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Cafépocalypse: A Proactive Guide to Life Without Coffee

Chicory root, yerba maté, and green tea are great substitutes for coffee for different reasons.

A study released last week predicted that 60 percent of coffee species, including arabica, are at risk for extinction over the next several decades due to human-caused climate change and ecological destruction. This not only affects the yield and quality of the beans themselves, but will also destroy the livelihoods of the coffee growers who depend on their crop.

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Hopefully this headline hit you where it hurts and inspired you to read up on the Green New Deal or commit to reducing your own carbon footprint. I did both of these things, but the cynic in me also decided to consider what life would be like without coffee. With coffee beans on the verge of climate-related extinction, I started looking for alternatives to sip on as we await the impending cafépocalypse.

Chicory root, yerba maté, and green tea are great substitutes for coffee for different reasons.

Chicory Root for Flavor

Roasted chicory root, with its nutty, slightly sweet and sour flavor, has been consumed through the ages as a coffee-like beverage. In times of coffee shortages, chicory root was even blended together with ground coffee as a way to stretch out what people had in their pantry; this particular blend is still regularly consumed in New Orleans, served with milk. Chicory grows wild and easy as a weed in undisturbed or abandoned patches of land, so it’s not going extinct anytime soon.

If you’re looking to replace coffee with chicory root for flavor, especially if you’re adding some sort of milk or milk substitute to your mug of root brew, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how well it mimics a real cup of decent joe. However, chicory root “coffee” does not contain any caffeine, so it’s not going to give you the jolt you need.

Chicory root has high inulin content. Not to be confused with insulin, inulin is a potent prebiotic fiber that helps feed the probiotic bacteria growing in your gut and helps to lower your LDL cholesterol. Inulin is a water-soluble compound, so you don’t have to eat the root to access chicory’s prebiotic benefits. You’ll need to make what’s called a “decoction” though, rather than an infusion. That means, instead of steeping the root in hot water as you normally would to make chicory coffee, you need to let it simmer in a pot for about half an hour. This can be done ahead of time in larger batches and reheated when you want to drink it.

Even if you don’t make a decoction, there are still some benefits to making an infusion. Chicory is associated with a host of other health benefits: anti-inflammatory, antiviral, immune-boosting, anticarcinogenic, antioxidative… the list goes on from there. The plant is in the Asteraceae family, so if you’re allergic to things like ragweed, you might have an allergic reaction to chicory.

Yerba Maté for Caffeine

Hailing from the southern regions of South America, yerba maté became a hit among consumers in the U.S. looking for a caffeine boost without the jitters. A single serving of it contains more caffeine than tea, but about half the amount that you could get from coffee, which makes it a decent caffeinated option.

Maté is brewed from the leaves and stems of a plant that is cultivated in South American plantations. Traditionally, the plant had been consumed from a hollowed out gourd and passed around as a communal beverage in social gatherings. If you’re drinking it at home alone though, you can use whatever vessel you like, though you might want to invest in a proper maté straw; metal with a filter on the bottom of it, the straw allows you to enjoy your drink without getting soggy leaves stuck in your teeth. You can top off your cut with fresh hot water several times to extract what’s left in the leaves.

If you’re a casual maté drinker who just needs the occasional caffeine boost throughout the week, you’ll get some potential health benefits out of the drink. Some studies have found that it can help stave off osteoporosis in older women and has anti-tumorigenic properties. However, be cautioned that other research has linked heavy consumption of maté with digestive and respiratory cancers, with a 60 percent increase in risk. Though researchers don’t know why maté drinkers have a significantly higher risk of diseases like lung of esophageal cancers, they suspect it is because it contains the same carcinogenic compounds as tobacco. Furthermore, expanding the maté market to satiate an influx of consumers will require more forestland to be cleared, hastening the extinction of all life as we know it.

Green Tea for Longevity

Green tea has some of the same life-extending benefits as coffee. Because of their popularity, both beverages have been studied extensively. Recent studies have come to the same conclusion about both: drink them regularly, and you’ll live longer.

Like coffee, regular consumption of green tea has been linked to reduced risk in all causes of mortality and heart disease. Green tea drinkers have lower rates of death from cancer, too. As a potent anti-inflammatory beverage, it may also help treat diabetes, obesity, and hypertension, some of the most common chronic diseases that ail everyday Americans.

Green tea might boost your longevity, but you might end up outliving green tea. The plant’s growing regions are facing climate change-related stressors like drought and wetter monsoons, which affect both the yields and quality of the tea. Currently, experts are projecting a 55 percent decrease in yield over the next few decades, and significant reductions in quality sooner than that.

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