spice up my beverage, but not too spicy
December 2, 2015 9:50 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a drink I can have that's low/no calorie, and low/no caffeine that's also not water.

I've gone from drinking a ton of sugary soda, to giving that up and drinking a ton of water, to getting bored and going to diet soda. Then some research on diet soda has put me off of it. So I switched to drinking a ton of iced tea. But I will relatively regularly find myself somewhere where I didn't plan ahead and I'll get a caffeine headache that I'll fight all weekend. I'm not too worried about a caffeine addiction but I feel dumb whenever I've caused myself to be in pain for 2 days.

So I'd like an iced tea replacer. I like that it's no calorie, because I drink so much of it. It's replacement obviously needs to be low/no caffeine since that's the current issue I'm running into. I'd like to minimize having no-calorie sweeteners in the drink too since they have minimal beneficial effects. Having a chance to be able to order the drink in restaurants, bars, and highway rest stops would be great too, but that puts a high level of difficulty on the search I think.

So is this achievable, other than water? I realized as I was putting the tags in, the obvious answer (so far) is de-caf coffee. But the reason it's not mentioned above already is I don't like coffee.
posted by garlic to Food & Drink (56 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Good Earth Organic Sweet & Spicy Caffeine Free Herbal Tea tastes sweet and is terrific iced.
posted by Iris Gambol at 9:54 AM on December 2, 2015 [12 favorites]

Have you tried Good Earth Sweet & Spicy tea? Despite being a little sweet, it has no sugar and is a nice break from your standard black tea--I'm guessing they use stevia maybe. It's kind of chai-like.

I've also been doing the cut-up-some-fruit-and-steep-it-in-a-pitcher thing to break up the blandness of tap water.
posted by smirkette at 9:54 AM on December 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Are seltzer and/or mineral water too watery?
posted by Rock Steady at 9:54 AM on December 2, 2015 [5 favorites]

The only thing I can think of that ticks all those boxes is unsweetened herbal tea or possibly green tea. I believe green tea is at the lower end for caffeine, and herbal teas (or tisanes, to be more technical) that don't actually have tea in them wouldn't have any caffeine. Maybe try hibiscus tea? I've found that it has a lot of flavor without needing to add sugar.
posted by brilliantine at 9:55 AM on December 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: How water is water? These days, I drink flavored seltzers: so sweeteners, some flavor, pleasant. You can get it in most restaurants and in places that have soda fountains that you self-serve from, there is usually one tap that has a lever to get you unflavored seltzer.
posted by plinth at 9:55 AM on December 2, 2015

How about Mio? That's what I've been drinking since breaking my Coke habit a year ago. I use MioEnergy in the morning when I still need some caffeine, then switch to a regular flavor for the rest of the day.
posted by saffry at 9:56 AM on December 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm very fond of seltzer and lemon (or lime) juice. Seltzer can be bought anywhere, and a small bottle of lemon (or lime) juice travels and keeps easy.
posted by incomple at 9:56 AM on December 2, 2015

I do not like drinking regular tap water, but I drink a ton of seltzer (or club soda in a pinch, but club soda has sodium).
posted by WesterbergHigh at 9:56 AM on December 2, 2015

Why you want iced roasted barley tea! Rooibos is also excellent cold.
posted by kaspen at 9:57 AM on December 2, 2015 [11 favorites]

What about seltzer/sparkling water? I know, it's still just water, but I find it much less bland and more satisfying than plain water, especially with food. Then again, I love carbonation, so ymmv. You can also get seltzer with flavoring (lemon, lime, etc), but I don't know how calories/artificial sweeteners are used in those beverages.

I realized as I was putting the tags in, the obvious answer (so far) is de-caf coffee.

FWIW, I believe most if not all decaf coffees do actually still have some amount of caffeine in them.

(On preview, I see that I'm just nthing seltzer.)
posted by litera scripta manet at 9:57 AM on December 2, 2015

Diet Ginger Ale would also be a fairly easy to obtain option, though it does contain artificial sweeteners.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:59 AM on December 2, 2015

Jumping on the seltzer bandwagon. I dropped the 6 pack of Diet Coke I was drinking daily for lemon/lime seltzer. Still get the bubbly rush, but no caffeine and no chemicals that kill (that I know of).
posted by AugustWest at 10:01 AM on December 2, 2015

If you're looking for something to have at home, Aveda has a tea that's "naturally sweetened." It has licorice, so if that puts you off, then avoid. Have a look.

Nthing carbonated water and lemon with lemon juice. YES.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 10:08 AM on December 2, 2015

There's a reason so many people are drinking LaCroix, and it's because it's delicious. The lemon and lime flavors are meh IMO (though great for cocktails) but the rest are sooooo good. If you've been drinking unsweetened iced tea it'll be right up your alley. No calories, no sodium, fizzy, yums.

