Coffaux: Concocting a Fake Coffee (First Phase)

My troubling history with coffee goes back to the Spring of ’03. Why does everything bad happen in the Spring?! I dunno. Digression…segueing back to the point of this entry…

I had just started working the night shift as a way to make ends meet whilst finishing my last semester at college. Financial aid – or as I like to call it, beer money – had dried up; that and I was on academic probation. (See: beer hyphenate.) Working almost-full-time seemed like a “great” way to dig myself out of the antidepressant-fueled hole of academia. Hospitality industry, even better!

However, my delicate (read: outta shape) frame wasn’t up to the task of braving the nocturn. Up to that point, the only poison I put in my body on irregular occasions was bad but affordable beer; Hi-Life, Milwaukie’s “Beast”…Forgive me, I was young and naïve. The logical conclusion was caffeine, yet this was nearly two years before my love affair with tea blossomed. I started off with coffee.

That didn’t last long, I assure you. On a particularly difficult night shift – running on three hours of sleep – I made the mistake of double-brewing the pot. Too much of a good thing is bad. Too much of a mediocre, miasmic tar is worse. I almost vomited twice, nearly crapped my pants once, and felt generally sick for three days after that shift.

From then on, I steered clear of coffee unless I had no other choice. Not that all coffee was bad, just bad for me. Then I tried my hand at chamomile, which definitely wasn’t conducive to a successful night shift. And, thankfully, in ’04, I discovered tea – my caffeinated savior. But I always wondered what I missed out on had I continued down the espresso express way.

By then, it was too late, but rumblings on the Net reached my ears; mentions of a “faux” coffee made of dandelion root. I looked up various blogs on the subject. Apparently, roasted dandelion root was used as a common substitute for coffee. Not only that, but it was also healthy – something to do with liver detox.

I asked my dad, a religious coffee drinker, if he’d ever heard of such a thing. He said he tasted several different coffee substitutes. None of them were worth the effort. “Coffee is coffee. Why would you want to have something ‘like’ coffee?” It was a good question. I didn’t have a good answer for him.

Regardless, I charged forth in my quest unimpeded. In the hippie wilds of Southeast Portland, I found an herbal shop that held my target. Once locating some roasted dandelion root, the cute, short-haired hipster teller also directed me to their “actual” faux-coffee blend called “Herbal Flash”. Simpy put, it was chicory root mixed with dandelion. I smelled the contents; shades of maple, pine, molasses, and…wood came to mind.

I bought both.

When I got home, I pleaded with my brother for the use of his French press. If I was going to brew something like coffee, I might as well do it somewhat right. I figured the culprit to start with was the Herbal Flash “coffaux”. The best bet seemed to be boiling water and a ten-minute steep, like one would treat any strong herb such as ginger.

The liquid blackened, not just colored. Blackened. It looked like coffee, even “blubbed” like it as we pressed the “French” out of it. Ten minutes passed with ease. I gave some to my step-dad, to my brother, and I took the entrails.

It didn’t taste like coffee.

I was more reminded of pungently sweet molasses that’d been roasted in conjunction with a caramel apple well past its prime. Plus, that “wood” smell I detected in the dry root pieces carried through in the taste. I expected to see my tongue covered in maple-lathered splinters. Definitely not coffee or pleasant.

Now it was time to troubleshoot the dandelion. I was convinced it was the source of all the woodsiness in the Herbal Flash blend, but perhaps it wouldn’t be so rough if left to its own devices. The root possessed the fragrance of bark and vanilla shrouded in leaf – dry-seeming but not unpleasant.

Brewing the tisane – and, believe me, it was a tisane – took some trial and error. The first time around, I simply gave it a ten-minute steep. The liquor ended up brass-colored but transparent. Like a root-based tisane would. Definitely not a substitute for coffee.

On the flavor front, it fared only a little better. As expected, it had woodiness in spades, but at least the infusion turned out complimentary – as opposed to its combination with chicory. The root taste was mildly astringent but not overpowering. I didn’t feel like I was licking a rough-hewn tree. Not my favorite but not a sink-tosser.

A fifteen-minute steep yielded similar results. The root darkened a bit more to a rusty brown, the flavor deepened to something more roasty, yet the feeling invoked still wasn’t coffee-esque. And with that, I gave up.

In closing…

I haven’t called it quits completely on this Sisyphean task, merely a union break. There are still a couple of ingredients and approaches I have yet to try. These first two options didn’t live up to the “coffaux” promise, but I think I may know what I did wrong. A return to the herbal shop hasn’t happened yet because…well…I’m lazy. It will happen, though. Tomorrow. Maybe.

Let’s change the subject.

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Monday, November 22nd, 2010 Beverage Blog

2 Comments to Coffaux: Concocting a Fake Coffee (First Phase)

  1. Hi, just found your blog froma link on twitter. Love your red matcha review, and tea & beer experiments! I think “orzo” – an italian roasted barley drink – tastes a lot like coffee, & some other folks on steepster seem to agree: http://steepster.com/teas/lupicia/8291-orzo-caramel-and-honey

  2. Janefan on February 22nd, 2011
  3. Okay, wow, that drink looks delicious. I added it to my wishlist. Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

  4. Geoffrey F. Norman on February 23rd, 2011

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