I've been on the alternative milk beat for several years now. I've chugged milks made from pistachios, peanuts, hemp, you name it. But I've spent the most time by far with one of the few alternative milks that has managed to boom beyond being a fad and turn into a fridge staple for many American consumers: Yes, I am, of course, talking about oat milk.
My love of oat milk has led to me tasting many different brands, and one of my all-time favorites is Califia Farms. Specifically, I've long been a fan of Califia Farms Oat Barista Blend, because its texture, flavor, and consistency are all a lot like actual milk — a big plus in my book. While some drinkers are more into the "alternative" part of alternative milks, that's never been me. When trying out non-dairy milks, I want the product to be as close to actual milk, which I love, as possible. I'm never ordering oat milk lattes or eating cereal with coconut-almond milk because it's chic and healthier, I'm doing it because my tummy hurts when I ingest rich and delicious cow's milk and because the dairy industry is killing our planet. (Sorry to be a buzzkill, but it's true.)
I'm not telling you all this so you think I'm a good person, or even so you think I'm too cool for fads. I'm simply sharing these facts so you understand why I was so utterly offended to learn that my beloved Califia Farms had introduced a new version of its Oat Barista Blend — this time, with mushrooms.
That's right, apparently, in March of this year, Califia Farms — a brand that I, as a fairly eco-conscious consumer with a hot girl ailment who still greatly enjoys the taste and texture of cows milk and full-fat lattes, had come to trust — released oat milk made with mushroom extracts. Each carton of the new milk contains 3,000 mg of whole Cordyceps and 2,400 mg of Lion's Mane mushrooms. I've seen a lot of eyebrow-raising alternative milks in my day, but this is some uber-trendy nonsense. It's not for those of us simply looking for an indistinguishable milk replacement. It's for wellness fiends who are obsessed with the newest and hottest — shudders — "functional ingredients."
I was alerted to the existence of this new Califia Farms product by Tammie Teclemariam, a food and drinks writer, who tweeted a photo of a Mushroom Oat Barista Blend carton on a store shelf and wrote, "Shut it down now." I simply could not agree with this sentiment more. This is getting absurd. After all, what possible reason could Califia Farms have for adding mushrooms to its oat milk? Not much of one, apparently. According to the product description on the brand's website, the oat beverage is "hiding a secret cache of mushroom power," and has harnessed that power because Cordyceps and Lion's Mane mushrooms have been "revered for centuries as powerful superfoods." Sure.
Of course, this goes way beyond oat milk. Recently, mushroom coffee has become a very popular wellness trend, with brands like Four Sigmatic advertising on what feels like every podcast I've listened to in the last year — which was a lot, since podcasts are a good way to feel like you're interacting with humans instead of sitting alone on your couch for days on end. While it is true that, according to the Cleveland Clinic, there are many purported benefits of Cordyceps, Lion's Mane, and Reishi and Chaga, the other mushrooms commonly put in these coffee products, it is also true that there isn't a ton of actual data proving that we can really benefit from all these additional mushrooms. Yes, some claim these adaptogens can improve immunity, memory, sleep, and energy levels; reduce stress and inflammation; and relax muscles. And, Healthline reports that some scientific findings allege these mushrooms can also potentially prevent cancer, fight ulcers, reduce the risk of heart disease, and suppress allergic reactions to other foods. However, this should just be taken with a grain of salt. Healthline notes that most of the existing studies on medical mushrooms are based on animal research as opposed to human research. Also, like so many other wellness trends, this one was ripped directly from ancient Chinese medicine and is now apparently being marketed to the masses who put oat milk in their Daily Harvest smoothies and Magic Spoon cereal.
It's also hard to escape the fact that the sentence "I've been drinking Califia Farms Mushroom Oat Barista Blend in my morning coffee" truly does sound like some bizarre 2021 Mad Lib that ruins three great things in one fell swoop. Let's start with the mushrooms. Mushrooms were once whimsical and fun for me; they used to conjure up strong associations with the decor in my sweet stoner high school boyfriend's bedroom. The aesthetic surrounding them wasn't streamlined or chic. It was funky, bright, and unapologetically loud. Looking back, it was actually quite tacky, but that was part of its charm. Now, thanks to mushrooms being embraced and marketed as a "functional ingredient," the fungus has lost that kookiness. The aesthetic it has recently come to be associated with instead is the safe, muted pastel palette used to sell everything on Instagram.
Mushrooms are also delicious gifts from the ground. They're tasty in pastas or stir-frys, they're the perfect companion to sausage and peppers on a pizza, and when stuffed, they become savory bite-sized pockets that can be easily passed around at a party. I'd gladly down a silky mushroom purée — especially if it's made with lots of garlic — but, please don't put oats or coffee into it! As registered dietitian Ryanne Lachman told the Cleveland Clinic, though there isn't enough research to support claims that mushroom coffee, specifically, offers major health benefits, mushrooms do contain antioxidants. And guess what, you can get those simply by eating mushrooms in a stew. There's no need to involve coffee.
Coffee does sadly seem to be dragged into so many wellness trends. People put everything from butter to collagen powder in their coffee in hopes of receiving some sort of health benefit. Of course, everyone is free to do what they like with their coffee, but I can't help feeling a little sad that so many people seem to need a reason to drink coffee beyond its inherent enjoyability. Why must we insist everything be "functional"? Why do we need every single thing we consume to be an instrument of self-improvement? Isn't the fact that coffee tastes amazing and perks us up enough for you people? How many things will capitalism ruin???
In a March press release announcing the introduction of Mushroom Oat Barista Blend, Califia Farms cited findings from a recent study it conducted with OnePoll, which showed that functional ingredients was named the most important quality in plant-based alternative milks and creamers by 1 in 5 coffee drinkers. So I suppose I can't be mad at the brand for answering this call. It just sucks that the call was made in the first place. And, since I haven't actually tasted the new offering, I suppose I can't really say that the addition of mushrooms detracts from the real milk-like qualities of Califia Farms oat milk. The brand did manage to make an oat milk that tasted enough like cow's milk to make me not miss dairy's creamy deliciousness, so maybe it also successfully snuck these so-called functional ingredients into the plant-based milk, too. But the difference is that my gut and our planet needed a tasty dairy-free milk. Science shows that there's only one kind of person who really needs mushrooms in their oat milk: the one trying to make money off selling it to you.