On miso, caffeine and the search for a morning brew

Mrs. Homegrown here:

I am a caffeine addict. Erik is too, though he doesn’t admit it. Actually, he was only a casual user until he met me, and then became habituated to the morning brew, and eventually graduated into the 3pm pick-me-up brew. In general, I think mild caffeine addiction is not very worrisome, and pretty much built into the fiber of America. However, my own addiction has always been demanding. And recently I had to go straight (long story) — which resulted in a full week of headaches and misery. But now I’m clean, and living in a much slower, less productive, somewhat dream-like reality. Is the world supposed to be this way??? Really?

Anyway, I’ve decided two things. One, that it is impossible that I should never again ingest caffeine. No more Turkish coffee? No more Thai iced coffee? Never again a Mexican Coke? No English Breakfast teas on a cold afternoon? No crisp iced tea with a nice lunch? Riiiiighht. It will have to come back into my life in some sort of managed way. (How’s that for addict thinking?)

But before I slide back into my habits, I’ve decided to stay entirely clean for a month to see how my head reacts. See, I get a lot of headaches, so much so that I’m a connoisseur of headaches, and I’m wondering if the vascular expansion roller coaster of caffeine consumption might not be very good for me. We’ll see.

All this brings me to the point of this post. I’m looking for interesting suggestions for hot beverages that I can drink in the morning which will ease my longing for the ritualized caffeine consumption.

I do not approve of any of the myriad fruit-flavored or otherwise flavored “herb” teas in the marketplace. I have my own mint, nettles and other herbs to make tea of, but thin herb tea is just plain depressing first thing in the morning. In the morning I want something substantial. I’m not afraid of the the bitter, the strange and the strong.

Do any of you know anything about chicory or the various bitter root brews? Those old-timey, war ration, hillbilly sort of brews? This is what I’m interested in pursuing. Let me know if you have any ideas or favorites.

What’s working for me so far is miso soup. It’s an important component of the traditional Japanese breakfast, and I can see why. Miso soup is big and interesting and hearty–somehow on par in terms of body satisfaction with a nice cup of coffee with milk. Of course, it’s crazy high in sodium, but it is rich in trace minerals, and if you use real paste (not dried mix) and don’t overcook it, you also get a dose of beneficial micro-organisms, because miso is a fermented product. I throw in a few strips of nori to give me something to chew on as I drink.

A few hints re: miso:

• Buy the pure paste, not the soup mix. Buy the paste in big bags at an Asian-foods supermarket. It is much cheaper than the little tubs sold in health food stores. After I open a bag I transfer it to a plastic yogurt tub and put it in the fridge. It keeps forever. There are different types of miso (red, white, brown…) Don’t let this confuse you. All are good. Just start somewhere and you’ll sort it out. I’m fond the red.

• Proper miso soup is made with the classic Japanese soup stock, dashi. You can make it with any stock you like, or do as I do in the mornings and just use water. It’s important not to simmer miso, because heat kills the beneficial critters in it. If you’re making a pot of soup, add the miso at the end, after you pull it off the heat. If you’re making it with hot water, take the kettle off heat before the boil, or let the water sit and cool some before using.

• I use about one rounded teaspoon of paste per coffee cup of water. This makes pretty strong drink, but I like that.

Big hint: when mixing miso paste into liquid, always dissolve the miso in a tiny bit of liquid first, and then add that solution to the larger volume of liquid. Otherwise you’ll never get the lumps out. For instance, I put a spoonful of paste at the bottom of the coffee cup, add a splash of water, mix that up until the lumps are gone, then add the rest of the water.

• You can make your own miso! Sandor Katz has instructions in Wild Fermentation. It actually doesn’t sound hard to do at all. You just cook up some beans and inoculate them, then store them in a crock. I’ve always wanted to try it, but miso needs to ferment for a year in a reasonably cool place. Living in SoCal without a cellar, I just don’t think I can give it the conditions it requires.

