stevia

Attack of the Coffee Clones

“Ersatz” is a German word that roughly translates to “substitute or replacement”.  English speakers adopted it to refer to an inferior copy of something else. The original definition, however, does not indicate that the duplicate need be inferior – merely alike. My first exposure to the word arrived in two different ways the same year – one while reading a textbook (and falling asleep), the other used by a very glib and verbose friend of mine (who made me fall asleep). Of all the scholastically snobby traits I’ve developed, the use of “ersatz” never entered my lexicon. (Although, I still use “lexicon” regularly.)

The unique word was recently adopted by an outfit in Bellefonte, PA., called the Coffee Trade Company. In a “charmingly anachronistic” fashion (their words), they developed a coffee substitute that differed from others on the market. Most coffee subs I’ve encountered contain some combination of three ingredients – barley, chicory, and dandelion root. The last of which is often used as the primary.

On an attempt to find a coffee clone I liked, I experimented with a dandelion/chicory blend and straight roasted dandelion root. The results were underwhelming. On a later brew-up, I tried a Japanese barley tisane (mugicha) and found it quite delightful. While I didn’t experiment with blending any further, I readily assumed that those three were the magic ingredients for creating the perfect “coffaux”.

Ersatz went a completely different route, sidestepping the barley and dandelion entirely. They kept the chicory – likely for coloring purposes – but used roasted peas and roasted ri-…wait, did I read that right? Roasted rice?

Drat.

If it hasn’t been made apparent, I’m not a fan of rice as a tea additive. Genmaicha – the premier rice-blended green tea – is my least favorite. There’s only been one rice-flavored anything I ever favored drinking, a sticky rice pu-erh, and actual rice wasn’t included. In my palate opinion, rice can only be eaten, not steeped. And, yes, I’m fully aware that I’m in the minority.

To Ersatz’s credit, the blend smelled wonderful. It was equal parts toasty, roasty, earthy, woody, and…well…manly. There was a rough, wildernessy feel to the aroma, like coffee on a campground. Rice was not the dominant presence, nor was the tangy chicory. I hoped that carried through in the taste.

Brewing instructions were dead simple. It was a large teabag, and the ingredients were strong herbals. Great care wasn’t necessary. All I had to do was dunk the bag in a cup of boiled water for three-to-five minutes, and I was done. I tested the bag out at a full five minutes.

The result was a cherry-wood-to-dark-brown liquor with a strong “cooked trail mix” aroma. In all honesty, it didn’t smell like coffee. The smell sort of reminded me of barley but with less emphasis on the roasted characteristics. To the taste, it started out well enough, imparting a toasted/herbal profile but quickly translated into something I didn’t favor. There was the rice, I thought to myself. Two-thirds of the blend was wonderful and almost coffee-like, but the rice-reared finish was off-putting.

Not willing to admit defeat, I dared a second brew-up – this time at the three-minute mark. The liquor infused to the same deep brown but slightly lighter. The aroma was just as toasty as the lengthier infusion but a bit gentler on the nose. The flavor was a welcomed relief. All roasty/toasty beverage, no rice; if there was a rice presence, it was thankfully muted. Toasted veggies, smoked herbs, and an urge to go hiking were the only impressions imparted. The real joy came with the inclusion of milk and stevia. Now that was where it reminded me of coffee. Any faint rice-recoil was permanently subdued by the addition of dairy and sweet things.

I would be hard-pressed to call this end-all/say-all substitute for coffee. Having talked to my fair share of goths, hipsters, clock-punchers, and wired hackers, they will never give up their coffee. Ever. The flavor only leaves a faint impression of the blunt-force wake-up bean. That said, I could see a coffee drinker enjoying it as a nightcap. I certainly did.

But now I have a strange desire to write beatnik poetry…about clones. Why is that?

To buy Ersatz Coffee, go HERE.

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Thursday, June 23rd, 2011 Beverage Blog, Steep Stories 2 Comments

A Tropical Tisane Trip

A peculiar little leaf came to my attention on a search for another herb. I saw it mentioned in passing as a comparison. It and one other were used as taster notes. Sometimes I hate obscure taster notes – I try to avoid them – but in this case, it caught my intellectual fancy. The herbals in question were Hawaiian in origin. One was called Ko’oko’alau (a.k.a. genus Bidens), the other – and more pronounceable – was Mamaki (Pipturus albidus). The latter was mentioned as a close, islander cousin to stinging nettle.

I didn’t think I would be able to locate them locally, so I turned to online sources. It was almost impossible to find unblended products of either. And the solo options were in the neighborhood of $30 a pound. Why is everything in Hawaii so rapin’ expensive?! (Calming down…)

A difficult decision lay ahead of me; I had to give up on one of these herbs. Naturally, the unpronounceable one went by the wayside, and I focused my efforts on Mamaki. The search wouldn’t take long.

On a trip to Uwajimaya – think Asian Supermarket Disneyland – to browse the vast tea hall, I stopped by the customer service desk to inquire about Mamaki. At first, the just-shy-of-post-adolescent teller stared at me blankly. Before he could sputter out an “I dunno”, I saw my quarry on the shelf behind him. The label read “Hawaiian Chai” – a Mamaki/stevia blend.

Close enough, I thought.

