Household Basics in TEOTWAWKI- Part 6, by Sarah Latimer

Well, this series on pantry basics (beyond meat, eggs, dairy, grains, fruits, and vegetables) is getting long. Yet, I still have several more items on my list to explore and share. These items even go beyond the normal bulk items we think of and beyond spices and herbs, though last week I covered salt and pepper and encouraged readers to use the improved SurvivalBlog search capabilities to go back and read some of the great articles our SurvivalBlog community has previous provided on the subject of “growing herbs” and spices. We have a wealth of information within our community not only on growing and using culinary herbs but also on medicinal herbs, and I wholeheartedly believe it is time to grow and learn to use them. I’ve been growing medicinal herbs for years and use them for normal everyday items, like deodorant and healing lotions/salves. However, it is helpful and health-ful to know how to use them for medical purposes rather than just hygienic ones. In TEOTWAWKI, we very well may only have what we can produce or scavenge in the wild ourselves, what we have stored, or what we are able to barter to obtain from those who do produce or have stored items. So, I’m continuing my quest to examine some of the things that our household considers “necessities” to see how we can best provide them for ourselves in TEOTWAWKI and share with you how you can too. To be honest, it has been as much of a learning experience for me as it has been for many of you. I knew something about providing and/or storing all of these items so far, but I have learned much for my research and also from the generous readers who have written in to share their wealth of experience also. Be sure to go back and take a look at the earlier articles and related letters in this series, covering baking soda, vinegar, yeast, and salt and pepper. It’s easy with the new search. To find my articles, search for “Sarah Latimer”.

Let us move on and take a look at this week’s item for examination– coffee. I know. Many of you are immediately thinking that it is just not a necessity. Well, I would agree with you, since I don’t drink the stuff myself. However, others in my family would argue that it is most definitely a necessity if I want happy “campers” in our crew. While I am a tea drinker, with black tea, white tea, and especially herbal teas being my preference, several members of my householdwant their cup of “joe”, “java”, “mud”, or “brain juice”– whatever it might be called. So, because I love them and want a happy family, I’ll consider coffee as necessary as my tea or chocolate. Oh, chocolate! Now, maybe I should add that to our household basics list. Hmmm. Anybody have any ideas on how to grow a cacao tree in cold North America? I think I had just better vacuum seal and freeze a lot of cocoa powder along with vanilla beans and homemade extracts!

Years ago, in our earlier prepping pursuits, coffee was one of the items that we were concerned about having should we have a SHTF period or TEOTWAWKI situation. Initially, we bought canned coffee, but my coffee drinkers just weren’t happy with the taste of canned coffee. It was stale and unsatisfying to them. At that time, they preferred what they thought was fresh roasted, and we ground it ourselves to stash in the freezer, hoping to keep it from getting stale. We knew that we couldn’t keep much coffee in this manner, as a freezer is not good long-term storage because it relies upon the grid, which would go down in a TEOTWAWKI and in truth, doesn’t actually do much to preserve coffee. At that time, we were also not set up to run our freezers on solar either. So, we needed other solutions for a long-term coffee supply.

In our research, we learned a lot about coffee growing and production. We learned that while coffee beans go stale within a matter of days after being roasted, green coffee beans can be stored a long, long time. It’s somewhat like whole grain, where whole grain can remain viable, wholesome, and tasty almost indefinitely as long as the grain remains whole and is stored in a dry, dark place at moderate or cool temperature. We discovered that we could preserve green coffee beans by putting them in our Mason jars, vacuum sealing them, storing them in the dark and in a dry, cool/moderate temperature environment and indefinitely. Hugh, who is one of my coffee drinkers, took the lead on procuring green coffee beans and testing this out. It worked! We have had green coffee beans that were stored at room temperature in our vacuum sealed jars for four or five years, successfully roasted, and used to create what was described as a marvelous cup of coffee. Our friends couldn’t believe the beans were years old. One friend said it tasted fresher than his Starbucks he’d bought that morning. In fact, now most of our friends prefer our black coffee over Starbucks, if they can give up all of the flavorings that are used to cover up the stale taste of stale coffee.

