Posted in Kafevend Blog
Coffee comes second only to oil as the most traded commodity in the world, but it has other strings to its bow too! As we recently discovered, there's more to the versatile coffee plant than just the bean itself. In some parts of the world the fruit surrounding the bean is used to make a coffee cherry drink variously known as qishr and cáscara. Today we're back with the story of yet another drink that's produced the from the coffee plant. This time it's the leaves that are the key player and the drink in question is coffee leaf tea.
We're so accustomed to associating coffee with the drink made from the beans that it sounds somewhat counterintuitive to bother making a tea from the plant's leaves and yet this is exactly what we do with camellia sinensis- the tea plant. In Ethiopia, the birthplace of coffee, they've known that the leaves can be used to make a brew for centuries past and it's not an entirely new phenomenon in the UK either. In fact, attempts were made to market it here during the 1800s. Suffice to say it didn't really take off.
One company that believes the time could now be ripe to introduce coffee leaf tea to a new and appreciative audience is a Canadian outfit called Wize Monkey. Their reasoning relates to both health benefits and economic viability, so let's start by taking a look at the science behind the leaf and find out if it could do us some good.
A healthy alternative
Anyone worried about their caffeine intake can rest easy where coffee leaf tea is concerned. It contains no more than decaffeinated coffee itself, so a cup before bedtime won't keep you awake. For the same reason it's a good choice for anyone suffering from high blood pressure. Research conducted in France and the UK has also discovered that coffee leaf tea boasts a higher level of antioxidants than either tea or coffee, as well as a natural chemical called mangiferin. This chemical, found also in mangoes, has anti-inflammatory properties and is thought to lower the risk of cholesterol and diabetes.
An economic breakthrough
Alongside the potential health benefits runs an interesting economic idea. Although there's always a steady supply of coffee for us to choose from in our local shops and cafés, coffee beans are actually only harvested for three months of the year. The seasonal nature of the product means that the majority of coffee workers are laid off at the end of harvest time and must look for alternative work for the remainder of the year. By contrast, the leaves of the plant can be picked all year round, which would provide income security for both farmers and workers.
The challenge in the meantime is to convince people that coffee leaf tea is a desirable product. That's not going to be easy given the coffee bean's well established global fan base, not to mention a wealth of teas and tisanes to choose from already. The Canadian company we mentioned earlier are banking on consumers with an eye on their own health and empathy for the hard working coffee growers. Nevertheless, try looking for coffee leaf tea at your local supermarket, or even on the internet and you'll soon notice that, as in the 1800s, this is a drink which is still waiting for its day.