An Alternative To Coffee and Tea We could Grow

David Trammel's picture

Its common in post oil stories that our group of Greer readers, for commercial coffee and teas to have gone away. Some older plants are mentioned in our stories as a replacement but there is one that has a centuries long use here in North America and could probably be added to your garden.

The Forgotten Drink That Caffeinated North America for Centuries

"Cassina, or black drink, the caffeinated beverage of choice for indigenous North Americans, was brewed from a species of holly native to coastal areas from the Tidewater region of Virginia to the Gulf Coast of Texas. It was a valuable pre-Columbian commodity and widely traded. Recent analyses of residue left in shell cups from Cahokia, the monumental pre-Columbian city just outside modern-day St. Louis and far outside of cassina’s native range, indicate that it was being drunk there. The Spanish, French, and English all documented American Indians drinking cassina throughout the American South, and some early colonists drank it on a daily basis. They even exported it to Europe.

As tea made from a species of caffeinated holly, cassina may sound unusual. But it has a familiar botanical cousin in yerba maté, a caffeine-bearing holly species from South America whose traditional use, preparation, and flavor is similar. The primary difference between cassina and maté is that while maté weathered the storm of European conquest, cassina has fallen into obscurity."

Blueberry's picture

What no coffee time to stop the long descent!!!!! Some info from wiki on the holly tree. Luck me they grow in my part of the world. One can grow coffee with a bit of work as a house plant or global warming we will all be growing coffee. Another source for plants Kona plants One could also just order a 100 lbs (45K) of green beans

mountainmoma's picture

Yes, coffee plants themselves are easy to grow as houseplants, a neighbor of mine has done it, this works better in homes with vaulted ceiling, but they dont take up much room, according to her. She told me that they roosted and drank it, she wasnt satisfied with the plants early training/pruing, so sold it to another neighbor and bought a couple more young plants to refine her coffee growing. This would not be as much coffee, from one plant, but much more than no coffee.

I have been meaning to get a siberian tea plant, actual tea can grow in many USA places, I believe I heard that some comercial tea growing has started up in Oregon. Ok, did search engine for info Here is the Oregon companies web site You can order tea from them. This article also mentions that there are a few tea farms left in South Carolina, one for much more than 100 years in operation

I have heard of that other plant yaupon. My neighbor and I have discussed wanting to try it, but we havent figured it out yet, where to get plants, site placement, etc... It may be easier than siberian tea plants

Dwarf yaupon is a common and good-looking foundation shrub in Georgia. I planted some in front of my sister’s porch half thinking I’d try making tea from it. The standard yaupon is a small evergreen tree - scrappy looking but lots of character. There is a weeping form too.

Here is someone who posted about brewing tea from his shrubs:

David Trammel's picture

At 63 (next month), I probably won't see the end of coffee or tea on the grocery stores. I can though see the price getting up enough that I can't afford it except as a treat. Seems I remember that climate wierding is projected to really change the areas that its currently grown. Not sure where it might shift to.

I like the French Vanilla flavored blend from Folger's sold in the 1 pound plastic containers. Runs about $8 I believe. I stocked up with about 8-10 pounds in January as the pandemic started. Have about 3 1/2 left. So that's probably a pound and a half a month. I make a small 5 cup pot when I first get up to drink while I review the mail and the news.

I could see sitting out in the early evening, with a cup or two while I relax, but I could also see sitting out there with a bottle of home made wine, lol.

alice's picture

Lots of holly (/Ilex aquifolium/)) around here, it's one of the native trees. I had heard that people have roasted the leaves for a caffiene-like drink. Not tried it myself.

Also people have been trading tea (camellia) for centuries, although admittedly as I have heard it used to be so expensive it was out of the reach of ordinary people. They drank gin (hard liquor -- juniper flavoured) instead apparently. This is the story passed down amongst Quakers about how several families got into the chocolate business as a temperance thing. When chocolate was first imported in the UK it was promoted as a drink that ordinary people could afford and a healthier alternative to gin.

There are a lot of tea herbs that grow wild or cultivated round here though. Most with some kind of traditional therapeutic property. Limeflower (/Tilia sp/) to soothe and ease pain; rose petals to soothe; elderflower to strengthen and cheer; chamomile (/Athemis nobilis/) to soothe; sage for clear thinking, stinging nettle to nourish; fennel seed to aid digestion. Not quite the same as tea/coffee. Mainstream people used to look down on herbal brews as these were what poor country people and gypsies/traditional travelling people drank.

