Consumed for centuries, dandelion coffee is now making a comeback.
Much like a can of O’Doul’s or alcohol-free wine, decaffeinated coffee has always seemed like a somewhat unnecessary (and unnatural) product. While temperance-appropriate versions of cocktails can help non-drinkers feel more comfortable in a bar setting, and non-boozy beer is ideal for those on the bandwagon, decaf coffee is unequivocally the worst of all worlds. Like a science experiment gone wrong, decaf coffee is almost always the flavor of charred wood that’s been left out in a rainstorm, without providing any of caffeine’s crucial pick-me-up pep.
Decaf, though, is almost always the pits.
For the caffeine junkies among us who have relied on a steaming cup of Ethiopian roast or a milky iced pour-over to perk up the morning, the thought of weaning off coffee can seem like an almost insurmountable task. Gluten, sugar, the occasional can of Dr. Pepper? That’s all easy enough to slice out. There’s something about yanking away coffee, though, that’s wholly different. Coffee is more than a vehicle to send caffeine looping through our system; it’s an intricate process and routine relied upon to domino effect the rest of the day’s events. Remove coffee, and there’s the fear that a person’s entire daily ritual would be jostled—or that one might not make it out of bed at all.
Thankfully, some enterprising baristas have latched on to a centuries-old practice as a means of coaxing the masses towards a more healthful (but still flavorful) morning drink made out of everyone’s favorite sunshine-colored weed: the dandelion.
Perhaps more so than any other city in America, Los Angeles is consistently sparkplugging national wellness trends, including the recent rise of dandelion coffee and tea. The city’s commitment to suctioning the less good-for-you parts out of java dates back decades, with decaf’s 1990s prominence even parodied as part of the 1991 film, L.A. Story:
Tom: I'll have a decaf coffee.
Trudi: I'll have a decaf espresso.
Morris Frost: I'll have a double decaf cappuccino.
Ted: Give me decaffeinated coffee ice cream.
Harris: I'll have a half double decaffeinated half-caf, with a twist of lemon.
Today, dandelion coffee is following in the footsteps of decaf as a means of preserving sunrise routines sans caffeine. Made by simply steeping a powder of roasted dandelion root in hot water or milk with any number of additional healthy add-ons (like roasted chicory root and dried sugar beet), the drink seems poised to be the next beverage of choice for the kale smoothie crowd.
The best part? Dandelion coffee is an uncanny doppleganger of regular coffee, with a similar deep chocolate hue and rich, invigorating taste that’s more or less identical to the real thing.
"As a coffee-lover, I was looking for something as comforting, warming and delicious as coffee but without caffeine," Corrina Becker-Wayman of L.A.’s Amara Kitchen told Well & Good this month. "Dandelion coffee lets me keep my nice morning and afternoon ritual without drinking something that’s taxing on my adrenal system."
The popular Los Angeles clean eating haunt has pioneered a roster of "herbal coffee" drink selections for their breakfast menu, slinging coconut milk and dandelion lattes, dandelion mochas and regular cups of the piping hot plant to those looking to ditch the traditional cup of joe.
Nearby, also in Highland Park, catering outfit turned healthy eats cafe Kitchen Mouse too offers a dandelion-chicory coffee option that’s customizable as a hot beverage, iced, or shaken into a almond milk latte (pictured up top).
Whether or not coffee (in limited quantity) is beneficial for one’s body has been batted around by scientists for decades, but the plentiful health benefits of dandelion coffee are rarely disputed. On a recent afternoon loitering around my go-to spot for all things medicinal plants and tinctures, Maypop Community Herb Shop in New Orleans, one mention of dandelion root set off an eruption of praise around the store like the wave at a baseball game.
"Dandelion root … enhances the body’s detoxifying functions and helps restore normal liver functions," instructs one of the shop’s go-to resources, Nutritional Herbology by Mark Pedersen. "It can be used as a laxative, tonic and diuretic … as well as to treat heartburn, rheumatism, gout and eczema."
Not too shabby for a humble, sunshine colored lawn weed.
It’s taken a while to find the mainstream, but dandelion’s flower power is nothing new to our frugal forefathers and "back to the earth" devotees across rural areas, who have been making both dandelion coffee and dandelion tea (which are, essentially, one in the same) for centuries.
Dandelion root was used initially as an additive to coffee itself—not a standalone drink—by pharmacists in 19th Century England, but it soon gained popularity as a beverage worthy of its own cup.
"For several years past, a preparation called dandelion coffee has been growing into more and more general demand, and it is now sold by chemists throughout the country," writes John Churchill in the 1859 version of London’s Pharmaceutical Journal. "It consists either wholly or principally of dandelion root, which has been dried, powdered or otherwise prepared, so as to give it something of the character of ground coffee or cocoa."
Dandelion coffee’s significantly lower price point and ease of local accessibility quickly became a far more attractive option than relying on coffee beans shipped in from halfway across the world, and pennypinchers across Great Britain rejoiced. Even today, brewed-at-home dandelion coffee is estimated to hover only around seven cents a cup—a far cry from the five dollar cold brew at your local neighborhood java joint.
Homesteaders in rural Canada also fell hard and fast for the drink’s delightful taste and simple procurement. In her 1852 memoir, Roughing It in the Bush, Susanna Moodie recalls the satisfaction she derived from discovering that dandelion root makes (in the words of Agent Dale Cooper) a damn fine cup of coffee.
Whether or not coffee (in limited quantity) is beneficial for one’s body has been batted around by scientists for decades, but the plentiful health benefits of dandelion coffee are rarely disputed.
"The coffee proved excellent—far superior to the common coffee we procured at the stores," she writes. "To persons residing in the bush, and to whom tea and coffee are very expensive articles of luxury, the knowledge of this valuable property in a plant scattered so abundantly through their fields would prove highly beneficial."
In the United States, dandelion coffee found a flash-in-the-pan popularity during the Civil War, when the regular stuff was practically impossible to come by due to embargos. A number of coffee alternatives were tested by enterprising warm beverage sippers, including dandelion, persimmon seed, asparagus and (New Orleans favorite) chicory.
For the modern day curious—and caffeine eschewing—coffee lover who resides outside the hallowed, health conscious grounds of Los Angeles, the best bet (other than digging around in your yard) is ordering a bag of Dandy Blend, a commercially produced dandelion coffee that arrives packaged like a giant bag of plant fertilizer.
Dandy Blend has the same nutty brown color as a jar of Folgers instant, but an aroma that’s surprisingly similar to caramelized sugar. The dandelion root is joined by a combination of chicory root, barley, rye, and beets, promising to be a simple way to coax yourself off of coffee without any of the typically associated caffeine headaches.
One heaping spoonful of the powder dissolved in hot water later, the steamy cup hit my lips with a taste and texture that was altogether sweet, creamy and almost identical to coffee—without a bitter aftertaste.
With dandelion coffee sprouting up, it won’t be surprising to see more morning routines go back to the garden.