Agree with the other suggestion for iced herbal teas, especially hibiscus.
posted by misskaz at 10:08 AM on December 2, 2015 [5 favorites]

(Oh, and to be clear, LaCroix doesn't have artificial sweeteners either. It's not sweet, it's just flavored with fruit "essence" which I assume is small amounts of fruit oils or something. It's subtle but really good. I have to keep myself from drinking it all day for financial reasons but otherwise go to town.)
posted by misskaz at 10:10 AM on December 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: What about making iced tea with decaffeinated black tea bags? You could just bring a big insulated tumbler of it with you when you're on the go. For ordering at bars/restaurants, yeah, seltzer is probably the way to go.
posted by ananci at 10:10 AM on December 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

There are tons of flavored seltzers out there. My favorites are La Croix Coconut and Schweppes Raspberry. You can buy them in cans at the store, and they often have them at restaurants or gas stations too.

A cheaper approach is to buy a 2 liter of club soda from the grocery store. No flavor, but usually only 50 cents or so.

I also use club soda as my go to mixer at the bar.
posted by galvanized unicorn at 10:11 AM on December 2, 2015

I feel like I would be betraying a large part of who I am if I didn't give milk a shoutout here.
posted by phunniemee at 10:12 AM on December 2, 2015 [4 favorites]

I drink a ton of VitaminWaterZero. It's artificially sweetened with stevia, so I don't feel bad. My husband makes his own with water, lemon or orange juice and powdered Stevia. You can use lots of different juices (he recently tried passionfruit) and it's essentially calorie-free, since the juice is so minimal (I think he uses about 2 tablespoons per 20-ounce cup).
posted by mrfuga0 at 10:12 AM on December 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Cold brewed, unsweetened, herbal iced tea is your answer. If you were local, I would sent you to TeaSource to try out some samples. But they will ship to you, and my personal favourites are Sweet Sarsaparilla and Fruit of the Plains. I also really like Evening in Missoula, but not as an iced beverage.

My habit (especially when I'm spending multiple days at home) is to fill up a pitcher with water, add tea, and pop it in the fridge over night. In the morning, I strain it and drink throughout the day.
posted by sparklemotion at 10:16 AM on December 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Give Barley Tea (Mugicha) a try! You can cold brew it in large batches, it's caffeine-free, and it has a mild nutty taste that's very different from leaf tea, and which I find a lot more refreshing without sweeteners or anything else added in. This is the brand I've been using, but there are quite a few other brands as well.

And nthing La Croix. Coconut and grapefruit are my favorites!
posted by augustimagination at 10:23 AM on December 2, 2015

Best answer: Tomato juice is relatively low calorie (40-50 calories per cup, compared to double or triple that for fruit juices (I know tomato is a fruit, but you know what I'm saying)). In bars, you can order a Virgin Mary which is just tomato juice with Bloody Mary seasoning & garnishes. The sodium is a downside, but it's not too bad if you alternate it with other beverages.
posted by mama casserole at 10:29 AM on December 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A few shakes of bitters in water. Technically alcoholic (some types are 45% by volume) but it's so diluted in the water, it's not like drinking. I've successfully ordered still water with a couple shakes of bitters in more than one bar.
posted by crush-onastick at 10:31 AM on December 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

A word of warning about hibiscus: it's a natural laxative.
posted by delight at 10:33 AM on December 2, 2015

Nthing barley tea, which is super refreshing and cheap.

Also, you can slice up a couple-three lemons and/or limes into a pitcher of water and throw that in the fridge for a couple-three hours. So good.
posted by Celsius1414 at 10:37 AM on December 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

A tiny bit of a really nice juice (grape? pomegranate?) with a lot of sparkling water is terrific. Also water with cucumber is surprising good!
posted by heavenknows at 10:44 AM on December 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Mio and its ilk, Powerade Zero, Vitamin water zero, Arizona iced tea zero calorie, iced herbal tea, mint tea, various rooibos blends from Davids Tea or Teavana, lemon and lime slices in water, Fruit "infuser" water bottle, chamomile tea in the evenings, hot cocoa made with splenda.
posted by SassHat at 10:52 AM on December 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Is hot okay? A lot of restaurants have various kinds of herbal tea bags available if you ask. You can also ask for extra lemon with your water.