Sweet Tatorman's picture

I believe I have mentioned previously on this forum that drinking the best possible coffee is a high priority for me and that I have been a roaster of my own coffee for many years. Consistent with my interest in all things coffee, some years ago I amassed a collection of links on the subject of coffee substitutes used in the American South during the civil war ( an oxymoron if there ever was one) due to the Union navy blockade of Southern ports. The Southern war effort, much later referred to as "The Lost Cause", became a lost cause IMHO within the first 6 months of the war at which point the Northern forces had cut off the supply of coffee. I give the best of my collected links below and it is worth an entertaining read. The "Internet" of that era for disseminating ideas on coping with the various blockade induced shortages took the form of writing letters to the editor of the local newspaper. The link below is a collection of such letters. I offer a few clarifications on the terminology of that era. The word receipt is used with the meaning of recipe. Comparisons to "Rio", "Mocha", and "Java" are about coffees on various origins. "Rio" is Brazilian coffee as it was exported through the port of Rio de Janeiro, "Mocha" was exported from a port of that name in what is now Yemen. "Java" of course is from the Dutch East Indies colony of that name. While Yaupon which was the subject of the OP in this thread does get a passing mention it didn't seem to have any proponents despite being widespread in the South. The two items that were often mentioned and had multiple proponents were okra seed and dried sweetpotato. Some years ago I tried making a coffee substitute from roasted okra seed. I used a roasting time and final temperature profile similar to what I would use for coffee. The resulting beverage was not just bad, it was really, really bad. I could not bring myself to do the dried sweetpotato as the idea seemed to me to be just sooo….wrong. I did make the mental note that perhaps the okra would benefit from a longer and hotter roast as dark roasting is a known technique for making bad quality coffee seem a bit less bad. The above experimentation was the end of it until this thread came along. As I needed to roast coffee yesterday I decided to also do a batch of okra with a longer and hotter profile. Typically I do coffee for 11-12 minutes with final temperature in the range of 438-450F. I did the okra batch for 13:45 to a final temperature of 490F which produced a color similar to a Viennese roast of coffee. As a side note, coffee would likely catch fire before reaching 490F. Since I had the oven on for cornbread I also dried some sliced sweetpotato. Cornbread takes a hot oven which was higher than optimum for drying sweetpotatoes as they were visibly charred. Adding to this experiment I also roasted some coffee that I had set aside for a long term storage test 5 years ago. Previously I had determined that green coffee that had been stored for somewhere in the 5-7 year range was undrinkable. Exact age was unknown.
This morning I performed the taste testing. First up was the 5 year old coffee which was a premium coffee when purchased (as is all coffee I buy). I would rate it as about equal to the average to slightly above average of a cup of coffee purchased at a Quikie Mart type place which is to say, bad coffee to my standards. Next was the okra which was brewed by the same method (pour over paper filter) and the same weight ratio to water. I noted that the ground okra looked similar to coffee but had a softer feel when rubbed between the fingers and the water passed through the filter much faster than the case with coffee. The resulting beverage looked like coffee and unlike my memory from years before it had improved to really bad from really, really bad. I would say equal to a really bad cup of Quikie Mart coffee but with a worse after taste. Last up was the dried and charred sweetpotato. I had to pound them in a Ziploc bag to break them up enough to feed properly in the grinder. Brewing time was more similar to that of coffee vs that of the okra. The resulting beverage was very dark due to the carbonized sugars of the sweetpotato. This brew was also on par with really bad Quikie Mart coffee but in a different way than the okra. Also had a bad aftertaste. Sweetpotato might merit further experimentation dried at lower temperatures. I'm not sure I have the stomach or interest for it at the moment.
UPDATE: A few days after posting I explored the sweetpotato option a bit further. I oven dried a quantity of sliced sweetpotato until crisp at 250F. I then subdivided that quantity and toasted one portion in the oven for 20 minutes at 320F. I then further subdivided the 320F portion and further toasted a portion for 15 minutes at 360F. I thus ended up with 3 batches at varying degrees of roast. I did not have the stomach for actually trying it at the time. A few days later I had a friend over for our twice monthly supper and mentioned the civil war faux coffee investigation. He was game for giving it a try. I selected the middle roast, 320F, and we brewed up a batch. My friend has considerably lower standards for coffee and in fact has been known to show up at work and reheat the cold coffee in the work place coffee pot which was left over from the day before rather than bother with brewing a fresh pot. He has also long asserted that he has a poor sense of taste and smell. To the taste test. The brewed beverage just like the 450F charred version was extremely dark. I found it superior to the 450F version and the bad after taste attribute greatly reduced. My friend was of the opinion that it could be served to unknowing people as coffee and they would not suspect otherwise though it would not be mistaken for good coffee. I think that is possibly true for at least some people. We each were able to complete an 8 oz cup which is notable. Based upon this taste test I suspect that the 360F version would not be an improvement over the 320F version but the 250F version might be. It would be awhile until I was up to trying it. Finally after 4 days of memory fade I gave it a try this morning. I brewed it at a lower ratio of grounds to water using 1g grounds per fluid oz water. The resulting brew was still very dark, much darker than even very strong coffee. Flavor was possibly improved over the 320F version with a further improvement in after taste. It was still strongly flavored and diluted 1:1 still was as dark as coffee. Mentioned in several of the letters to the editor in the link below was using this as a coffee extender at a ratio of 2:1. I tried this, blending already brewed faux coffee and real coffee rather than brewing blended grounds. The presence of the real coffee helped but I would rather have one cup of good coffee every three days than a daily cup of the blend. Others might prefer the reverse.
I was discussing my faux coffee investigations during a hike with a friend who is my regular hiking/mushroom foraging partner. She was of the opinion that I need to try the beet version of faux coffee as beets are something I grow. I still thinking about it. Possibly you will see a further update at a later time.
UPDATE#2: Steel my nerves, gird my loins, apply the idiom of your choice. OK, I've now tried the toasted beet version. I sliced and oven dried at 170F. I then toasted at 320F for 20 minutes. Once the slices were pounded into small pieces they grind very easily in a hand crank burr grinder. I brewed at about 2/3 the ratio of grinds to water that I use for coffee. The resulting beverage looks like coffee but is very dark. I decided to dilute a bit with hot water. Flavor was better than my expectations which were quite low. I would judge as being at least as drinkable as the sweet potato versions toasted at 250F and 320F. Does not taste like beets and the after taste is OK. If a person were sufficiently motivated they might be able to develop a taste for this. For some it has an advantage over sweetpotatoes as beets can be grown in a wider range of climates. I also tried the beets just dried at 170F which were difficult to grind as they were somewhat gummy. The beverage was reddish in color and did taste like hot beet juice. I cannot recommend it. I think that for the portion of the Long Descent that I am willing to spectate it will be done while drinking a cup of good real coffee.
In the event of the sudden collapse of industrial civilization I would likely hang around as long as feasible just to see how it turned out. Similarly, in the event of a full arsenal nuclear gift exchange among major nuclear powers I would hang around as long as feasible for the same reason. Once the coffee runs out with no prospect of resupply, I'm out of here. It's been a good run for me and we all have to go sometime.

