A cup of coffee may be the hardest mainstay to compete with — yet that is exactly what mushroom coffee producers have set out to do. And they are succeeding.
Mushroom coffee uses medicinal mushrooms mixed with coffee beans. The ingredient is touted as helping to reduce inflammation, stress and increase one’s immune system, according to UCLA Health. The global mushroom market is expected to grow to $4.12 billion by 2030, expanding at a 5.5% rate from 2023 to 2030, according to Research and Markets. The medicinal benefits of mushrooms are behind this projected growth, experts say.
Meanwhile, the rising preference for ready-to-drink beverages, along with increased awareness of both sustainable and ethical beverage sourcing and “flavorful coffee experiences,” are also responsible for the surge, according to the report.
In a post-pandemic world, consumers are increasingly seeking out ingredients like fungi that support both their physical and mental health. But it’s also a regulated market, to some extent, in that functional mushrooms that are marketed as food additives have to comply with food safety regulations of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C).
On the other hand, when the ingredients are sold as dietary supplements they have to comply with the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) which ensures consumer access to a wide variety of supplements, and provides customers with information on intended use.
A major challenge for the industry is sourcing, according to Scott Frohman, founder and CEO of the beverage maker Odyssey Mushroom Elixir.
The mushrooming of the mushroom industry
Mushroom coffee can be made two ways — either by mixing coffee grounds with mushroom powders and extracts or infusing coffee beans with mushrooms by using the beans to help the mushrooms grow, said Brianna Harris, director of product development & nutrition at Vitacup.
Some beverage producers are looking to replace the coffee bean altogether, with lower caffeine alternatives such as MUD\WTR, a coffee alternative made with cacao, ayurvedic herbs and functional mushrooms.
Consumers are gaining interest in mushroom-infused functional beverages separate from coffee, Frohman said.
“These functional mushrooms are known for their ability to support and boost different elements of wellness, depending on the mushroom. At Odyssey Mushroom Elixir, we selected Lions Mane and Cordyceps due to their focus, mood and energy boosting properties,” he added.
Industry leaders often use the term “adaptogenic” in marketing their products, referring to mushroom properties that help consumers mitigate stress levels, according to Will Nitze, founder and CEO of IQBAR, who sells enhanced instant mushroom coffee in flavors like Cafe Mocha, with Lion’s Mane mushroom extract as an ingredient.
Access and taste challenges
Some of the best mushroom types for coffee products are often difficult to access. “Typically, Lion's Mane, Cordyceps, Reishi, Ashwagandha, and Turkey Tail are most commonly paired with coffee in leading mushroom coffee products,” Nitze said. “Many of these mushrooms are grown in China, which can present supply chain issues if trouble arises in the ocean freight market, tariffs are implemented by the US government, etc.”
Harris explained that mushrooms can be wild harvested or cultivated on mushroom farms. “Challenges can occur due to sustainability with wild harvesting, difficulties with cultivating mushrooms, long growth cycles in some mushrooms, quality control, variability in bioactive compounds, seasonal availability, and increase in demand,” she said.
Tero Isokauppila, founder and CEO of Four Sigmatic, says his company wild harvests its Chaga mushrooms from the Taiga forest in Siberia, the largest forest on the planet. He adds that some products are misleading in their marketing, pointing to the fact that 74% of Reishi supplements sold in the U.S. don’t contain any actual Reishi mushroom.
Dr. Marcus Collins, marketing professor at the University of Michigan and author, says mushroom coffee brands have their work cut out for them, and have to be careful with language choices when bringing them to market. “Mushrooms are having a moment of sorts that works well in its infusion into coffee. The challenge is that the taste profile doesn’t make a good complement to the taste of coffee,” he says. “Not ‘mushroom flavored’ but maybe ‘magical mushroom extracts’ or something of that nature would likely be easily digestible for consumers.”
Sheri Geoffreys, founder of Yonder, a collagen and coffee company, suggests to companies to narrow their target consumer base. “Now, if you are a food producer with eyes on this buzzing market, your first stop is nailing your brand. Are you the go-to for speedy sippers? Maybe K-cups or instant powders are your jam. If you‘re a connoisseur at heart, then high-quality grounds or beans might be more up your alley.”