Posted in Kafevend Blog

Can you tell a good coffee when you taste it? And have you ever been fooled into thinking you were drinking coffee when really it was nothing of the sort? At various points in time that's exactly what has happened to a lot people. Unsurprisingly, many of those periods have coincided with war due to the inevitable disruption to supply chains and the resulting food shortages.

Perhaps the coffee substitute that most of us will already be familiar with is chicory. It's the major component of Camp Coffee, which actually contains a scant 4% of actual coffee extract. Nevertheless, it does make a very pleasant drink and it's worth a try if you fancy a bit of a change. Chicory roots have been roasted, ground up and mixed with coffee since at least the turn of the nineteenth century in France and Holland. During the American Civil War Louisianan coffee fans began to add chicory roots to their favourite drink to make it go further during Unionist naval blockades of the port of New Orleans. Other foodstuffs were substituted in as well, roasted acorns and parsnips, for instance. Chicory would seem to have been the preferred additive however, given that chicory coffee remains a drink of choice in New Orleans to this very day!

The Second World War resulted in food shortages here in the UK of course and with them the ration book. However, while tea was rationed from July 1940, coffee was never actually subject to rationing. This probably says more about the nation's drinking habits at the time than the ready availability of coffee. Over on the Channel Islands the locals were subject to severe privation under German occupation and invented many ersatz foods as substitutes, tea and coffee amongst them. Tisanes were concocted from everything from carrots to bramble leaves, whilst roast parsnips or acorns were used as a coffee substitute.

Although wartime accounts for a large part of the drive to find coffee alternatives, there have been other circumstances necessitating a similar resourcefulness. Once upon a time Cuba was the world's top coffee exporter, but after the revolution of 1959 coffee plantation owners were exiled and the farms nationalised. The coffee industry was greatly reduced, to the point where there wasn't even enough coffee for Cubans themselves. Food rationing continues there to this day and over the years people have become used to the frequent rationing of coffee. They've grown accustomed to other foodstuffs, such as crushed roasted peas, being mixed in with it in order to bulk it out and make it stretch further.

Poland is another nation that invented a coffee substitute, in this case to alleviate shortages during its time under Soviet control. Made from a combination of roasted barley, rye, chicory and sugar beet, Inka remains a popular caffeine free alternative today and not just in its country of origin; it's even exported to the USA and Canada.

If you like a pure coffee taste we doubt you'll be rushing off to search for Camp Coffee or Inka, but perhaps anyone who's having trouble sleeping at night might like to try them as a bedtime alternative to cocoa!

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