ClareBroommaker's picture

I'm one of those people who normally adds cream and sugar to make coffee palatable. And the more cream the better. But a coffee-like beverage without the caffeine is almost pointless to me. I might drink it to warm up on a cold day, which is how I first became a coffee drinker. If real coffee goes away -- and tea, too-- I'll probably just have to get over the caffeine addiction and carry on. Oh, I would try yaupon (how is that spelled?) or something like that if it were easy to get and affordable.

David Trammel's picture

Found this tutorial on how to make dandelion root coffee.

Interesting that the root is best harvested before it goes to flower. Might be worth the trouble to make a spot in the raised beds to over winter and allow the seeds to come up early Spring. I'm going to have to give it a taste test, sounds flavorful.

The brewing method would make a good "flavoring" for a post oil story too.

Sweet Tatorman's picture

Looking forward to your report

lathechuck's picture

A bay leaf or two, steeped in boiling water, tastes pretty good to me. I have a sweet bay bush growing in a large pot that comes indoors for the frosty months. It's a good-looking evergreen with dark, glossy leaves, and seems to have no pests in this (mid-Atlantic) climate. As an intact leaf, you don't need to strain out the spent leaves, as with tea, but maybe I'd get more flavor from the leaf if I shredded it. (An Internet search turns up no warnings against consumption of bay leaf, by the way.)

Sweet Tatorman's picture

I finally got around to trying this and agree with LC. More akin to a tea than a faux coffee. I would put it on par with a tea made from spearmint. It is certainly better than any of the faux coffee that I reported on up thread. Spearmint is another plant that is easy to grow and as LC reports for Bay doesn't seem to be much bothered by pests.

alice's picture

Well done for the experiments Sweet Tatorman, great to read all your experiments and thank you for doing the tasting so we don't have to =D

alice's picture

One caution about bay comes from its traditional use as a preservative. It helps food stay fresh longer -- I think this means it may have antimicrobial action. So possibly not what you want to drink regularly to nurture a good digestion? But does taste good in soup stocks and stews...

I wonder if it will grow here in my more northern high desert area. I will have to find out. Thanks for sharing.

ClareBroommaker's picture

Was looking for info on harvesting the calyces of rozelle hibiscus for culinary use when I found mention that the seeds can be roasted as a coffee substitute. That's all the more interesting because the calyx is used in the well known Red Zinger Tea.

The whole rozelle plant is so useful, tip to root. Everything is edible. The stem fibers can be used for rope and cord, cloth, and basketry. The red parts of the plant make food safe red dye. The flowers are pretty enough for the front garden.

I grew rozelle last year for tea and candied calyxes, but only did the tea. The strain I have has smaller flower structures than the commercially candied ones I've bought. This evening I planted rozelle from seed saved last year.