Brewing would be a minor challenge. I wanted to know what Mamaki tasted like by itself, but I had to contend with the blended stevia as well. Having purchased the “sweet leaf” before, I knew what their consistency was like. Mamaki leaves – on the other hand – were larger, fanned-out and veiny. Perhaps a simple self-separation was in order.

The leaf apartheid worked. The stevia in the loose leaf jumble had settled to the bottom of the bag. Mamaki leaves took the top like large, green forest faery wings. I took out about 2 teaspoons of leaves and steeped them in boiling water for five minutes.

The infusion colored to a dirty amber, reminiscent of pond water. It didn’t look very thirst-quenching. Steam pluming from the cup was all nettle to the nose. That settled a bit on taste. Sure, it had the vegetal component of its spinachy cousin, yet somehow transcended its familial trappings into something gentler. I quite liked it, not in a “beaming-smile” sorta way, but a half-grimace did creep through. It even worked well when I put it with the stevia leaf.

This is why I love hunting down new herbs. Is it time consuming? Oh god, yes. But on those special occasions, one is rewarded with a flavor they would’ve never encountered without a gander. So far, my searches have turned up (mostly) successes. Mamaki got a pass.

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Wednesday, November 24th, 2010 Steep Stories 1 Comment

Makin’ a Maple Bacon Tea Latte

I’m allergic to pork.

Pig’s meat and I don’t get along. I learned this the hard way as anyone would – while eating a sandwich. Maybe some might learn of so traumatic a food sensitivity via pizza or a hot dog, but mine was triggered by bad batch of organic, free-range deli ham. Yes, very manly. This occurrence made everything – with the exception of Irish rashers (because they’re blessed by leprechauns) – off limits.

Of course, as fate would have it, love of bacon reached meta-memetic proportions on the “Internets” and various other media. So exaggerated was this bacony adulation, that numerous unrelated products started hitting the market; bacon vodka, bacon clothing, bacon-flavored desserts. None of these caught my eye, and still I wallowed in my allergy.

Until a tea caught my eye.

A little company called 52Teas came up with a Maple Bacon Black Tea. Wha?! Ingredients for this magnificent monstrosity included an Assam/Nilgiri black tea base, imitation bacon pieces, and maple/bacon flavors. No actual bacon…which meant I could have it! Alas, due to the model of the site, the tea sold out rather quickly. It came up again in circulation, and – fueled by nerdy curiosity – I instantly bought some. (My review of that chimeric beast can be found HERE.)

(Note: The product is now a permanent staple at the 52Teas offshoot site; Man Teas.)

While I thought it was lacking in certain areas, generally I liked it. On a particularly experimental day, I added a dash of Lapsang Souchong (a pine-smoked black tea) to the maply mix. The result was pure morning manliness, but something was still missing. It was a good breakfast cup but wasn’t quite “breakfast in a cup”. My geeky gears started turning.

In the same months that I received the bacon tea, I also played around with tea lattes; inspired by the London Fog, an Earl Grey concoction. I’d tested out various combinations, but none of them were very – y’know – manly. Lattes were the subjects of soccer moms, poets, and pansies. It didn’t help that I loved them, especially in tea form. Not manly.

The answer was a Maple Bacon Tea Latte. Ingredients would be thus: Tea (Maple Bacon/Lapsang Souchong blend), milk (obviously), vanilla syrup, vanilla extract, stevia, and maple syrup. The Gods themselves could not imagine so blissfull a concoction. (Maybe…)

First Step: Brewing the tea. Both Lapsang Souchong and flavored black teas of an Indian origin were rather resilient to long steep times. For the purposes of manliness, dark and slightly bitter were the way to go. Four-to-five minutes would be the ideal steep time; 2 tsp worth in 8oz of boiled water to brew a perfect concentrate.

Second Step: Heating and frothing the milk. This could be touchy without a cappuccino machine…which I didn’t have. I opted for nuking the milk for a minute – coincided with the last minute of the tea concentrate’s infusion – then used a milk frother.

Third Step: Adding the syrups/sweeteners to the milk. I suppose this could be done after frothing the milk, but I chose to do it during. A dash of stevia (Shush! Stevia is MANLY!), a hint of vanilla extract, and generous splashes of maple and vanilla syrup. Cleanliness is key, depending on the sticky condition one can tolerate with their frother afterwards. Stickiness is not manly…er…sometimes.

(Note: According to a May entry of The Consumerist, Torani has a bacon-flavored syrup. So if you want extra baconiness, substitute the vanilla syrup with this.)

Fourth (and Final) Step: Fusing the tea concentrate with the miasmic milk. This is pretty self-explanatory. I added the sweet/syrupy milk to the tea, then stirred. The result was, well, a latte by its very definition.

I also chose to add cinnamon as a garnish on top. Why? Because cinnamon is MANLY! I dare you to disagree! (Ahem.) And, there ya have it. Pure breakfast in a cup. When I first tried it, I was blown away. I even guinea-pigged my brother into sipping it, and he agreed. By description alone, most people I told the idea to expressed revulsion at the concept. Hopefully, this little tale and tutorial convinces you – fair reader – otherwise.

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Wednesday, November 10th, 2010 Steep Stories 2 Comments

I work for tea money.

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