there were 100 patients with gynecological cancer (i.e. cervical, ovarian, endometrial). Some received ABM in addition to their standard treatments. Those who were given it reportedly had milder chemotherapy side effects and natural killer cell activity was higher. (28)

woman on last chemo day

By Sgerbic [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

In a 2015 Norwegian study, 40 patients with multiple myeloma underwent the standard regimen of high dose chemotherapy, followed by an autologous stem cell transplant. In addition to that, some received ABM mushroom extract and that group had higher percentages of Treg cells, plasmacytoid dendritic cells, and other beneficial trends. However when it came to the success of their treatment and overall survival rate, the differences were not statistically significant. (29)

As far as agaricus blazei murill coffee is concerned, obviously no one should use it for any disease! What it’s good for or why people drink it is not entirely clear. It is a source of beta glucan which has been associated with immune support in research. Some believe it supports metabolism (aiding weight loss) and supports liver health, however those claims have not been validated, either. (30)

No brands actually sell it, so DIY brewing using ABM powder stirred into coffee, or brewing with it, seems to be the only option.

Maitake for vitamin D

Among all the species, this is the least exotic. You may not find maitake for sale at your local grocery store, but you will in big cities like LA and NYC, and even tiny cities with a foodie scene like Ann Arbor. Called hen-of-the-wood, it’s considered a delicacy in gourmet cooking.

Now this one does have a proven advantage for health… it’s the number one vegan source of vitamin D. One cup of it diced has 786 IU of D2, which fulfills the dietary allowance for everyone up to age 70. For older, it’s 800 IU.

For drinking, only one brand makes maitake. A patent was actually filed for Ming Tsai mushroom coffee (31).

cover sheet for maitake coffee U.S. patent filing

Other than direct sales on Ming Tsai’s website, we haven’t this product for sale online or elsewhere.

So who is Ming Tsai? He’s an award-winning chef at the Blue Ginger restaurant in Wellesley, MA and author of Simply Ming: Easy Techniques for East-Meets-West Meals.

Since his patent application was eventually abandoned, there’s nothing preventing others from using it. That is exactly what Four Sigma Foods is doing. They combine maitake, chaga, and green coffee extract with an instant mix. We have yet to see it at Whole Foods or Sprouts, but you can get it on Amazon.

Side effects

Whether foods or purported herbal remedies, each of the mushroom species used have been consumed by humans for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Adding them to coffee would not be expected to trigger adverse reactions, assuming the amount you use per day is within the recommendations on the label.

If you drink too many servings at one time, the reishi or ganoderma mushroom coffee side effects may include dry mouth, nosebleed, sore throat, upset stomach, and liver damage. That’s based on the MedlinePlus safety warning for reishi mushrooms, which presumably would be the same regardless of how you take it. (32)

cordyceps instructions

This caffeine free pure cordyceps versions recommends just one serving per day.

For cordyceps, you may experience increased energy and therefore, restlessness. It’s best to use in the morning. Don’t take past noon because it could cause insomnia. The half-life seems to be long.

If you experience a reaction like a headache or GI upset, it may be from the fungi, however the coffee beans could be the trigger too. Caffeine gives many people headaches.

The safety of mushroom coffee and supplements have not been studied during pregnancy or breastfeeding. You should avoid drinking or taking them if you currently are or anticipate you might become pregnant.

Verdict

Is mushroom coffee good for you? Unlike fruits and vegetables which are healthiest raw, it’s generally best to thoroughly cook fungi due to their cellular structure. Aside from boosting bioavailability, it makes them easier to digest, with a stomach ache less likely.

triphala capsules/tablets on tableThe species used in coffee are generally well tolerated in small amounts. The typical per serving dosage of 500 mg is the equivalent of what fits inside of one large supplement capsule. Even when raw, such a small amount of these mushrooms is unlikely to trigger GI distress and the boiling or hot water it’s combined with should lessen that risk.

While the medicinal or health benefits of the coffee remain speculative, the vitamin D2 is good for immune system support and the low calorie count is a boon for weight loss. Overall it appears to be a safe drink to consume in moderation and one could argue its lower caffeine content versus regular coffee is healthier.

How to make

Making mushroom coffee couldn’t be simpler, because almost all of the recipes use instant powder. If using Four Sigmatic, it’s as easy as 1-2-3.

pouring hot water into coffee with mushroom powder

Ingredients

  • 1 premixed mushroom packet
  • 7 ounces of purified water
  • Optional: monk fruit, nut milk

Directions

  1. Pour packet into empty mug.
  2. Bring water to boil.
  3. Pour 7 oz. of hot water into mug.

That’s all there is to instant mushroom coffee. If you prefer to use traditionally brewed beans, then the alternative is to stir a teaspoon into your hot mug. Four Sigmatic sells a 10 mushroom blend powder for just that purpose.

Where to buy

Trader Joe’s didn’t even sell matcha until 2017. That’s an exponentially more popular superdrink, so it’s no surprise they don’t have this… yet.

Maybe if/when Dr. Oz hypes it, that will change. For now, it’s only carried at a few stores and made by a couple brands.

We have seen the Four Sigmatic for sale at Whole Foods but at the Los Angeles store we frequent, they only sell two flavors in single serve packets. Online you can find those plus K Cups and their other varieties. Try Amazon, Thrive Market, or Vitacost.

If you live in New York City, Gwyneth Paltrow’s TA Cafe sells a $9.75 cup of Joe that contains “performance mushroom” though what it performs or how is not exactly clear?!

The Whole Foods in London might have it stocked, though elsewhere in the UK you’re most likely screwed. For our friends in Canada (hey Vancouver) we only know of online sources for you.

Everywhere else? Finding it locally is unlikely. Even here in LA, we much prefer our Amazon Prime. To start, we recommend you get 1 box of cordyceps and 1 of lion’s mane. Remember both contain chaga, too.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.