I drink a lot of miso soup in winter when I get tired of herbal tea, you can get packets or just stir miso paste and maybe some wakame in hot water. Lots of sodium, though.
posted by momus_window at 10:53 AM on December 2, 2015

I've been drinking a lot of water with True Lemon in it these days. Delicious.
posted by getawaysticks at 10:53 AM on December 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

my husband needs flavored beverages. this became a problem when he was diagnosed with diabetes. we switched to cold brew herbal tea, fruit water, and flavored carbonated water (la croix, dasani, polar spring, etc). at restaurants i ask for a bowl of lemon wedges and just squeeze them all into my water - far better than just a single wedge, more like unsweetened lemonade than lemon water.
posted by nadawi at 10:56 AM on December 2, 2015

Sport rehydration tablets make a glass of water into a lemon (or whatever) drink with very few calories (9 kcal per tablet, which I think makes up a pint). They always seem expensive when I buy them, but given that a tube makes up 20 drinks, they're probably cheaper than bottled drinks.
posted by penguin pie at 11:07 AM on December 2, 2015

I also kicked my daily 6-pack+ habit of Coke Zero with a SodaStream, all flavors of Mio, flavored seltzers, and when all else fails diet ginger ale (sweetened with sucralose). I removed caffeine and aspartame from my habit, but for me personally I just can't elimate all fake-sugars, so I try and just consume the ones I feel are slightly less horrible.
posted by cgg at 11:10 AM on December 2, 2015

Fruity herbal teas (like the Celestial Seasonings zinger teas) ice up great. They even work if you drop them straight into cold water.
posted by the_blizz at 11:17 AM on December 2, 2015

I absolutely love Good Earth Sweet and Spicy Tea as others have suggested. Besides that, Harney & Sons decaf vanilla black tea is to die for.
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper at 11:18 AM on December 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

As a former diet soda addict who hated the taste of water, I would encourage you to continue to push toward water. I went from Diet Coke to iced tea to water. I drank it until I learned to really like it, and my starting point was gagging I disliked it so much. So you can train yourself. Now iced tea is a treat as is seltzer (but I try not to drink too much of that because some studies have said the carbonation is bad for your teeth).
posted by cecic at 11:20 AM on December 2, 2015

Sucralose is among the best of the fake sugars. It tastes to me the most like sugar, it is many times sweeter than sugar so very small amounts are used, and barely any of it is actually metabolized. Pepsi recently changed the Diet Pepsi recipe to use sucralose and acesulfame potassium instead of aspartame. (My wife is sensitive to aspartame, it's a migraine trigger for her, and also a diabetic, so this is wonderful for us. It essentially replaces Pepsi One, which was their previous formula using sucralose and A-K, but which had very limited distribution.)

Cascade Ice is a zero-calorie soft drink with primarily fruit flavors and it is also sweetened with sucralose. I like almost all the flavors. You'll probably find these with the bottled water in your grocely store, not with the soft drinks. Your store may also have a store brand of these and there are other brands horning in on this trend as well; Welch's recently came out with a grape one that is very good, IMHO. These are often on sale around a buck a bottle, and the store brands can be even less.

And of course there is Mio and if you go to where the Mio is in your store, you will find many other brands of concentrated flavor in similar packaging, including store brands. All of these are sugar-free and sweetened with sucralose (even the Crystal Light, which uses aspartame in its powdered variety, has sucralose in this format). Some contain caffeine and/or electrolytes. My wife likes the Arizona Arnold Palmer. My favorite is definitely the Mio Cherry Blackberry.
posted by kindall at 11:25 AM on December 2, 2015

My work started carrying Hint Water and i LOVE it. It is the only thing that has helped me not drink so much soda because I also find regular water super boring.

The pear, apple, and watermelon are my favorite. The cucumber is a lie, do not drink the cucumber one. You'll think "Hey, I like cucumber water so this is probably going to be delicious!" And you are going to be very very wrong.
posted by magnetsphere at 11:36 AM on December 2, 2015 [4 favorites]

Hint water is the BEST.

Okay, second best. The actual best is Metromint chocolate mint flavor. It's like drinking a Thin Mint. It used to show up in my office fridge sometimes and people would grab bottles to stockpile.
posted by town of cats at 12:10 PM on December 2, 2015 [6 favorites]

Two teas that are naturally sweet just because they contain intense amounts of cinnamon:

Celestial Seasonings Bengal Spice (I just bought six boxes on Amazon)
Harney and Sons Hot Cinnamon Spice

I find with the Bengal Spice I have to leave the teabag in the whole time I drink it to get it intense enough for me, but YMMV.
posted by fiercecupcake at 12:16 PM on December 2, 2015 [6 favorites]

Seconding the Bengal Spice (tiger on the box) and adding the Madagascar Vanilla (lion on the box) from Celestial Seasonings. I can't always find the lion, but he was at Whole Foods last time.
posted by soelo at 12:19 PM on December 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Cold or iced Roastaroma tea (also from Celestial Seasonings)? It's essentially barley tea, but with a few extra spices.

