Say “a hot drink with a rich, roasted flavor,” and most folks think coffee, not roasted grains or roots. But grain beverages have been used for thousands of years; they’re traditional in Korea and Japan. Western cultures have used roots and grains as coffee substitutes when coffee was expensive or unavailable—for example, during the Civil War and World War II. Many avoid coffee for religious or health reasons. The caffeine in coffee can cause nervousness, while the acid can exacerbate gastrointestinal disturbances.
According to the National Coffee Association, decaffeinated coffee beans retain about 3 percent of their caffeine content, so decaf is not an option for people completely eschewing caffeine. Others like a caffeine jolt in the morning, but prefer a more soothing beverage as their evening cuppa.
Where Faux Coffee Comes From
In addition to grains (barley, wheat and rye), natural coffee substitutes have been made from roots (chicory, dandelion, parsnip, sweet potato), seeds (like okra) and nuts (beechnuts or acorns). Dandelion root has known health benefits, including diuretic, detoxifying and liver tonic properties. Chicory root is rich in inulin, a soluble fiber that helps improve digestion and absorption of minerals like calcium. When ground, it looks identical to coffee, though it’s a little fuller-bodied, with a sour flavor.
For more than a century in America, a blend of roasted wheat, wheat bran, molasses and maltodextrin called Postum dominated the roasted grain beverage market. But when flavored coffees and energy drinks came on the scene, Kraft Foods (which had acquired CW Post) discontinued Postum in 2007. Replica recipes circulate online, but making it is a laborious process.
Other grain-based beverage products come in brewed, steeped or instant varieties. Most are natural, some are organic, and all are caffeine-free and non-acidic.
Cafix is a European import distributed by InterNatural Foods made from malted barley, chicory, roasted barley, rye, figs and beetroot. The flavor is slightly malted but still bitter; figs and beetroot give it sweetness. Smells a bit like sweet potatoes. Some say it makes a great latt?.
Caro, by Nestl?, is made of roasted barley, malted barley, chicory and rye. It’s most often available in health food shops.
Dandy Blend, produced by Goosefoot Acres, is made of roasted barley and rye, along with roasted roots of chicory, beet and dandelion. It’s less bitter than similar products.
Naturalis Inka has a smoky, nutty, mild flavor, with the scent of burned or dark coffee. It’s all natural, made from roasted barley, rye, chicory and beetroot. The subtle sweetness comes from the natural sugar in beets.
Kaffree Roma from Morningstar Farms, a blend of roasted malt barley, barley and chicory, has a mild yet smoky and bitter flavor with an aroma resembling coffee. Also available as a drip blend. Pero is imported from the European Union. The flavor is rich, mildly bitter and a little almondy, with a sweet-roasted scent. It’s all natural, made of malted barley, chicory and rye.
Teeccino “herbal coffees” are made from ingredients that can include roasted chicory, roasted carob, roasted barley, and ramon nuts blended with figs, almonds and dates. The brew comes in several flavors, including vanilla, hazelnut and chocolate mint.
Made from ground, roasted soybeans rather than roasted grain, soy coffee claims to have the protein and health benefits associated with soy, like aiding digestion and lowering cholesterol. Two brands which use USDA organic soybeans are Soyfee and Rocamojo.
While grain beverages don’t really taste like coffee, they all have their own distinct flavors and should be enjoyed in their own right.