Experiments with Dandelion Root Coffee
I recently found out that dandelion root could be used to make a coffee substitute and decided to give it a go. A quick search on the web provided me with some direction and the hunt for dandelions began. It should be noted that while the idea of a substitute without caffeine is appealling if it tastes like crap it's not worth doing. That said, it's always worth experimenting with something to see if it works and I'm all for turning weeds into something productive as it means I don't have to worry about them being weeds.
Stage 1: The Dandelions
Obviously the base for dandelion root coffee is dandelion so finding a ready supply was the first step. Luckily for me they grow like weeds around these parts and due to some laziness on my behalf we had a whole lawn full of them. The directions mentioned picking them in autumn just as they were putting on the big roots for winter but as it was spring and I wasn't going to wait half a year for an experiment I picked them and and took the time of year into account when tasting later. There is art to pulling dandelions so the whole root comes out and I destroyed some pretty spectacular roots learning this. I ended up using a small garden fork and gently levering them out. It took about half an hour to get a decent pile with some decent roots. From here I simply chopped the roots off with scissors and threw them into a bucket of water. Some recipes talk about drying the roots here but as it was variable I tried without drying them first. Drying certainly makes them last longer without grinding them and cuts down the roasting time but it does take a while for wet roots to dry completely.
Stage 2: Cleaning and Roasting
When all the roots were in I swished them around a few times to clean off the dirt, chopped them into smaller bits using a pair of scissors and then threw them into a shallow baking tray. This is where the experimentation started. The recipes all mention about a half hour of roasting at about 180 celcius. My first attempt at roasting ended up burning the roots as I got impatient and wound up the heat. My second attempt didn't go far enough and the coffee was really weak...a light roast you could say. My third attempt was pretty good but took about 4 hours at about 150 celcuis. A very slow roast. When the roots has gone a reasonably dark brown I hauled them out to cool down. The house was smelling of coffee by this stage which was encouraging.
Stage 3: Grinding
Once the roots had cooled I used a mortar and pestle to grind them up a bit. A coffee grinder would likely work faster but I don't have one...and there's something a little old school about using a mortar and pestle that is just plain cool. The roasted twigs quickly broke down into a heavy powder that looked and smelled suspiciously like coffee which I stored in a reasonably air-tight jar.
Stage 4: Tasting
I used a plunger to brew up the coffee, gave it a chance to sit and them poured. It came out darker than expected considering the powder was fairly light and tasted a lot like dark roast coffee. Just like dark roast coffee I added more sugar. It doesn't taste exactly like coffee which is to be expected and I am still deciding if I like the aftertaste but it's certainly a decent drink and worth another go. After some reading it turns out that dandelions are jam packed full of all the minerals and vitamins you'd ever need and are a fairly versatile plant so I'll continue to let them grow and will try making coffee again in autumn and see if it makes a difference to the taste.