I'm sure you've already thought of iced or cold decaf green tea.

And not necessarily low calorie, but delicious: flavored coconut water.
posted by chicainthecity at 12:23 PM on December 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

My alternative drinks of choice lately include:

- hot or cold herbal tisanes / green teas
- hot or cold unsweetened almond milk (30 calories per 8 ounces) with a little cinnamon or saffron
- Beck's de-alcoholized beer (60 calories) -- I like bitter beverages, and it's the most drinkable fake beer I've ever tried, but there may be better options
- hot chicken broth (from the box, usually) with some slices of ginger
posted by maudlin at 12:29 PM on December 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you decide to go with stevia, imo the Zing brand is the least aftertasty of all the stevias I've sampled.
posted by phunniemee at 12:56 PM on December 2, 2015

I find that water additives like Mio or Crystal Light get cloying pretty quickly, but if I use just enough to give the water a little bit of a taste, I like them better.
posted by lakeroon at 12:57 PM on December 2, 2015

Kombucha isn't sugar free, but low-sugar compared to soda. I often mix it half-and-half with soda water. It's fun to brew your own but is a Project (and maybe a Lifestyle), but you can get it at most grocery stores these days.

Also look into shrubs and fruit vinegars! I've seen expensive "artisinal" versions lately but also check out Korean and Japanese markets. And you can make your own and it lasts forever. Basically a sugar syrup infused with fruit, mixed with vinegar. You mix it yourself with soda water, so you can regulate how much sugar is in it.

Same vein but sugar-free, a little apple cider vinegar in plan or soda water is nice.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 2:08 PM on December 2, 2015

Oh, I guess kombucha isn't generally caffeine-free!
posted by jeweled accumulation at 2:08 PM on December 2, 2015

Trader Joe's has this Spindrift grapefruit seltzer that is life-changingly amazing, at least for me. Also nth hibiscus and barley tea. (I asked a slightly similar question a while back and the answers were great; I think I've worked my way through almost everything on the list.)
posted by thetortoise at 2:49 PM on December 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Ayala's flavored waters (and sparkling waters) are great.

Very brave flavor options.

I like to refill the bottles with water; the flavors are still there.
posted by vitabellosi at 3:45 PM on December 2, 2015

I love seltzer plus frozen fruit. Like ice cubes, but fruity! And you can eat them after. I'm particularly fond of seltzer with frozen pineapple, mango, or nectarines. Or seltzer, lime, and a little honey is tasty. Maybe toss in some fresh basil or mint for some extra pizzazz.
posted by raztaj at 3:58 PM on December 2, 2015

Fruit water. A pitcher of water with sliced fruits like strawberries or cucumbers. You can also create shrubs which are vinegared syrups which are mixed with carbonated water. One of my favorites is strawberries muddled with lime and balsamic vinegar. It is tart and refreshing. Since it is the holidays, then the cranberry shrub from David Lebovitz looks fine.
posted by jadepearl at 6:13 PM on December 2, 2015

Lime Perrier sparkling water - it comes in many form factors (slim cans, small bottles, big bottles). There is also a grapefruit Perrier but I prefer the lime.
posted by Mallenroh at 6:44 PM on December 2, 2015

Seems nobody mentioned my favorite no-caffeine refresher: a teaspoon of tamari ("real" soy sauce) in iced water. Delicious!
posted by anadem at 8:02 PM on December 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

This might be ultra strange but I sometimes put a splash of fruit-flavoured vinegar in (plain) sparkling water / club soda. Trader Joe's pomegranate vinegar is too strong/sweet for me to use in food but I like it in the drink. Call it a "shrub" derivative and get some hipster street cred.

I also like to steep green tea bags in sparkling water -- if I ever thought ahead, I'd steep many tea bags in a small amount of normal water for hours in the fridge, then mix it into cold sparkling water. But I never do, so I just poke at this teabag floating in bubbly water and call it a beverage.

I LOVE that grapefruit Perrier but am too lazy/cheap to buy it much.
posted by miss_kitty_fantastico at 2:55 PM on December 3, 2015

Two ideas:

1) Fizzy Cherry: tart cherry concentrate (can get at grocery or health food stores) and fizzy water, to taste.

2) Homemade ginger-ade: variety of recipes online; try a couple likely candidates to see which you like best.
posted by dancing leaves at 4:18 PM on December 3, 2015

Water with sliced cucumber and orange is a nice combo that's quite refreshing and a little sweet.
posted by Frenchy67 at 5:59 PM on December 3, 2015

Tonic water with a squeeze of lemon juice.
posted by goo at 7:45 AM on December 6, 2015

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