Coffee substitutes: Can you cozy up to them?

By Perry Luckett, CoffeeMan1

By coffee substitutes I don’t mean separate alternatives, such as matcha or kombucha, which don’t try to imitate coffee’s color and flavor. I’m referring here to non-coffee products, often without caffeine, that are intended to imitate coffee. People can drink coffee substitutes for medical, economic and religious reasons; for what some consider to be a healthier alternative; or simply because coffee isn’t readily available.

Millions of people abstain from coffee for religious reasons. For example, most Latter-day Saints (Mormons) refrain from drinking coffee and caffeinated tea based on health codes called the Word of Wisdom. That practice is changing a bit for younger members of the church, but about 60% of Mormons recently surveyed said they hadn’t drunk coffee during the previous six months.

Seventh-day Adventists follow similar practices based on the church’s long-standing emphasis on “wholeness and health.” The church discourages its members from consuming alcoholic beverages, tobacco, or illegal drugs. Following the spirit of healthfulness, some members also avoid coffee, tea, cola, and other beverages that contain caffeine. But neither Mormons’ nor Adventists’ codes ban all hot drinks, so some practitioners may drink a substitute, such as beverages made from chicory or dandelion roots.

Chicory is a coffee-substitute champion

Chicory roots from the field—before trimming and drying.

Chicory roots from the field—before trimming and drying.

The drink brewed from ground, roasted chicory root has no caffeine but is dark and (according to some) tastes much like coffee. It was used as a medicinal tea before coffee was introduced to Europe.  The chicory plant’s root became popular in Europe during 1766, when Frederick the Great banned importing coffee into Prussia. Enterprising Brunswick innkeeper Christian Gottlieb Förster used chicory root to develop a coffee substitute and then gained a concession in 1769 or 1770 to manufacture it in Brunswick and Berlin. By 1795, at least 22 factories of this type were in Brunswick.

Dried chicory root By Herbeater - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69914821

Dried chicory root By Herbeater - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69914821

During the following Napoleonic period in France, chicory frequently appeared as an additive to coffee or as a coffee substitute—largely because chicory was cheaper and easy to prepare. Use of chicory as a coffee substitute became widespread in France early in the 19th century due to coffee shortages resulting from the Continental Blockade. Root chicory is still cultivated throughout Europe as a coffee substitute. The roots are baked, roasted, ground, and used as an additive, especially in the Mediterranean region (where the plant is native).

Chicory root dried and ground in a burr grinder for brewing

Chicory root dried and ground in a burr grinder for brewing

During the American civil war, Confederate soldiers also adopted chicory as a coffee substitute, and it has since become common in the United States. For example, prisons have long used chicory root to substitute for coffee, especially in the South. By the 1840s, the port of New Orleans was the second-largest importer of coffee (after New York). Louisianans began to add chicory root to their coffee when Union naval blockades during the American Civil War cut off the port of New Orleans, thereby creating a long-standing tradition.

Today, some of the most reputable chicory coffee brands are in Louisiana. The best are French Market, Luzianne, Community, and Cafe du Monde. One favorite is Community Coffee’s Private Reserve, which isn’t bitter even though it contains only chicory. But most chicory coffees are blends of chicory root and coffee beans. For example, Ricoré is a mix of chicory and coffee from France created in 1953, now produced by Nestlé. The blends are usually necessary because pure chicory can create digestive problems. It contains a carbohydrate called inulin, which can cause bloating and gas if consumed in excess.

 
Luzianne coffee and chicory.jpg
Cafe du Monde coffee and chicory.jpg
Community+pure+chicory.jpg
 

Camp Coffee: an early Scottish “instant coffee” substitute

In 1876 the first commercial attempt to make some sort of instant coffee resulted in a concoction known as Camp Coffee, which is still produced in Scotland today. Camp Coffee is a mixture of chicory, water, and sugar. It was sold in bottles as a concentrated dark brown liquid, to which one would add a cup of hot milk.

Camp Coffee intended to offer an easy way for British soldiers serving in outward parts of the British Empire to make coffee. It was originally made for the Scottish regiment of the Gordon Highlanders but become popular with many other regiments and was drunk by British soldiers throughout the world.

 
Camp coffee_Poster 1 (large cup face behind).jpg
Camp Coffee advertising in Scotland. Wikimedia Commons

Camp Coffee advertising in Scotland. Wikimedia Commons

 

Camp Coffee’s recipe and bottle remain much the same today. The only difference in the design is that the original label showed a British sergeant major being served coffee by his Indian servant, which was typical of its colonial origins. The modern version shows the two men sharing the drink more equitably.

Unfortunately, as well as not tasting very much like coffee, Camp Coffee also contains no caffeine, so it doesn’t provide the energy boost people look for in a cup of coffee. Despite all this, Camp Coffee still survives and is produced today in the same Scottish factory, although it is generally more popular as a baking ingredient than as a drink.

Dandelion coffee: converting weeds to commerce

Because chicory is in the dandelion family, you may also see it referred to as “dandelion coffee.” But dandelion coffee is a separate substitute that has gained its own popularity with some consumers.

For this coffee substitute, harvesters usually focus on large dandelion plants that are 3–4 years old, with taproots about half an inch in diameter. They dry, chop, and roast the roots before grinding them into granules that steep in boiling water to produce dandelion coffee.

 
Dandelion root for coffee substitute: dandelion coffee. By Zero-X at Flickr Commons

Dandelion root for coffee substitute: dandelion coffee. By Zero-X at Flickr Commons

Roasted and chopped dandelion root for coffee. By LinguistAtLarge, Zero-X at Flickr Commons, 12/26/08

Roasted and chopped dandelion root for coffee. By LinguistAtLarge, Zero-X at Flickr Commons, 12/26/08

 

Although dandelion coffee has only recently benefited from modern harvesting techniques, people in North America have attested to its health properties as early as the 1830s. Roasted dandelion root contains probiotics, which can help feed good bacteria in the gut for regularity and immune boosting. It also has antioxidants and may

 
Dandelion “coffee” Image from HuffPost

Dandelion “coffee” Image from HuffPost

Teeccino Herbal Coffee Alternative_Dandelion dark roast

Teeccino Herbal Coffee Alternative_Dandelion dark roast

 

As you can see, the phrase “coffee substitute” can cover a lot of territory, but many concoctions try to keep at least a loose link to real coffee by trying to reproduce its flavor, color, or both. In my next blog post, I’ll cover some substitutes that are a little further afield: grains, nuts, and herbs.

While you’re thinking about which one to try—or just saying “no way,” don’t substitute a lukewarm or cold brew for the hot experience of using one of KoffeeKompanions.com’s Kup Kap™ coffee cup covers. They come in two sizes to fit cups, mugs, and small bowls—and they’ll keep your coffee, tea, coffee substitute, or other hot beverage pleasantly drinkable for up to an hour.

 
Koffee Kompanions’ Kup Kap™ keeps coffee and other foods hot in cups, mugs, and small bowls.

Koffee Kompanions’ Kup Kap™ keeps coffee and other foods hot in cups, mugs, and small bowls.

 
Perry LuckettComment