As you step out of bed, slowly tiptoe to the kitchen, you silently prepare a morning aromatic brew that will mark the beginning of a new day. Its rich aroma infuses the air, your nostrils slightly widen, you wrap your hands around the warm cup and take the first sip. Warm, sharp, penetrating, the brew comforts and stimulates at the same time, awakens the brain, eye pupils dilate, and a rush of energy spreads through your whole body. Now we can talk.
Brewing and sipping coffee is one of the most widespread rituals. Ever since the 15th century, coffee has been a cultural phenomenon of gathering people, stimulating endless talks, loud laughs, and uplifting spirits. What is there not to like about coffee?
As a plant, green coffee is nature’s gift. It is rich in antioxidants, and if used properly has a number of health benefits. However, there is a long process from a raw coffee bean to a brew, during which most of the health benefits of the plant itself are lost. Being a strong stimulant, diuretic and mild laxative, not everyone can tolerate coffee in a same way.
If you are sensitive or suffering from hormonal imbalance, adrenal exhaustion, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), insomnia, malabsorption, leaking gut, constipation, stress, you might consider reducing or even avoiding coffee entirely.
Ayurveda describes coffee as a natural substance with predominately bitter and pungent taste. Looking into the doshas, it is the Kapha dominated people that will enjoy the stimulating effect of coffee most, making them feel lighter, awake and energised.
With Vata dominated people coffee might lead to imbalance causing – over-stimulation of the nervous system, anxiety, exhaustion, nutrient depletion, insomnia; body dryness and coldness.
With Pitta dominated people coffee might disturb the endocrine system, increase the acidity leading to – acid reflux, heartburn, gut inflammation, increased gallbladder contractions, and kidney stones.
Coffee also affects our mind, making it rajasic or very active, a mind prone to criticism, judgment, anger, and compulsive behaviour. Coffee in this sense has a completely opposite effect than meditation.
In a world that seems to be spinning faster and faster on each level, putting high demands on our physical and mental performance, balance should be re-established through slow, meditative actions and grounding, highly nutritive foods. With all the available information, the choice becomes easier than ever to make.
Rituals anchor the mind, bringing relaxation and comfort while engaging in a repetitive process. This is why the idea of letting go of your daily coffee ritual sounds terrifying. Your brain immediately starts to wiggle, finding thousands of excuses to hold on to your cup. I know how it feels. I know how hard it is to let go of something so pleasing and comforting to your mind. So, instead of letting go, I prefer to swap things with healthier substitutes. Happy mind, healthy body – is my mantra. These are my favourite coffee substitutes that have similar taste and appearance to coffee, while being nutritively rich and balancing for any body constitution.
Looking very much like a mushroom, Chaga is actually a fungus that grows on birch trees. While Chaga chunks and its powder are becoming highly popular in the West, Chaga tea has been enjoyed for centuries in Russia, Poland and other Baltic countries. In traditional herbal medicine Chaga tea is known as one of the best immunomodulators and adaptogens, improving overall immune response, supporting endocrine health and treating cancer.
Health benefits of Chaga:
- one of the best antioxidants
- chaga is an adaptogen, enhancing body’s resistance to stress, reducing fatigue, improving mental work capacity and attention
- improves immune response
- reduces chronic inflammation
- cleanses the liver
- beneficial for gastric problems, cancer, heart disease and liver toxicity
Chaga comes in two forms – chunks and powder. Though there isn’t any difference in its available constituents, chunks are likely to be more fresh, thus more medicinally potent. Powder also takes only 5-7 minutes to be turned into a delicious tea, while chunks need much longer brewing. Chaga tea looks like brewed coffee and tastes very much like black tea, but with stronger body.
- Use 1/2 a teaspoon of Chaga powder per cup of boiling water. Steep for 5-7 minutes then serve as is or with frothed milk.
- When using Chaga chunks, best is to brew them for several hours on a low heat. This ensures that the antioxidants are intact, and long cooking allows all the healing constituents to be released. I prefer to use the slow cooker, and let the Chaga chunks brew for 6 hours on low heat.
- You will first need to break the chunks into smaller pieces. Best is to use a hammer.
- Put chopped Chaga into a larger pot or slow cooker and cover with water. There are no strict measurements, as it depends how strong you want your Chaga tea to be. You can also dilute the tea to your taste when serving.
- Cook for at least 1 hour, or up to 6 hours. The more you brew it, stronger and more potent the tea becomes. Brewed Chaga tea has a reddish-dark brown colour, mildly bitter taste and a calming effect.
- Strain the tea and keep in the refrigerator up to 5 days.
- Chaga tea can be used hot or cold, as a beverage, in soups, porridges, smoothies, cakes, etc.
Roasted cereal grains have been brewed since ancient times. In times when coffee was priced as gold, roasted grains became a tasty replacement for coffee beans in households of peasants. In recent history, during the World War II, when there was a shortage of coffee beans in East European countries, roasting cereals followed by brewing an aromatic drink became a tradition that is still so much alive in my homeland Croatia and the neighbouring countries, such as Italy (cafe d’orzo, prego!). Almost all cereals can be roasted, but the most common ones are: barley (orzo), rice, rye, corn, buckwheat, with the addition of chicory, carob and fig powder to make it sweeter and more aromatic. Luckily, nowadays we have a fantastic choice of readymade grain coffee products.
- Following the old school, mix 1-3 teaspoons of the grain coffee powder with hot water.
- If you fancy, add hot frothed milk, dust some cinnamon or raw cacao on top and enjoy. This is another delicious treat for kids.
Rooibos is an herbal tea, consumed and for centuries beloved in South Africa for its health benefits and high antioxidant levels. Kukicha is a caffeine-free Japanese tea made from the roasted twigs and stems of the same plant that black tea and green tea come from. Kukicha tea is rich in calcium, it is an alkalising drink, promotes digestion and assimilation of nutrients, vitamins and minerals. Combined together, rooibos and kukicha make a rich, aromatic and healthy tea, with a hint of sweetness and nuttiness. Kids are very fond of this tea.
- Steep 1 tablespoon of the kukicha-rooibos tea blend in 1 liter of boiling water, for 15 minutes. Strain and serve as is, or with milk and some natural sweetener.
Enjoy brewing these nutritive, health restorative and delicious beverages and cherish the rituals that calm and ground your core.