Morning jolt

Solutions for an eco-friendlier, caffeine-free pick-me-up

What’s in your cup? Coffee beans—or carob, chicory and barley brew?

What’s in your cup? Coffee beans—or carob, chicory and barley brew?

When you ask for “a hot drink with a rich, roasted flavor,” 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 (such as during the Civil War or World War II). And 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.

Of course, coffee is amazing. But there are alternatives, you know, in case you just need to put down the cup once in a while. Plus, most of them are eco-friendly and healthier in the long run.

In addition to grains (barley, wheat and rye), natural coffee substitutes have been made from roots (chicory, dandelion, parsnip, sweet potato), seeds (such as 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 C.W. 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 nonacidic.

Instant beverages are options, such as Cafix, which 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 latte.

Caro, by Nestlé, 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.

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 something you can brew and are made from ingredients that can include roasted chicory, roasted carob, roasted barley and ramón nuts, blended with figs, almonds and dates. The brew comes in several flavors, including vanilla, hazelnut and chocolate mint.

Made from roasted, ground 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 U.S. Department of Agriculture 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 rights. That is, until you go back to drinking regular, good ol’ coffee—which seems inevitable, right?