Friday, June 15, 2012

Coffee, Rooibos and Chicory

Coffee pot and milk jug from Siena
Coffee is one of those addictions that I almost wish I hadn’t kicked. It smells so good brewing, it looks so rich and it goes so well with dark chocolate, my one ongoing bona fide addiction. Way back when we lived in our London photographic studio, we’d stagger down the ladder from the mezzanine to the kitchen and make a pot of real coffee first thing, to wake us up. Without that coffee I wasn’t fit to speak to. It was an essential morning ritual.

Working in Italy, the  morning coffee was more than a ritual, more like a religion. We’d bypass the watered down coffee served at some of the hotel breakfasts and sneak a real cappuccino directly from the bar. And the coffee and brioches in a certain bar on a cobblestone crossroads in Siena were the highlight of our trip in breakfast terms, greed frequently demanding a second cappuccino and a third brioche, perhaps the one with chocolate or the one with raisins and orange zest, later to be worked into the trip accounts as a legitimate expense. To be fair to the hotels, I’m sure they served the coffee watered down in the best interests of the foreign guests, who were often in the habit of downing several long draughts of hot liquid coffee over breakfast and would have had heart palpitations if the coffee had been of traditional Italian strength – these were the days before Starbucks brought the espresso to the masses of the English speaking world! Anyway back then my body could take several fierce espressos in the course of a day’s work without any ill effects.

It took having a baby to knock the caffeine out of my system for good. Once he was born and I was no longer breastfeeding I tried to go back to my bad old ways. The first time I drank a mug of coffee made in strong jug fashion at a friend’s house, I thought I was having a heart attack, so strong were the palpitations. I was more cautious after that, but to my dismay I found that coffee no longer tasted so good. My taste-buds must have shifted or something. It still smelt wonderful, but the flavour never quite matched up. So I gradually switched my allegiance to rooibos tea, which I can happily knock back black and unsweetened at a rate of several mugs a day. And it’s guilt free too, healthily full of anti-oxidants, even produced fairly locally to where we are now in South Africa.

Unfortunately for my husband he hasn’t had the easy switchover from coffee to something else that my pregnancy hormones did for me. He’s been going through a particularly difficult cycle of giving in to the coffee craving for a few weeks, then getting terrible nauseous headaches whenever he stops drinking it. He’ll stay off it for a while and then the temptation when we have friends to lunch is too strong and he’ll start all over again. So he’s been looking for an alternative, something that he can enjoy drinking instead of coffee or regular tea. Rooibos tea gives him wind (sorry for sharing that!) and there are only so many cups of fresh herb teas that you can cope with a day. Decaffeinated coffee  seems to have more health drawbacks than regular coffee so that’s not a long-term option either. So he sent me out to look for a chicory substitute to try.

I came back with Chikree – a South African chicory drink, that contains chicory, corn syrup, caramel and quinine. It passed his flavour requirements, not tasting just like coffee but having enough of that type of taste to be satisfying. I wasn’t sure how healthy the corn syrup and caramel are, but chicory is naturally bitter so you do have to have some sugar to balance that out.

Chicory alternatives to coffee

Another option that a friend directed me to is Romi by Health Food Connection, which describes itself as a cereal beverage – it is again flavoured with chicory but also has rye and barley as ingredients which give it a more creamy flavour, which my husband likes, and is sweetened by beet sugar. It is imported from Poland, so not at all local and that is reflected in the higher price – 100g of Romi costs the same as 250g of Chikree. Isn’t that always the way that the preferred option is the more expensive one! As far as the health benefits of chicory go, it is supposed to help with liver function and cleanse the blood, it is a natural anti-inflammatory, contains vitamin C and prevents constipation.

I did surreptitiously taste the Romi – I still have to get over my instinctive rejection of chicory as anything but an ersatz wartime poverty coffee – don’t know why that’s my kneejerk reaction. It tasted to me not very different from an ordinary instant coffee. A far cry from real mocha java but still not unpleasant. I’m perfectly happy in my rooibos bubble though, so am not going to be joining my husband on this one!

What about you – is coffee essential to your survival? Or do you have another alternative for us to try?


  1. Coffee is essential to my survival, especially since we acquired our gorgeous Nespresso machine. I can't start the day without two!

  2. My husband brews one pot of coffee every morning for me. Once it's gone, I switch over to tea for the rest of the day.

  3. Such a warm and interesting post, as always Kit. The exceptional quality of your writing - and your distinctive voice - are what make your blog stand out for me. J-A x

  4. @Charlotte - I almost envy you your coffee habit, especially with a Nespresso to look after you in the mornings!
    @ Meredith - sounds like a great arrangement, especially the part about your husband making it for you!
    @Jane-Anne - Thanks for your lovely words. I would say the very same words about your writing if you hadn't said them first!

  5. Oddly, I love coffee but only drink one cup a day, in the morning. My mom used to be a 2-pot-a-day drinker, but for some reason my stomach growls and grumbles if I drink more than one cup.

    As for substitutes for your hubby, can you guys get "Postum" in South Africa (on the web, maybe?)... it's a lovely coffee-esque drink made from malt grains. Just add hot water to the granules, and then add milk and sugar to taste. I don't think it's got a bit of caffeine in it, but it gives you all the pleasures (warmth, nice taste, etc.) that coffee does.

    As for his headaches... perhaps if he slowly weaned off the full strength coffee by adding a bit of decaf coffee to his cup, then slowly increasing the amount of decaf day by day until it's all decaf? Going cold turkey with caffeine quitting can be a bit much for some folks.

    Enjoy your rooibos! 8-)


Thanks for your comments - I appreciate every one!