• You can make pickles using miso paste. I’m experimenting with that right now, and will report back.

Leave a comment


  1. while not terribly experienced with ‘back woods’ pseudo-coffee, i recently went on a taste adventure making my own dandelion ‘coffee’. The overall verdict? pretty good…. it is bitter, it has ‘body’ (not thickness, but depth of flavor) and it tastes good with milk and sugar, just like i like my coffee. i could go into more detail, but as i blogged about it at the time, i’ll just point you there : http://leftofaverage-southofnormal.blogspot.com/2010/06/dandelions-20-now-for-breakfast.html

  2. I’ve read in a couple of places that all you have to do for chicory is roast cleaned dandelion roots until they’re good and dark brown, and then grind them. I’ve always wanted to try it, but will probably leave it until the major melt down after the peak oil crisis sets in.

    Every once in a while I like a good, hot cup of beef broth. I can’t handle the salt in miso. Commercial beef broth is slightly lower. It also keeps better, for me anyway.

    RE: your headaches. Where in your head are they? I get really bad ones occasionally in the fore section of my head, and found out years ago they are because of my neck. Once I mentioned them to my chiropractor and he started treating me for them, they don’t come nearly as often. Less stress helps keep them at bay as well. You might think about seeing a good chiropractor for them. It’s helped me a whole lot.

  3. Go to http://www.teeccino.com and check out the info on their herbal coffee blends. There are some pretty phenomenal testimonials on the site, and I’ve heard it recommended by others as well. I’ve never been a coffee person, and the blends have barley in them, which I can’t have so I couldn’t try it as a mocha flavor addition in desserts, which is how I first found out about it. It was recommended in a recipe. Anyway, it looks like it is worth checking out.
    Also, Mountain Rose Herbs (www.mountainroseherbs.com) sells some phenomenal tea blends, including an herbal coffee blend which must be pretty popular because it is out of stock. Their herbal teas are not all fruity. They make liberal use of leaves, roots, stems and flowers too. I love this company. Hope this helps.

    I enjoy your blog, and have emailed posts to friends from time to time :).

  4. Have you heard of using roasted dandelion roots? Some people swear it tasted very similar to a strong coffee. I haven’t quite gotten desperate enough to kick my caffeine habit to go digging up dandelion roots, but one of these days I plan on trying it:

    If you do try it, I hope you post about it. I’m okay with chicory coffee, but it’s easier to find dandelions where I happen to live. I’d be interested to see if you think it’s an acceptable substitute taste-wise.

  5. In Germany, we drank Caro-Kaffee, made from roasted barley, malted barley, chicory and rye. It’s made by Nestle.

    Pero is made in Switzerland and made of much the same thing.

    They don’t make Postum anymore (that I can find) but you can make your own by mixing 5 cups finely (or moderately – your choice) ground wheat bran, 4 cups fine ground bulgur wheat, and 2 cups finely ground cornmeal and 1 cup molasses. Rub these together until well mixed, then spread in shallow baking sheets to roast slowly at around 275*F until a rich dark brown, stirring every 15 minutes. Be careful not to burn it. Cool completely and store in a well sealed jar. To make a cup – fill half a tea ball (1 tablespoon) and let steep in a mug (12 – 16 ounces) of boiling water (like making tea) for about 3 – 5 minutes, remove the tea ball and sweeten and/or add milk as desired. Or you could just buy Ersatz Coffee (http://www.ersatzcoffee.com/).

    Goosefot Acres makes a dandelion blend (http://www.dandyblend.com/) that tastes pretty good.

  6. I’ve been making miso, I’m now on my third batch. Living on a third floor apartment in Chicago the miso gets its share of heat in both the summer and the winter. It turns out just fine. I think you should try making some and see how it turns out.

    My understanding is that you measure miso by how many summers it’s gone through. That’s the active fermentation period. In your climate you might consider each full year two summers.

