Is there any simpler pleasure in life than a good cup of coffee?
This inkiest of all beverages has long been a passion of mine, and not just for the obvious caffeine-related benefits. Sure, coffee can help kick start your day like nothing else, but it’s also an incredibly nuanced beverage, one that true connoisseurs would say rivals the complexity of fine wine or Scotch whisky. There’s variance in beans grown in one region of the world versus another, differences in roasting profiles and, of course, dozens of brewing techniques that will each yield a unique finished product.
After college, I found myself doing a brief stint as a barista, something of an unwritten obligation for newly minted English B.A.s, and have never really looked back. It was during these early years in my coffee obsession that I learned about the famous Café du Monde’s New Orleans-style coffee, a regional delicacy began as a way for the city of New Orleans to stretch its limited coffee supplies during the Revolutionary War.
To do this, coffee-starved citizens began mixing roasted roots – most famously chicory root – into their ground coffee, creating a sort of malty flavor profile that you don’t get from your typical cup of Joe. Eventually, the flavors stuck, and the city became famous for the beverage.
But why stop with just chicory? Wouldn’t any rooty green suffice? And can we take coffee out of the equation to brew an entirely wildly harvested beverage? Yes, to all three.
Dandelions, with the long sugary taproots, make the perfect substitute for chicory, and when roasted properly can impart chocolate and malty flavors to your finished cup. Depending on the depth of your roast, dandelion coffee can hold a bit of astringency, similar to a black tea, and pairs well with a little sugar and cream. You can also take it black, which is my preference, but feel free to experiment and adjust to your own tastes.
Prep Time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Brewing Time: 5 minutes
4 tablespoons ground, roasted dandelion root
2 cups water
The first step in any recipe using dandelion roots is always going to be digging. The roots run deep, and to remove them, you’ll need some specialized equipment, either a garden spade or dandelion fork. Once the roots are retrieved, wash them to remove any excess dirt and chop into dice sized pieces. You should have about two or three cups of chopped roots to make a cup of coffee.
With the roots chopped, place them on a baking sheet and place in an over set to 275 degrees. Let sit for two hours, or until the roots are fully dried. Once dried, remove the roots from the oven and prep a cast iron skillet or frying pan for the actual roasting.
For this step, I utilize the same techniques that home coffee roasters have been using for decades. Place the skillet over high heat and add your dried root pieces. Using a wooden spoon or spatula, keep the root pieces in constant motion, occasionally flipping to ensure an even roast. After 15 or so minutes, you’ll start to notice a chocolatey aroma similar to a tray of freshly baked brownies. If you like, you can stop here, as this is probably akin to a “city roast” in traditionally coffee terms. If you prefer, you can venture deeper, heading toward darker “French” or “Italian” roast profiles.
Once you’ve reached your desired roast, let the pieces cool before passing them through a coffee grinder. Once ground, brew the same way you would coffee grounds. I prefer a French press, but paper filters would work just fine.
While the finished brew contains no caffeine, I do notice a little energy boost after having a cup, but without the sleepless nights that come along with a poorly timed cup of coffee.