Who are we kidding here? I love coffee – almost as much as I love my kids. I will drink hot coffee mid-summer in a car with no air. There is nothing that “tastes like coffee”.
My local coffee roaster has this beautiful vintage drum press, in which they roast fresh beans from fair-trade farms around the globe. In their skilled hands, the beans are perfectly roasted and pulled from the press at the precise moment to maximize flavor without scorching the beans. This is an art. In the summer, I might choose a Colombian or Ethiopian bean, Indonesian in the winter – but it is all good. And, if it has been a while since a trip to the coffee roaster, then I will be more than content with my 365 Pleasant Morning Buzz from Whole Foods. Real beans. Fair-trade. All good.
So, when preparing to embark on a one-week macrobiotics diet, I could not be happier about the prospect of enjoying roasted vegetables, a variety of good quality grains, and multi-colored legumes. Even eating foods I generally do not include in my diet, like tofu and wheat, is not at all daunting. (I can make a mean tofu taco.) And trying new an unusual ingredients is always exiting! But then it hit me… coffee. Not on the macrobiotic diet. This could very well be a deal-breaker.
The Macrobiotics diet answer to coffee is something called “grain coffee”. Grain coffee? We make cheese out of cashews & yeast, flour from seeds, roux out of garbanzo beans… and foods of this nature work quite well. But grains to substitute for coffee beans? hmm
The concept is not new, of course. Chicory, as a substitute for coffee beans, likely originated in Europe, and was used by early settlers. Its medicinal qualities have been appreciated as far back as in ancient Egypt. It is a fabulously healthful ingredient. In grain coffee, it plays a supporting role, providing flavor and bitter notes.
A fair mind-set
Instead of approaching this new item as a substitute for coffee – because I will most surely be disappointed, a better approach may be to experience it on its own merit. Simply a new and exotic beverage. Hot grain juice? hmm… the name still needs some work.
So off the the health foods store down the road to pick up a bag of grain coffee.
This vendor stocks a couple brands of grain coffee. They also carry Teeccino, which is probably a bit outside the realm of strict Macrobiotics. Both grain coffee brands contains the same ingredients: barley, malted barley, chicory, and rye. One brand is darker than the other and my instincts tell me this is probably the more nutritious and flavorful option, but as expectations are low, my pocketbook wins out this time and I go for the lighter colored brand.
Upon opening the jar, I am surprised and very pleased with the aroma. It smells wonderful! – like whole food, complex, sweet and bitter, with very subtle hints of some nostalgic flavor from childhood that i have not quite defined yet.
To prepare this beverage, one only needs a mug and very hot water. The powder dissolves easily and a hot cup of grain coffee is ready to consume!
If compared to coffee, it lacks the depth and intensity of the bean. However, if taken on its own merit, there is an appropriate bitterness, and it is light and clean, and quite lovely. There are no aggressive or offensive flavors. It is somehow simultaneously new and familiar. It will certainly be a lovely accompaniment to the grains and legumes of a Macrobiotic diet and I am actually looking forward to trying it as part of a meal.
My kids both enjoy the flavor; my son prefers this to coffee. Because it is caffeine-free, this is a good thing! In my view, this grain coffee is certainly preferable to instant commercial coffee and drive-through coffee – by far. This jar will not be wasted.
Next morning: ‘made a fresh pot of 365, and am satisfied. I don’t feel bad for bypassing the grain coffee. It will have its place too, and every drop will get utilized, for sure.
2-for-the-price-of-1 – bonus recipe:
- 1 quart water
- 1-2 T bancha twigs
Place water and twigs in a teapot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer 5-10 minutes. For milder tasting tea, simmer for 3-4 minutes. Children may enjoy tea brewed to this strength. For stronger tea, simmer 10-15 minutes. Bancha tea is good any time of day, but especially after meals.
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