  7. Do you have access to sassafras? The root makes a lovely warm or cool tea or soda. It’s earthy and interesting.

    You might also enjoy matcha, Japanese green tea. It has some body to it much like miso. I think the original is caffeinated but you might be able to find some decaf varieties.

  8. For a hearty tea, perhaps try honeybush or rooibos? I like to get mine from http://www.mountainroseherbs.com/ and they have a lot of those other rooty herb filled teas as well. However, if you’d like a really thick smokey yet sweet substantial tea, try hyakunencha (translated as 100 year tea). http://beautybeyondskin.com/hyakunenchatea.htm My great aunt is actually the US distributor, so if it’s hard to find the tea online (it’s not sold in stores, she prefers to network and sell the tea in person), I would be more than happy to send you a few packets! All three teas are caffeine free, and boy do they also keep you regular. 😛

  9. Oh, on the subject of miso, I have to add that miso grilled eggplant is *delicious*. There are a few recipes to check out, just google nasu miso recipe and take an average of the ingredients involved. There really isn’t any wrong way to go about it, as it’s the main ingredient (miso paste!) that makes it delicious.

  10. I went caffeine free about 30 years ago and have slowly gone from decaf, to things like Pero, to commercial herb tea, to home made herb tea (one can make a real kick butt tea with nettles, oatstraw, alfalfa, dandelion, etc good hot or cold) and am now down to Water. Did have some caffeine one day by accident about 7 years ago and was up for about 36 hours, and jittery for another 24. That’s right, enough of an experience that I’ve not forgotten it. Was quite the B***H to all around me. The small dosages in chocolate are okay, but drink a coke . . no way. Warm water with Lemon is the winter drink. Oh yeah, have had only about 4 headaches in the last 30 years . . . Will have to check out Miso though as always liked it. He does not, but I always did. Thanks for that and Good Luck!

  11. Oh you poor dear, having to give up caffiene!! I did it once, and I must admit, after I got used to not having it, I slept SO much better and had much more energy in the morning. However, true coffee addict that I am, I eventually went back to my old habits. I’m afraid I have no suggestions for you. At this point I know that I will be a java head until coffee is either prohibitively expensive or not available!

  12. Have you tried barley tea? Served cold it’s a refreshing summer drink, and it’s also tasty warm. If you brew it for a while, it can get a bit stout.

  13. If faux-coffee appeals to you, try roasted barley drinks. I’ve been drinking mugicha (roasted barley tea) as a summer cooler for a few years now and just brewing it extra strong & hot on cold mornings, but this summer a friend introduced me to the glory of Pero, an Italian instant hot drink made from bitter-roasted ground barley. I love it, find it very satisfying, and it can be ordered in bulk through Amazon. I would love to try Cafix, but haven’t seen it available locally to try.

  14. I would worry about purchasing Chinese soybean products…Are they organic? GMO free? Sorry to be a downer but lead in your miso soup can’t be good for you.

    I buy the larger tubs of miso at my health food store when they are on sale. One tub lasts me a long time.


  15. This might sound weird, but I actually like mixing a little miso into my oatmeal on occasion.

  16. My girlfriend used to be a really big coffee addict. She knew she was suffering from adrenal fatigue, but she still really wanted coffee. She also told me that coffee was something she just looked forward to every morning and that made her life happy…

    There are programs you can try to get off coffee (like the off the bean program mentioned in the book Caffeine Blues by Stephen Cherniske, M.S.) but what I found to be most effective was the herbal coffee Teeccino. At first, I gave it to my girl friend mixed with coffee (the flavors are very similar), which she found to have a better taste than her beloved coffee. Later, she started drinking Teeccino without any coffee mixed (without my persuasion!) and now she actually prefers that to coffee.

  17. I hear you on the sissy herbal teas. I too had to give up all caffeine, so I went on a quest to find a good strong decaf tea. My current favorite is Twinings decaf Breakfast Teas (English in the red box or Irish in the green box, but they taste so similar I can’t tell them apart). You might like them, they’re quite a bit heartier than the usual wimpy herbal teas.

