“Ersatz” is a German word that roughly translates to “substitute or replacement”. English speakers adopted it to refer to an inferior copy of something else. The original definition, however, does not indicate that the duplicate need be inferior – merely alike. My first exposure to the word arrived in two different ways the same year – one while reading a textbook (and falling asleep), the other used by a very glib and verbose friend of mine (who made me fall asleep). Of all the scholastically snobby traits I’ve developed, the use of “ersatz” never entered my lexicon. (Although, I still use “lexicon” regularly.)
The unique word was recently adopted by an outfit in Bellefonte, PA., called the Coffee Trade Company. In a “charmingly anachronistic” fashion (their words), they developed a coffee substitute that differed from others on the market. Most coffee subs I’ve encountered contain some combination of three ingredients – barley, chicory, and dandelion root. The last of which is often used as the primary.
On an attempt to find a coffee clone I liked, I experimented with a dandelion/chicory blend and straight roasted dandelion root. The results were underwhelming. On a later brew-up, I tried a Japanese barley tisane (mugicha) and found it quite delightful. While I didn’t experiment with blending any further, I readily assumed that those three were the magic ingredients for creating the perfect “coffaux”.
Ersatz went a completely different route, sidestepping the barley and dandelion entirely. They kept the chicory – likely for coloring purposes – but used roasted peas and roasted ri-…wait, did I read that right? Roasted rice?
If it hasn’t been made apparent, I’m not a fan of rice as a tea additive. Genmaicha – the premier rice-blended green tea – is my least favorite. There’s only been one rice-flavored anything I ever favored drinking, a sticky rice pu-erh, and actual rice wasn’t included. In my palate opinion, rice can only be eaten, not steeped. And, yes, I’m fully aware that I’m in the minority.
To Ersatz’s credit, the blend smelled wonderful. It was equal parts toasty, roasty, earthy, woody, and…well…manly. There was a rough, wildernessy feel to the aroma, like coffee on a campground. Rice was not the dominant presence, nor was the tangy chicory. I hoped that carried through in the taste.
Brewing instructions were dead simple. It was a large teabag, and the ingredients were strong herbals. Great care wasn’t necessary. All I had to do was dunk the bag in a cup of boiled water for three-to-five minutes, and I was done. I tested the bag out at a full five minutes.
The result was a cherry-wood-to-dark-brown liquor with a strong “cooked trail mix” aroma. In all honesty, it didn’t smell like coffee. The smell sort of reminded me of barley but with less emphasis on the roasted characteristics. To the taste, it started out well enough, imparting a toasted/herbal profile but quickly translated into something I didn’t favor. There was the rice, I thought to myself. Two-thirds of the blend was wonderful and almost coffee-like, but the rice-reared finish was off-putting.
Not willing to admit defeat, I dared a second brew-up – this time at the three-minute mark. The liquor infused to the same deep brown but slightly lighter. The aroma was just as toasty as the lengthier infusion but a bit gentler on the nose. The flavor was a welcomed relief. All roasty/toasty beverage, no rice; if there was a rice presence, it was thankfully muted. Toasted veggies, smoked herbs, and an urge to go hiking were the only impressions imparted. The real joy came with the inclusion of milk and stevia. Now that was where it reminded me of coffee. Any faint rice-recoil was permanently subdued by the addition of dairy and sweet things.
I would be hard-pressed to call this end-all/say-all substitute for coffee. Having talked to my fair share of goths, hipsters, clock-punchers, and wired hackers, they will never give up their coffee. Ever. The flavor only leaves a faint impression of the blunt-force wake-up bean. That said, I could see a coffee drinker enjoying it as a nightcap. I certainly did.
But now I have a strange desire to write beatnik poetry…about clones. Why is that?
To buy Ersatz Coffee, go HERE.
Well, I don’t drink coffee, so I barely remember what the stuff tastes like. Probably never had more than one or two sips all my life.
However, what makes this “coffee” Ersatz rather than “Tea Ersatz”? Or some sort of Tisane? It comes in a tea bag, and it’s got herbs in it? Is that just the strong dark color that decides its fate? Or the “roasty”, “manly” taste?
My educated guess is that it is because of the strong dark colour and smell.
The key trait in coffee is the bitter, roasted flavor. Coffee substitutes are – indeed, as you say – tisanes at heart. However, they are tisanes with aspirations to coffee tastes – to be “like” coffee, hence the ersatz label.