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Whimsical Coffee Swaps

We live in an era of excess, and coffee is no exception. It can be found in coffee houses, hospitals, diners, cafes, and virtually all offices in the developed world. But this was not the case, and during the 18th and 19th centuries the value of coffee was significantly higher. Thus, families often only drank it on Sundays, a day that is unquestionably sacred in many cultures. However, this isn’t to imply they simply went without. Instead, many alternatives were used to capture the fundamental – and often caffeine-free – joys of coffee – some even went so far as to boil bread in water.


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Dandelion Root

You may have heard of dandelion wine, or even savored the words of Bradbury, whose classic book shares the same name. But you’ve not fully submerged yourself in the sphere of whimsy until you’ve tasted dandelion coffee. It is a brew like nothing else and could actually be considered a tea imposter as well. While most Americans view this invasive plant as a weed, the Europeans did bring it over for a reason.


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To start brewing dandelion coffee (or tea), you will of course need dandelion roots. Once you have harvested the roots, you will need to dry, chop, and roast them. Begin by washing the roots thoroughly, removing all dirt and dabbing dry with a washcloth. Or allowing to air-dry. You can now place the roots in a cast-iron pan or heavy skillet and cook over medium heat, until they darken from a white shade to light and dark brown. Now, chop them up enough so they can be placed in a coffee grinder or food processor with little fuss. Grind them to a fine to coarse powder and brew as you would with traditional coffee.

Dandelion coffee or tea can additionally be used as a tincture to relieve liver and urinary disorders. It also functions well as a diuretic. It should be avoided, however, if you have a low blood pressure.


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Chicory Root

Roasted chicory root is a common addition to commercial coffees and delicacies alike. In New Orleans, chicory is often added to coffee due to its chocolaty tones and smooth texture. Chicory root is also a common coffee substitute in prisons, as the lack of caffeine is thought to reduce the ‘risk’ of riling up inmates.

To make some yourself, start by gathering and removing the roots of the chicory plant. Clean and dry the roots before slicing them into thin disks. Roast the chicory roots 2-3 hours in an oven heated to 300-325 degrees F. When finished, the disks should appear browned and crisp. If so, they are ready to grind.

Grind them to a fine powder in a coffee-grinder or food processor. There may be a few chunks left in the mix. This is common and should not deter you from making the chicory coffee. So long as the chunks are few, it will be fine. You can brew the powdered roots as you would with traditional coffee, as it will filter through a standard drip coffee maker and even a French press. The resulting brew will be a bit inky. But the aroma, divine – and malty.

None of this is intended to convey a disdain for the real thing. On the contrary, should you be curious to coffee’s own benefits you can take a gander here. And for its non-ingested uses, here. Its virtues are plenty, you see.

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