I have heard estimates as high as 37 gallons (140 liters) of water used in the production in each cup of coffee. As someone who is an inveterate drinker of coffee for multiple reasons (caffeine, calming effect of sipping at it while coding, the extra exercise from getting up and walking over to grab another cup every 40 minutes or so), I can't really go entirely without, but I'd like to do something a bit more sustainable. It looks like tea is a bit better at about 9 gallons per cup (35 liters). In either case, I'm sure that I'm expending some amount of resources getting the water heated as well.

I'm moving to refilling my water bottle at work for about half of my consumption, but water doesn't entirely cut it, between the lack of caffeine and that it seems to be worse for forcing me off to the bathroom to dispose of excess in my system. What sort of a substitute can I use?

4 Answers 4


Even though I tend to agree with Wout's answer, I would like to add an alternative solution, specially for those who are not ready to switch to water.

I'm currently facing the same problem. Here at the office we drink several cups of coffee per day, and we only have a capsule coffee machine (which entails the problem of plastic waste). Which is why I'm now considering switching to mate.

Where I come from (south of Chile), and mostly in Argentina and Uruguay, we used to drink mate long before coffee gets popular. Lots of people still do. Mate has similar characteristics to coffee--it actually contains caffeine--and has some other nice properties.

Considering that coffee is also imported (mostly from Brasil and Colombia), I suppose that its carbon footprint should be similar in terms of transport. While I can't tell you exactly how much water it requires for production, I tend to think it's similar to tea, considering that it's an infusion.

Anyway, it's an alternative to consider and today you may find it almost every country.


It sounds to me like you want the same product - coffee - without feeling bad about the water it requires. So this might not be the answer you're looking for, but theoretically, the best thing would be to switch to water entirely. Caffeine is addictive, so at first your body will resist, but after a while that will go away. It's also supposed to be healthier (I heard - requires source) to quit drinking coffee.

If you need to go to the bathroom too often, you could replace your water bottle for something smaller. This way you'll drink less water.

I won't look for a substitute for coffee myself, I just love the taste:)

  • 1
    I agree with Wout. Reducing or stopping entirely would be best. When I was in college I started drinking more and more coffee until I reached a point where I noticed I couldn't go without (or else I would get a headache). So I decided to cut down. Over a few months I gradually reduced my intake to 1 or 2 cups a day without any problems.
    – THelper
    Dec 3, 2015 at 8:30
  • 1
    You won't go to the bathroom more often, coffee is a diuretic and makes you pee before you really should from a hydration standpoint. Once you are hydrates up again, you'll stop drinking more as much water.
    – Escoce
    Dec 3, 2015 at 18:21

You could choose to buy coffee from somewhere that's not short of water. I've got a rather nice Costa Rican fairtrade on the go, for example. This doesn't deal with the transport or roasting energy consumption/emissions, but does address your main point.


Rice coffee is popular in the Philippines, where it's available in grocery stores. It's also very simple to make - just roast some white rice in a frying pan, grind it and use it like ground coffee. It doesn't have any caffeine, which is either an advantage or a disadvantage, depending on your preferences. Dandelion coffee is another option. It's made from the roots of the dandelion, in a similar way to rice coffee. You can also order it if you're not interested in harvesting and preparing the dandelions yourself.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.