Sunday, March 11, 2012

Coffee in your Backyard: Local sustainable alternatives to the coffee bean.

Today’s topic is about local substitutes for coffee, obviously anything listed in this article will produce a coffee-like beverage. Admittedly for the most part there really is no substitute for the real thing, coffee is still coffee.  Considering the vulnerability of the transportation systems of most countries and the ever uncertain national-political trends of the time it is wise to know what you can work with should something make coffee inaccessible by price or quantity. The very idea of coffee-beverage it self is no new concept, the peoples of the world have been making beverages of similar use for ages before coffee itself was a world-wide commodity. There are a number of things used to make coffee-beverage, and a few uncovered in my own research of the topic lacked full  information that could be verified by any reliable source for their effects, cultivation or how they are processed or made into a beverage. For instance, Ganoderma  and Chagas are both fungi, one is from Asia, while the other is a common fungi found growing on birch. Neither seems to have any real information that is safe regarding their processing. Other unverified plant materials used to make coffee-beverage include; Malted Barley, Beet root, Corn, Rice, Cotton seed, Figs, Peas, Potato peels, Rye, Wheat bran, Asparagus, Persimmon seed and, Sweet Potato. While some of the aforementioned plant materials certainly are unlikely to harm the user how to process them is unclear. If any of you out there know how to make coffee-beverage out of these plants feel free to post your recipes and their sources so everyone can try them out. Now without further ado here is a list of plants found in the north and south eastern states of North America that can be used to make coffee-beverage.

Kentucky Coffee Tree, Gymnocladus dioica
The seeds were roasted in the same way as coffee beans, and prepared the same way by early American settlers. For note this plant is slightly toxic and should NOT be imbibed with the same regularity as traditional coffee. It does contain some caffeine however.

Yaupon Holly, Ilex vomitoria
The common yaupon holly has been used as a caffeinated coffee substitute by the native Americans for quite a long time. The beverage it self is rather dark in color, and is made from the stems and leaves of the plant and of course was drank hot. From what information exists it would be prepared not unlike a tea though I did not see any mention of if the twigs and leaves were dried or fresh. For note, it is clearly stated by numerous sources that the Yaupon holly may be the only North American native that contains caffeine.

Bed Straw, Galium aparine
Bedstraw is a common clingy weed found growing wild in disturbed soils. All of its leaves and stems are covered with fine hairs that can cause some minor skin irritation.  The fruit and seeds however are the parts you want to collect. Between June and July look for the rounded greenish fruiting bodies and pick them before they turn brown. Wash and then roast at 300 degrees until dark and crisp or up to 1 hour, then grind the cooled fruits to a fine texture.

Cat’s Ear Dandelion, Hypochaeris radicata
Dandelion, Taraxacum officinale
Chicory, Cichorium intybus
All three plants belong to the aster family and, it is no surprise that all three are thought of as weeds. On all three plants you need to harvest the taproot, scrub it clean, and roast it in the oven until brown throughout. After that you may grind in a coffee grinder and use at the same proportions as plain coffee. None of the three plants have caffeine present at any point however and thus the drink only tastes like coffee.

Sunflower, Helianthus annuus
The common sunflower, a cheery staple of the summer, surprisingly is a purveyor of a coffee substitute. Ironically sunflowers might be the weirdest source of coffee substitute as the beverage is made from the hulls of the seeds.

California Juniper, Juniperus californica
This juniper is noted as a coffee substitute for this region due to it’s wide useage in cultivation. The California juniper is often found in use with Xeriscaping but is a popular bonsai plant. The part used to make coffee-beverage however is the small fruits which are dried for upwards of a month or more roasted like coffee beans and then ground. This particular juniper is preferred as it has less resin and is thus less bitter.

White Oak Grouping:
Quercus alba, Quercus prinus, Quercus gambelii, Quercus douglasii
The oaks provide more then a fine flower via their acorns, as it turns out the acorn meal can be roasted, and used to make a coffee substitute. Generally the white oak group is preferred as the nut meats and acorn shells contain far less tannins and this are less bitter. All you have to do is roast the acorn meal at 380 degrees until the meal is dark or crisp or for about 30 minutes. Use ½ cup of roasted acorn meal to 4 cups of water and combine in a pot then boil for 15 minutes, then strain and serve, caffeine free.

Red & Black Oak Grouping:  Quercus rubra
Making coffee-beverage from the red and black oaks requires an additional step of preparation. Red and black oaks bear larger amounts of tannins in their acorn which in turn means that you must leach this from the acorns to make a palatable beverage.  In order to remove tannins, place the nut meats from acorns in a mesh bag or some sort of strainer that will not melt, then place within a pot of boiling water. Boil until water darkens, discard water and refill with fresh water repeat until the water remains clear. After the tannins are leached you can proceed to roast them in the same way as noted in the white oaks group.

American Beech Fagus grandifolia
Aside from being beautiful trees at maturity the American beech is a sustainable supplier of coffee beverage. Collect mature nuts after they drop of just before they do, shell, and roast the chopped nut meats at 320 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes. Allow the resulting nut meal to cool and grind, use in the same proportions to water as oak with the same preparation.

Allegheny chinquapin Castanea pumila
Allegheny Chinquapin is a native chestnut relative that is commonly called American chinquapin or dwarf chestnut. The nuts meats are the part you use to make a coffee-beverage, however the nuts are covered with spines so extracting the meats should be done with caution. Once you have extracted the edible portions, chip them finely and roast at 375 degrees until they are dark and dry and then allow cooling. Once cool enough to handle, grind to a fine texture and when ready, gently boil 1 ounce (28 grams) per cup of water for 15 minutes, strain and serve hot, caffeine free.

With all that coffee substitution it’s not hard to imagine a particularly clever gardener could combine several of the above and make a particularly unique blend of non-coffee, coffee!  As always I advise the readers out there to play it safe and triple verify what they are about to brew or roast and try a little bit first to check for any possible allergies before you dive fully into experimenting. On Sunday the 25th at 2:30 is the next neighborhood grange meeting at the Cape Fear Museum if you've got time and read this blog come on down! Best of luck to all you urban farmers out there, make sure to check back in next Sunday when the first installment of ‘Wild Buffet’ covers some common garden weeds you can eat! 

>Edit: date and time of grange meeting has been moved, see underlined text for changes.

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