Wake Up and Smell the Fake Coffee

I drink fake coffee. In fact, I’m drinking it right now.

The blasphemy, the horror! Won’t someone think of the coffee-guzzling American children?! (I kid. A little.)

“What’s the point?” was a response I heard often when I opted for decaf in public. But drinking a coffee substitute is generally so baffling that people are more intrigued than turned off. Several have even been keen to sample it.

decaf_comicCaffeine and I have a love hate relationship. I love caffeinated beverages, but they hate my relaxation and sleep. Tea works for me. Decaf, which still contains caffeine, and diet soda, even precious Diet Wild Cherry Pepsi, do not.

I wasn’t always this way. In my youth, I slurped multiple espressos and French press-fuls a day. In fact, I reported or the world coffee market. I was co-chair of the Fair Trade Coalition chapter in college and successfully campaigned to get it in our student union and a local, small-town grocery store. Coffee and I go way back.

But somewhere along the line, I developed a sensitivity to the drink of the gods. It took many incidents to come to terms with the fact that the magic bean cramping my style. Particularly because coffee has always held a place of comfort and sustenance in my palatte. First, I down-shifted to occasional decaf, but knew in my heart that it had to go.  For weeks after giving up low-octane coffee, I yearned for it. A whiff of fresh beans in a friend’s tote or simply walking by a coffee shop set off a cavalcade of obsessive cravings. I desparately needed a hot cuppa! With a splash of soy creamer.

dscf2079Then, friend turned me on to my fake coffee of choice: Dandy Blend Herbal Coffee Substitute. I had actually scoffed at it about four months prior. Dandy Blend is roasted dandelion root, roasted chicory (the same stuff that makes world-famous Cafe Mundo coffee distinct) and roasted barley and rye (don’t worry, it’s gluten-free). Dandelion is known as a rich source of B vitamins and a liver cleanser in Chinese traditional medicine.

The instant powder is also less acidicless acidic and, I’m going to aruge, better for the environment.

Coffee is actually the most water-intensive commodity in the world. Water is not only used to cultivate the crop and prepare its end product, but to process it. In the commonly used wet process, or washed method, the ripe crimson coffee cherries that surround the raw beans are poured into a vat, which is then flooded with water. When immersed, the pulpy berry eventually separates from the bean and floats to the top, along with any of the thin skin that surrounds it, known as parchment. This berry scum is skimmed from the top, along with any of the lighter, deficient beans. Then the water is drained and the beans are dried. If every bean that’s roasted and ground to make your coffee undergoes this process, that’s a lot of H20 in your water footprint.

Let’s also not forget that coffee is among the most widely-used and socially-acceptable drugs in the world. Ahem. 

ea1da4b156b73f0c9ab52c2491c3f479But back to fake coffee. Dandy Blend is one of several coffee substitutes. Celestial Seasonings has a tea called Roastaroma (which is a little to grain-flavored for my liking). There are a few I have yet to try that include ingredients like dried figs and sugar beets. If you’re feeling jittery and not sleeping well, I suggest you give one a shot. If you’re drinking decaf, make sure you’re drinking water-decaffeinated coffee rather than chemically-decaffeinated. I think it’s obvious why.

Drinking fake coffee is much like drinking non-alcoholic beer (which I’ve done once, out of curiousity, but if that’s your thing, right on). It’s bizarre. You expect to get a buzz going because your body associates that effect with beer. But nothing happens. Of course, there will be no caffeine high from a coffee substitute.

Nonetheless, on a March day with a winter storm raging outside, fake coffee does something for me that a cup of tea can’t. But I’m still going to have tea next.




Fat-Free to Fat Bomb: Amber waves of grain meet everything coconut


stop-the-insanityAmericans and food: we’re a fun pairing. Take a hodge-podge of cultures, unleash them on a virgin landmass, throw in a few major wars victories and you’re in for an interesting culinary ride.

My most recent food musing is how the pendulum has swung toward eating fat. For background, I recommend In Defense of Food by Michael Polan. Polan explains how American dietary habits were politicized through the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Association. Essentially, what we consider rule-of-thumb healthy eating habits resulted from elites bargaining for daily food recommendations that benefited their states’ agricultural producers. National health and food trade associations also lobbied to represent their interests. Polan’s take-away is that the fat-phobia that manifested in the last quarter of the 20th century led to high levels of heart disease. This is because fat is actually healthy for your body, moreso than cheap grains, which have been sustaining societies since agrarianism became the norm, ca. 8,000-10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent.

Fast forward to 2015 and spin 180 degrees toward the Atkins Diet, which (still) hasn’t died out, and prevailing Paleo, Ketogenic and Low-Carb High-Fat (LCHF) diets. American culture has a habit of moving from one end of a spectrum to the other every 20-25 years or so.

lchf diet

Historically, dietary trends have shifted with populations and the available resources. In the past, when nutrient-deficient sugar was scarce and costly, Americans walked, biked and performed manual labor on a daily basis. At that point, people ate whatever they could get, which was undoubtedly in season. But these days, sugar is abundant, the food on store shelves has enviable travel experience no matter the time of the year, and we’re generally parked in front of screens during the bulk of our waking hours. Cue the low-energy diets, please!

No matter which lineage of LCHF diet one follows, fat, rather than carbohydrates (glucose, fructose and sucrose), is the your primary source of energy And not just animal fat, mind you. A major market has developed around the new superfood, coconut. Truly, calling coco a superfood in today’s environment is an understatement. The wondrous coconut, which, like quinoa, is technically a seed, is a source of products including: coconut water, oil, sugar, flour, butter, milk, “milk” and shredded coconut. Once a niche product found in the international food aisle, coconut product are now a money maker throught the perishable goods market, which has thin margins and requires constant innovation to increase sales and show profits.


The world coconut market reached $71 million in 2014, showing a compound annual growth rate of 103% from just two years earlier, according to a recent report from IndexBox Marketing. Top coconut exporters are Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka and Mexico, with the latter two countries boosting their market share in recent years. (Note: I did not create that image. Nonetheless, it’s fantastic.)

China is the leading importer of coconuts, accounting for 87% of the global market. Take note of your lables: many coconut products are produced in China, as well as their countries of origin, for example, the Philipinnes. The United States, along with Australia and Italy, each accounted for 2% of global coconut imports. The combined imports of these countries totaled 93% of the world market in 2014. The United States’ coconut imports rose 2 percentage points from the the previous year in the same timeframe.

If you’re a coconut oil user, I urge you to purchase the Dr. Bronner’s Fair Trade variety. It’s a bit pricier, but the Fair Trade certification guarantees that the people producing the product are being paid a living wage and the company is investing in their community. You can pick it up at your local food co-op or Whole Foods.

You can also use it to make fat bombs, which are actually much more delicious than they sound. Eat your fat bombs with a side of social responsibility, I say! (Note: I was introduced to coconuts by my holistic chiropractor. She suggested them, so I consume them under doctor’s orders!) I’m experimenting with some fat bomb recipes I’ll share just in time for holiday merrymaking.

I can’t help but wonder where our culture will be dietarily in another 20 years and what the hot superfoods will be. Dare to venture a guess? Leave your ideas in the comment section below!

Here’s another use for coconuts and a few thoughts about their export…