Coffee-Free Coffee? a Review of Teeccino “Herbal Coffee Substitute”

When I recently discovered that, due to a sudden, unpleasant health condition, I had to give up coffee (even decaf) for an indeterminate amount of time, I did what any other addict would do, and went on a quest; a quest for some sort of substitute to calm my cravings until I could have the “real stuff” back. 

(I have yet to admit that the day may never come).

The result of my long and frustrating endeavor yielded one (and only one) acceptable product; a “Caffeine-free herbal” coffee; Teeccino. Moreover, I also came across the best coffee shop coffee supplier in my region as well. 

Pronounced “Tee-chino” (a fusion of tea and cappuccino I suppose, although there isn’t any tea in it), Teeccino is an herbal “coffee-free coffee”, conceived as an alternative for folks who enjoy and crave coffee but either cannot have it or wish to start eliminating caffeine from their diet.

In lieu of roasted coffee, the product contains a mixture of roasted barley, carob, chicory, dates, and figs as its base, with additional grains and fruits added into different blends to create a variety of flavors.

It’s also worth noting that despite containing grains, the end result is gluten-free and thus safe for people with gluten allergies. It also contains no soy (which is the other alternative for creating a coffee-substitute product), and so won’t affect soy-sensitive folks.

According to the product website, there is a whole slew of reasons for why people want to eliminate not just caffeine, but coffee entirely from their diet. I won’t go into all of it here, especially since I’m not entirely convinced the “scientific evidence” isn’t biased, but it does provide for an interesting read. I’ve provided the company website at the end of this review if you’re so inclined to investigate on your own.

While I’m always a bit skeptical with regards to “herbal substitutes” of foods and flavors, what caught my attention the most was the founder, Caroline MacDougall. Prior to her invention of Teeccino, MacDougall was part of the product development team for the ‘Republic of Tea’ brand. For many years, the Republic of Tea has been one of my favored tea brands; consistently delivering very high-quality tea products with amazing flavors. So, given this knowledge, I had a bit more faith in this strange herbal-coffee concoction and decided to take the plunge.

I was happy to discover that while it’s not greatly available retail wise, my local Whole Foods did indeed carry this product.

I wanted to try the Mediterranean “mocha” flavor, as that is said to be easier for people transitioning in terms of flavor and I didn’t have the option of slowly introducing it along with regular coffee. So, of course, it figures that Wholefoods didn’t have the Mediterranean mocha. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to try the straight “original” flavor though and opted to settle on the flavored “Almond Amaretto”. I’m a fan of flavored coffee, and almond in particular, so I figured this would go over well, with the idea that the almonds may hide otherwise potential unpleasantness in the taste.

On my way home I couldn’t help myself and opened it just a bit for a preliminary sniff. Anyone who enjoys coffee knows the smell is just as intoxicating, and important as the taste. Immediately I was assaulted with an almost alcoholic aroma of almonds. No coffee smell at all, but a rich, amaretto smell.

I wound up brewing this in my Senseo the way I might any other coffee – creating a “pod” with the same amount of grind I normally use: 1tblspn for 8 oz of water.

The grind listed as “medium” and was of the same color and fineness as coffee of the same grind; a dark almost black brown of sand-sized grains. However, while coffee is uniform (because it’s just…coffee), this, being a herbal product of mixed ingredients, showed flicks of equally sized tan and light brown pieces. Presumably, these were the almond and maybe barley, or fig/date pieces.

The color of the brew itself was also pleasingly uniform, and the same color of coffee, also producing surprisingly the same lovely foam/froth that coffee gathers on the top when made with the Senseo’s “forced water” method.

Unfortunately, it did lack the signature, enticing aroma of freshly brewed coffee as it emerges. Once brewed, the liquid itself does have a nice rich odor, again more reminiscent of almonds than coffee, which doesn’t waft about much, but is present when holding the cup near your face.

A tentative sip of the initial black brew gave a first impression which didn’t exactly make me think I was drinking the real thing but didn’t make me spit it out directly either. It was bold, slightly bitter, and amaretto more than anything else, in the impression. It lacked the subtleness, and bouquet quality of fine coffee, which may be a hard thing for connoisseurs to swallow.

Both the package and the website, however, mention that due to some natural sugar in the dates and figs you may not need to add any. I decided to just add flavored creamer until it turned the color I liked. With the cream in, it had a pleasant ‘creamy-almond’ sweet smell that hinted of coffee, which never fully emerged.

So far, I was pleasantly surprised at how well it did emulate coffee. No, it’s definitely not the real thing, but it comes pretty close at the same time. Again, it’s no match for very fine, high-quality coffees, but comparatively, isn’t any less “coffee tasting” then some convenience store/gas station coffee I’ve had. (Actually, I think this was better).I should also note, that while some coffee drinks contain “coffee flavoring”, this does not. The fact that the creators of this managed to capture so many coffee-like qualities, in terms of flavor and aroma, without using artificial coffee flavor, gives tribute to their method and quality of the product.

In any case, the end result is still pleasing. It could definitely be worse

The “weight” and “mouth feel” of the drink was also pleasantly on target. When I initially discovered and read about this “herbal coffee”, I couldn’t help but tell myself that it would be too difficult to recreate the “heft” of coffee and that this would be little more than coffee-flavored tea, at best.

I was really, really pleased then to find that this was not just flavored water, but did carry that heaviness of coffee, even without creamer. I think I’m more impressed by this recreation than anything else.

There is a slight bitterness there that some coffee lovers may embrace as one of the signatures of coffee, but I found it to be a bit distracting. It is somewhat faint sour bitterness in the back of the mouth, which hits a second or two after drinking it. It’s not terrible, but a bit distracting from the overall flavor.

At almost $10 for an 11oz bag, I’m not going to rush out and buy another flavor before I finish this one, but I definitely think I will try a few other flavors to see how they compare. (Mocha, if I can find it, is next, followed by Hazelnut)

Finally, the Teeccino website mentions that, while there is absolutely zero caffeine, the drink has been reported to give a slight “energy boost” after drinking. Technically, this may be true. Caffeine isn’t the only chemical that can boost energy, and this does contain a bit of natural fruit sugar, which may be enough for a minor boost, although I really doubt there’s enough sugar on its own to do much. On the other hand, if you like your coffee very sweet, additional sugar along with the natural sugar may give you a bit of the boost. There may also be something to be said for qualities of the inulin, and chicory components that have been known to help the body naturally increase its energy. (These ingredients, therefore, don’t give direct energy, but help enhance normal metabolic processes.)

I can’t really say I felt like I was given an energy boost after drinking it, although prior to drinking I was feeling quite sleepy and ready for a nap, and after drinking about half a mug, I no longer felt the need for a nap at least. Whether or not this is linked to the drink itself, I couldn’t say.

Overall, I have to give this product a 4 out of 5 ratings.

While it really doesn’t taste or smell “just” like coffee, it has a strong enough taste and feel of coffee to be acceptable as a substitute. This would fool only the most inexperienced coffee drinkers, but at the same, it should be acceptable and pleasing for experienced drinkers.