  18. Coincidentally, I am currently at the tail end of the hell that is coffee-free living, which I took to only as an experiment in order to see if I really am addicted. Result? I am. I accept it. Double Americano, please.
    I tried several “coffee-like” substances in the morning, including Celestial Seasonings “Roastaroma” tea (brew it strong), Inka, and roasted dandelion root espresso. This last one was my favorite. You grind up the roasted root in a coffee grinder and brew it up in a stovetop Moka pot. It’s definitely strong and strange, but I quite like it and it tastes good iced.
    Good luck!

  19. Hi,

    I, too, recently “kicked the habit” (again, of course). If you miss the ritual of drinking a nice hot cup off coffee (that warms the soul) perhaps I could suggest the following:

    1) Pero (http://www.perous.com/) — it ranks as my number one and tastes eerily close to a cup of joe. A must try.

    2) Teeccino (http://www.teeccino.com/) — a nice “coffee alternative” – herbal but not in a tea kind of way. Has a great natural full-bodied earthy taste to it (hard to explain).

    Strangely, my wife loves both but would never touch a real cup of coffee.

    cheers !


  20. I like miso as a seasoning for veggies. Sometimes I put it on steamed veggies and sometimes I will heat miso in a frying pan with them.

    Also, I like using miso in mashed potatoes instead of butter.

    As a vegetarian, I leave out the dashi in miso soup and it is still yummy. I usually just add green onions and tofu and it is awesome. I have added egg to miso soup a la egg drop soup… it is not as tasty, but very filling.

    Also I’ve had some mochi in that was unsweetened and grilled with a mix of miso and teriyaki… it was super good, but I still haven’t figured out how to recreate it at home.

  21. Roasted Dandelion root is delicious. If you want some of the awesome liver cleansing medicinal effects of the root, you can mix roasted (flavor) and regular (medicinal).

    If you need a boost of energy in the morning, do a little bee pollen (I just mix a teaspoon of it in water), spirulina (in a smoothie), and during the day do a tisane or tincture of schizandra berry.

    Feverfew is a great herb for headaches. It works as a preventative too. You could keep one around and eat a leaf or two every day.

    Hope that helps!

  22. Something I’ve heard of in Mexico is burning tortillas, then breaking them up and soaking them in hot water. Strain and enjoy! I’ve never tried it though.

  23. I hear ya. I have a similar coffee habit – a cup with breakfast, a 10 AM cup at the office with a little nibble, and sometimes a 3 PM cup as well. And I kick it about three or four times a year in advance of international travel, when an 11-hour time change is going to kick my ass anyway, and I don’t need caffeine addiction headaches at 10 PM to complicate my life.

    I don’t have a suggestion for you, just a friendly comment in solidarity. I do decaf but it’s not the same. I like miso, but maybe not before 10 AM. Good luck!

  24. Thank you all for your advice and good wishes! Because Erik had comment moderation on, I’ve just received all of the comments at once, and can’t respond to 25 individually. But I really appreciate all the input, and now have a great list of things to try–dandelions, homemade Postum, Pero, Teecino, barley drinks, etc.(I was actually investigating making barley water today, coincidentally) — as well as making my own miso! I’ll report back on my findings.

  25. Inka (naturalis), a Polish ersatz coffee is really quite good: 45% Roasted Barley, 27% Rye, 25% Chicory, and 3% Beet Roots.

    Probably not a coffee substitute, exactly, but very well worth checking out is Korean roasted corn tea.

