EXPLAINER

What is mushroom coffee, and why is it having a moment?

Much like coffee can differ from cup to cup, the flavors found in mushroom coffee are diverse

By Ashlie D. Stevens

Published March 3, 2022 6:29PM (EST)

Mushroom latte in glass mug surrounded with various mushrooms (Getty Images/Aninka Bongers-Sutherland)
Mushroom latte in glass mug surrounded with various mushrooms (Getty Images/Aninka Bongers-Sutherland)

In 2020, several months into the pandemic, the "cottagecore" aesthetic was in full swing. It was an online movement that attempted to paint the quarantine as "romantic instead of terrifying," Rebecca Jennings explained for Vox. Folks posted curated images of delicate pastries, nap dresses and fresh-cut wildflowers. 

As the pandemic persists, however, the vibe has shifted — and the "bog witch" aesthetic has prevailed. Calico kittens and chunky knit sweaters have been replaced by frogs and blankets of moss. Creeping into the collective spotlight, as well, are mushrooms. They can be found everywhere recently, from Netflix documentaries, to the racks at Forever 21, to your morning cup of joe. 

Related: How to make better coffee at home, simply and without expensive gear

Coffee shops and supermarket shelves across the country have started to stock mushroom coffee, often promoting it as a veritable superdrink. But what is mushroom coffee exactly, and is it really a better option than straight-up coffee beans? Come, sit in the fungi-covered dirt with me for a moment and let's dig into these questions together. 

What is mushroom coffee? 

Mushroom coffee is actually what it sounds like: a beverage made from a mixture of coffee beans and powdered mushrooms that can be served hot or iced. Don't worry, you won't find whole white button mushrooms from the supermarket floating in your coffee cup! Both the coffee and mushrooms are ground, and the mushrooms that are used to make mushroom coffee are ones that have been prized for centuries, typically in Asian medicine, for their health benefits. These include the reishi, lion's mane, chaga and cordyceps varieties. 

What does mushroom coffee take like? 

Much like coffee can differ from cup to cup, the flavors found in mushroom coffee are diverse, though they typically come in different shades of "earthy." Sometimes there's a nuttiness, sometimes a kind of grassy verdance, and occasionally, there are hints of dirt. However, all of those those things can be masked by — or actually round out — the flavor of the coffee beans being used. 

Why is mushroom coffee having a moment? 

Aside from the aforementioned shift to the bog witch aesthetic, mushroom coffee is largely being touted as a healthful drink packed with adaptogens — a catch-all term used by wellness professionals, purveyors and marketers to refer to certain ingredients thought to have health benefits. It's like a different shade of the term "superfoods." 

While some of those claims haven't been proven in a lab setting, the founders of Four Sigmatic, one of the most popular mushroom coffee brands, uses lion's mane and chaga extract in their brew. The lion's mane, they write, is the "brain's best friend when you want to get stuff done," while chaga has "also been used to support immune function for centuries." 

Many adaptogens are also marketed as helping consumers manage stress. In an article for the journal "Pharmaceuticals," researchers wrote that "adaptogens increase the state of non-specific resistance in stress and decrease sensitivity to stressors, which results in stress protection." 

After the stress of the past several years, who wouldn't want that in their morning brew? 

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Ashlie D. Stevens

Ashlie D. Stevens is Salon's deputy food editor.

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