10 Healthy Alternatives to Tea and Coffee People Drink in Eastern Europe

If you’re looking for a healthy alternative to tea or coffee because you’re staying away from caffeine or simply want a different hot beverage to enjoy throughout your day, you may want to take a tip from the people living in the region of Eastern Europe. While the people from this region regularly drink traditional black and green tea and coffee, they are also used to drinking other types of hot beverages that are derived from plants grown in the region and that have been traditionally enjoyed by their ancestors directly or throughout European history more widely.

All of the below options are free of caffeine. Some may be found in your favorite health food store, while others are available online. As you can see, plenty of traditional tea and coffee substitutes exist, some which may appeal to you more than others because of taste or purported health benefits.

You may also like: Are the Foods of Eastern Europe Healthy?

Mountain tea leaves next to a clay mug
Mountain tea, also known as ironwort plant tea, is a healthy caffeine-free coffee or tea substitute. Photo by The Northern Vox

Tea Alternatives


1.      Mountain Tea

Mountain tea, which comes from the dried stalks, leaves, and flowers of the ironwort or Sideritis plant and is also known as shepherd’s tea due to it being picked by shepherds in the mountains, is a health-giving tea originating from Southern and Southeastern Europe, including Bulgaria and Greece. Ironwort has long been used against the cold and flu, to ease respiratory issues and allergies, and help with digestive problems and anxiety. Its anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties along with its high antioxidant and mineral content have been proven in scientific studies and many of its traditional uses have been shown to have basis in fact.


2.      Ivan Chai

Ivan Chai is made from the Chamaenerion angustifolium plant, which is also known as fireweed or willowherb. While various native peoples have used different parts of the plant in food and medicine, in Russia it is particularly known for being dried and brewed into a healthy tea alternative. (“Ivan” is the Russian equivalent of “John” and “chai” is the Russian word for “tea.”) It has a high vitamin C content and as many 16 amino acids as well as other vitamins and minerals, all of which promote digestive health, immunity, and overall well-being.


Ivan chai or fireweed leaves in various states of preparation, including fresh and dried
Ivan chai is a popular type of tea in Eastern Europe–its leaves are dried from the fresh fireweed plant, as shown in the photo. Photo 191474060 © Marina Dubyuga | Dreamstime.com

3.      Chamomile Tea

Chamomile from the Matricaria chamomilla or German chamomile plant is native to Southern and Eastern Europe, and it’s possible to buy this tea alternative in bags of  unadulterated, loose flowers that can be steeped in boiling water to release the oil contained in the dried blooms. Most people know that chamomile is a relaxing hot beverage that may ease tension and help some people to fall asleep at bedtime, but it can also be used to calm an upset stomach and has anti-inflammatory properties. This mild-flavored tea can be drunk with a bit of honey.


Dried chamomile flowers and a tea strainer
Chamomile tea is associated with relaxation. Photo 28960323 © Deymos | Dreamstime.com

4.      Carraway Tea

Carraway seeds are an important component of some Eastern European recipes, so it’s no wonder the people of this region also identified its use as a tea alternative. Many herbal tea blends from this region contain carraway, which may be an unexpected flavor for Americans. However, carraway tea as an alternative to green or black tea has various health benefits, including easing gastrointestinal distress. You can buy prepared tea with carraway included in the list of ingredients, or you can take a couple of teaspoons of carraway seeds and steep them in boiling water for several minutes to make this healthy tea alternative.

A jar of loose herbal tea
Herbal tea is a popular tea alternative in Eastern Europe. Photo by freestocks on Unsplash


5.      Melissa Tea

Melissa is also known as lemon balm; the plant is a member of the mint family and is native to Southern Europe, Central Asia, and Iran. Like many other plants uses in alternatives to tea and coffee, Melissa has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties that make it good for a host of ailments and may reduce emotional irritability and irritation. At any rate, this soothing herbal tea is often drunk when someone is trying to relax, and a cup of this tea, much like chamomile tea, can help prepare the drinker for bedtime by reducing stress and promoting a sense of calm.

a cup of tea with fresh melissa leaves, dried melissa leaves, and a tea strainer
Melissa tea is a a great alternative to caffeine-containing beverages. Photo 111207809 © Luise8 | Dreamstime.com


6.      Sea Buckthorn Tea

Sea buckthorn is a coastal plant of Northern Europe that produces distinctive orange berries that are turned into healthy products ranging from jam to juice. They are also used to make a tea alternative. Though sea buckthorn is under-researched, it has been used in traditional medicine for centuries and is believed to have various beneficial properties for the human body. Its high vitamin content is likely at the root of this belief. Because the sea buckthorn berries are somewhat bitter, they are often combined with other fruits to make them palatable when eaten or used in tea.