  26. During my brief coffee fasts, I’ve substituted Yerba Mate with milk and honey. I’m sure it still has stimulant qualities, but it’s different. Kind of like drinking “grass juice”— talk about bitter or strange.
    I was recently discussing giving up coffee (again) with a close friend. Summertime is an easy time to let go of morning coffee, I think, because it’s so damn hot. I want to be out in the garden working before the sun is too strong and waiting for that first cup of coffee before I leave the house is just too much of a bother. She has a pretty healthy attitude about coffee, I think. She thinks of it, very simply, as medicine and takes just a couple of sips of it every morning. I think this mindfulness is what really matters… rather than sit, reading the morning paper, drinking cup after cup of coffee, just take your morning medicine and go about your day. It works for me.

  27. When I tried going off caffeine, I discovered http://teeccino.com/ Teeccio Coffee Alternative at Whole Foods. It’s a good strong brew that you make in a coffee maker, just like coffee. It tastes much better than decaf coffee and has a woody flavor. Even after going back to my morning coffee, for a while, I was enjoying it in the afternoons.

    Good Luck!

  28. Don’t have experience with any “hillbilly” brews, but you might check out mugicha or roasted barley tea. It’s not super thick, but it is biter in a nice way.

  29. I am an avid coffee drinker. However, I used to get headaches, icky coffee stomach, and all those side effects.

    My solution, or cure, has been the french press. I never get these symptoms anymore, because I drink only frech press coffee. All the oils from the beans stay in the coffee, and are not filtered out. My theory is that this keeps the coffee in balance somehow. It also tastes far superior to drip coffee–I will never go back, I am a coffee snob, I admit it!

    Also, when I do drink drip coffee (meetings, and such), I do find myself getting these symptoms back.

    Hope that helps!

  30. Espresso coffee makes the water go fast through the coffee and this limits caffeine dissolution somehow as far as I could understand from a TV documentary. Nevertheless the temperature makes the end beverage strong in taste and smell.
    I can drink both coffee and Yerba Mate and their effect is different. You can also get addicted to Yerba Mate. You can find people drinking Mate all day long in some parts of Argentina and Uruguay, where it comes from.

  31. i love your blog! i am working on the homesteading thing too, little steps at a time. so excited about your new book too!
    i have two responses for your caffeine connundrum:
    for morning brew you could also do bancha tea (like kukicha)- it is the twigs and branches of the tea plant, and it has a lot of body. it is super healthy & balancing but has a nice roasty taste. it is similar to the barley that another commenter recommended. i am also a fan of rooibos (red tea) with a dash of maple syrup. has a heartiness that most herb teas do not.

    also i like to use miso for a lot of things, including as a tea-type drink (also with nori), as a creamy sauce for noodles, and as dressing for salads or veggies. i think it is the most versatile thing(s) in our fridge (i think we have five varieties!)

  32. You might try a tisane made from red sorghum. It apparently has a high level of phenols.

    I had no idea such a thing was possible, but I was looking up whether Sudan grass would work in my climate, and stumbled on this thesis:

    Sorghum drink

    It focuses on sorghum that has been roasted like coffee, but from what I’ve read a mix of roasted & unroasted might end up tastier & healthier.

    It also does a brief review of the products mentioned earlier in this thread:

    “These products include Caro (a blend of instant cereal and chicory), Pero (a blend of malted barley, chicory and rye) and Inka (a blend of roasted barley, rye, chicory and beet roots). Asian tisanes (grain teas) are primarily found in Asian markets but are slowly moving west and can be found on the internet for purchase and in specialty stores within the U.S. (Ames and others 2006). They include barley tea (mugicha), brown rice tea with green tea (genmaicha), and roasted brown rice tea (Hyeonmi cha). These products are either instant beverages that dissolve into water and can be served hot or cold (i.e. Pero, Caro and Inka) or in tea bags that are to be steeped in hot or cold water and then consumed.”

  33. i didn’t read all the comments since the post is a little older and no one is probably reading it, but i thought i would give you a little tip. i LOVE making miso in the mornings too, but to avoid the whole lump issue, i take the back of the spoon and smash the miso into a thin layer around the lower inside wall of the mug. it melts much faster and no lumps!

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