Tea is a great British tradition. In times of crisis we reach to put the kettle on and it is tea that we brew up to ease the pain of a broken heart, dampen the effects of a shock; numb the pain of loss and to calm frayed nerves. Tea has seen us through war, peace, joy and sadness and it is undeniably the nation’s drink of choice. Whilst chain coffee shops may continue to spring up on the high street with their sentiment of froth over filling and whilst we may all lap up their exotic offerings of air filled milk foam and a dash of coffee at home tea is still our drink of choice.
During wartime there would be a need to pop the kettle on a little more regularly and take comfort in a trusty cup of tea and when the Second World War broke out there could be no doubt about the importance of tea to the British people. Many leading figures have talked of the restorative properties of tea, according to journalist, George Orwell tea is one of the mainstays of civilisation, whilst William Gladstone noted, “If you are depressed, it will cheer you”. Even today in times of frothy coffee and flavoured latte nothing can rival the ritual of tea making. It is certain that tea has seen many a Briton through a crisis and I have always followed comedian Billy Connolly’s advice of, “Never trust a man who, when left alone in a room with a tea cosy, doesn’t try it on.”
The importance of tea was acknowledged by the government during both World Wars, but during the Second World War, the government took drastic action to safeguard this essential morale-booster. Just two days after war broke out, it took control of all tea stocks, and ordered that the vast reserves then stored in London must be dispersed to warehouses outside the capital in case of bombing. When during 1940 enemy blockades prevented ships from getting through, the Minstry of Food introduced a ration of 2oz of tea per person per week for those over the age of five. For a nation of tea drinkers 2oz of tea was not a lot, being only enough for two or three weak brewed cups a day.
George Orwell published an essay called ‘A Nice Cup of Tea’ in the Evening Standard newspaper, in which he listed his eleven ‘golden rules’ for tea making which included sensible advice to make the 2oz ration go as far as possible, with tips including using water that is still at the point of boiling, in order to make the strongest brew from the least tea. For those that still struggled to make the tea ration stretch sufficiently it could be eked out with some dried blackberry leaves, known as blackberry leaf tea.
This traditional British recipe for making tea from the dried young leaves of a blackberry (bramble) bush was popular in Wartime Britain. When picking blackberry leaves for drying select the youngest green leaves then split the leaves themselves from the spiny mid-rib and chop roughly. Arrange on a paper towel or some kitchen towel and place in direct sunlight for an afternoon to dry. Alternatively arrange on baking trays and place in an airing cupboard for up to five days. Once dry, place the leaves in a jar, seal and store.
To make the tea place a teaspoonful of dried leaves per person in a warmed teapot, pour over the boiling water then set aside to infuse for 5 minutes. Pour through a strainer into a teacup and sweeten to taste.
If you were a coffee drinker in wartime Britain it may have come as a relief that coffee was not rationed, however, as the war advanced it became increasingly difficult to obtain and so you may have turned to the delights of roasted dandelion root coffee. It is certainly a good use of dandelion roots and makes a very good drink, although I must confess to preferring to partake in this drink made with milk rather than straight black.
How To Make Roasted Dandelion Root Coffee
Once made this recipe closely resembles coffee in flavour and body when brewed properly, it’s also a good use of all those dandelions that like to spring up all over the garden.
Look for the biggest, thickest clumps of dandelion leaves, as these are usually fed by a big, fat root and dig then up.
There are no quantities of dandelion roots specified in this recipe because there are no rules as to how many you need, it’s simply a case of the more roots you collect the more roots you’ll have to roast and the more coffee you will create.
Preparing the Roots
Place the roots in a bucket or bowl, fill it with water and agitate the roots with your hands until the water is very muddy. Pour off the water, fill the bucket again and repeat this process a few times until the water runs clear. At this point you should have a pile of beautiful, golden dandelion roots. Don’t worry if there is still some dirt left on them, as a quick scrub with a nail brush will soon attend to any soil that is determinedly clinging.
With a large kitchen knife, cut the roots into chunks. Put these into a large bowl and fill with water. Agitate with your hands until water gets cloudy, pour off and repeat until water runs clear. Although you have already washed the roots previously, it is important to follow this step as it ensures that you won’t get gritty, muddy coffee.
Either chop the roots coarsely or give them a quick pulse in the food processer until they look a similar consistency to coffee granules.
Roasting the Roots
Spread the coarse-chopped Dandelion Roots on baking sheet
Set the oven to moderate at 160◦C, 140◦C fan, gas mark 3 and leave the oven door slightly ajar while they are roasting so that moisture can escape. You will be both drying and roasting the roots in this step. The roasting process takes about 2 -3hours. As the roots dry, they will shrink down to around a quarter of the size when fresh. After they dry they will begin to roast, going from a pale golden colour to a dark coffee colour.
Make sure that during this process you stir them frequently with a wooden spatula to assure even drying and roasting. As they get close to desired coffee colour, be careful not to burn them- it’s easily done.
Cool the roasted roots and store in glass jars.
Making the Coffee
I am sure that there are many ways of brewing dandelion coffee, but I opt for the following method:
Use 1 level tablespoon of Roasted Dandelion Root Coffee for each 225ml of boiling water. Once you have made this a few times you can adjust these amounts to your taste, to make it stronger or weaker.
Place the roasted roots and water in a saucepan. Over a low heat, simmer gently for 10-15 minutes or until it yields a rich, coffee-coloured brew.
Serve hot with milk and sugar or to suit your taste.
Tip: this coffee is particularly good made with all milk and sweetened with honey
If you are not feeling inspired to dig up dandelion roots to make your cup of coffee or pluck blackberry leaves for your daily brew then you must at least admire the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the kitchen front.