Wild Coffee Alternatives

Here are some substitutes for coffee using native plants: acorn, burdock, California coffeeberry, carob, chicory, dandelion, grains and sow thistle.

| August/September 1999

No, this isn't going to be a discussion about the various pros and cons of drinking coffee. We drink coffee regularly (some say habitually) and greatly enjoy it. Few pleasures equal that of savoring a freshly ground, freshly brewed mug of top-quality java, with honey, molasses or a mix of raw cream and soy milk. 

Still, there are times when our bodies want something else—something warming and filling, but with none of the "speed" of coffee. Fortunately, there are many coffee alternatives. You can drink them straight or with honey or cream or both. Some you can buy, while others you have to make yourself.

By sampling as many of the following coffee substitutes as you can find in your area, you'll come to know their individual flavors and aromas. Once accustomed, you may want to try some in combination or experiment with lighter or darker roasts.

Just about everyone who makes his or her own "backwoods coffee" eventually settles on a favorite blend and recipe. We've no doubt you will, too.

Acorn Brew

Acorns grow worldwide, falling from oak trees (Quercus) in the autumn. They tend to be most abundant during September and October. Acorns are bitter when raw and so must be peeled and then "leached"—boiled or soaked to remove the tannic acid. Once the bitterness is gone, your options are many.

If you want to use processed acorns in your "coffee" blend, grind it coarsely. Roast the acorns as dark or light as you generally like your coffee. Keep in mind, however, that in all cases, the darker roasts (those that are nearly black) can be borderline carcinogens, the level of risk depending on the material being roasted. This is due to the fact that you are nearly burning the material; excess heat causes a change in the oils that makes them detrimental—even possibly cancer-causing—if consumed. We generally roast to a brown color, sometimes dark brown, but never let it approach black.

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