A sea buckthorn bush with orange berries
Sea buckthorn berries are often made into a healthy tea substitute. Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Coffee Alternatives


7.      Barley Coffee

Barley coffee is a coffee alternative that is made from roasted, ground barley and sometimes other cereal grains. While it was used by Greeks and Romans, its more modern history is related to the scarcity of real coffee during wartime and people’s desire to come up with a viable replacement for the thick, warming drink. It may be most good for digestive complaints. Drink with the milk or milk substitute of your choice.

A clear cup of barley coffee, barley grains, and barley stalks
Barley coffee is a hearty coffee substitute. Photo 78791601 / Coffee © Mauro Barbolini | Dreamstime.com


8.      Acorn Coffee

Acorn coffee (giliu kava in Lithuanian) is a nutty drink often associated with Lithuania. The acorns are soaked in milk, then sautéed and ground, after which they are mixed with hot water and milk to produce a caffeine-free coffee alternative. Acorn coffee is said to be anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, anti-diabetic, and even anti-cancer.


9.      Chicory Root Coffee

Chicory root coffee is made from the roasted roots of the chicory plant, which belongs to the dandelion family. It has been used as a coffee substitute for centuries, but it has (and continues to be) added to coffee or coffee-alternative mixtures. Chicory root coffee may relieve digestive complaints, have anti-inflammatory properties, and help reduce blood sugar.

A cup of chicory coffee, a pile of chicory grounds, and chicory flowers
Chicory coffee comes from the root of the chicory plant. Photo 122144543 / Coffee © Станислав Саблин | Dreamstime.com


10.  Dandelion Root Coffee

Dandelion root coffee is a coffee substitute from the dandelion plant, the roots of which are roasted and ground. It resembles coffee both in this ground form and when mixed with boiling water and your choice of milk. In traditional medicine, dandelion has been used for digestive disorders and to reduce blood sugar.

dandelion root pieces in a wooden bowl with a spoon
Dandelion root is made both into tea and coffee. Photo 197183582 © Lhall49 | Dreamstime.com

11.  Burdock Root Coffee

Burdock root coffee is, like dandelion root coffee, made from the root of a plant we would consider to be a weed. Burdock root allegedly helps the lymphatic and endocrine systems to function at a more efficient level and contains high amounts of inulin, or prebiotic fiber, beneficial for gut health.


12.  Hawthorn Seed Coffee

Hawthorn seed coffee is made from the roasted and brewed seeds of the hawthorn bush, which sprouts bright red berries as well as thorns (the berries may also be brewed into a tea). Hawthorn is said to be especially good for the heart, improving circulation and reducing hypertension.


Tips for Buying Coffee and Tea Substitutes While Traveling in Eastern Europe

  •         Make sure the tea or coffee alternative does not have unexpected additions, such as sugar.
  •         If you’re interested in reducing your intake of toxins such as pesticides, look for organic tea and coffee substitutes.
  •         If possible, sample the tea or coffee substitute before buying too much of it. You may be put off by the bitterness of some of the alternatives above.
  •         Try your tea or coffee alternative with the milk of your choice, honey, or a sugar substitute. Some herbal teas may also be good with a squeeze of lemon.
  •         Often, the best quality herbal teas are loose leaf and not packaged into tea bags; however, some very nice herbal combinations can be found packaged in bags, and these are good for tasting and often make pretty gifts.
  •         Look for special edition herbal teas from this part of the world packaged artfully for holidays or with national symbols if you’re looking for a present for someone. You may also find sampler boxes with a variety of herbal teas included.