At first, when Hugh was shopping for green coffee beans, he struggled with which kind of green coffee to buy. Then he realized that he was buying on a coffee snob website, Sweet Maria’s, and probably just about any coffee he bought would beat the stuff we bought at the grocery store. So, he tried the sampler and found that he liked all of them and especially liked several of them. Unfortunately, the ones he liked most were unavailable for repurchase by the time he had sampled all of the coffees. The coffees come from small, boutique coffee farms, so it is difficult to get coffee from the same farm again. They sell out of a variety of coffee very quickly and then don’t make it available again for quite awhile. Still, he has been very pleased with the green coffees and has figured out how to roast it. We enjoy reading the extravagant descriptions of coffee that emulate the elaborate language of wine connesiours describing nuances and hints of flavors. We apparently don’t have taste buds that are as discerning to pick up on all of these nuances or hints of flavors. However, we have found some language that seems to sound familiar among the coffee descriptions of those our family likes and we also have found regions/countries that seem to grow “favorites”. For each person it varies. We also have some friends who prefer city roasts and others who like dark roasts; so that is also a personal decision. Trying the sampler and learning which ones are favorites and then looking for coffees from those regions and with descriptions that are similar is a good way to get started.

There are many options for roasting coffee, from expensive automated roasters all the way down to a simple cast iron skillet. We’ve tried a variety. However, if you use the skillet, it will take time and you’ll have some loss while you learn. We did, but now the skillet is our preferred method, because it travels easily, and it doesn’t break or require replacement parts or depend upon electricity. We’ve roasted coffee in our kitchen on electric, on gas, and even outdoors over a fire, using our skillet and a metal spatula that tosses the coffee beans continuously during the roasting process.

I have been told that there are coffee substitutes that are good, but we have not found them to be satisfying. It may be the lack of caffeine even more than the flavor that is the obstacle for my coffee drinkers. I’ve heard that roasted barley, roasted rye, and roasted chicory have a coffee-like taste. I also found an article from my childhood that encouraged people to use grated, dehydrated, and roasted parsnips, roasted chickpeas, and roasted wheat as well as those roasted items listed above to extend coffee rather than just using these items as a substitute. That seems more sensible to me. It might be worth a try to see if these items can help extend coffee, but I know that my guys would miss their caffeine if I completely substituted these for real coffee.

So, we will continue to buy many pounds of green coffee at a time and store it in our half gallon Mason jars to be roasted every few days, for the freshest, most delicious coffee in town! People talk about storing beer, wine, and liquor for barter in those difficult days, but I think that there will be some people more likely desperate for a good cup of coffee than for a beer. It may just be the new gold in TEOTWAWKI, when Starbucks and every other coffee shop is closed.

We make sure that we have coffee ready to go, even in our go bags. We carry portable coffee grinders and both fine paper tea bags and mesh tea infusers that can be used for teas and/or coffees, plus we of course have various utensils in which to heat water and various forms for heating the water. There are collapsible brew baskets with carabiner for those who wish to carry their filter on the outside of their go bag. What you choose to carry depends upon whether you are making coffee for one or for several people and how you are transporting it, too. Having a boilable stainless steel cup that can sit on a small camp stove is handy, so you can make your hot water and coffee right in your own mug using a tea bag, a tea infuser basket or silicon coffee drip/filter. This single cup system simplifies the clean up, too. The items highlighted are items we have in our household and that we use and enjoy, especially when on the trail or camping.

I will admit that when TEOTWAWKI occurs, depending upon how bad the situation is, I very well may find myself extending my supplies by roasting the grains and/or vegetables we have on hand or can grow. Remember that these seeds, grains, and vegetables must be roasted to a dark state but not burned. Like everything, it takes some practice. Some grains and seeds are better roasted at 300 degrees, while others are better roasted at a higher temperature of 375 or 400 degrees. I have not perfected my grain, seed, or vegetable roasts and do not feel that i can offer advice in this area yet with a “perfected” recipe. If others have recipes they would like to share, please write in and let us hear from you. We enjoy learning from our knowledgeable SurvivalBlog community of friends!

If you are a person who can’t imagine life without coffee and haven’t a clue how to store coffee without a freezer, then I hope you have gained insight into how to prepare for TEOTWAWKI and will look at buying green coffee beans and will learn how to roast it yourself. If you learn how to roast with a skillet or an air popcorn popper, you’ll end up saving yourself some money in the short term, too. As I said, we estimate that we spend about ten cents for a sixteen ounce cup of coffee, not including our time/labor in packaging the green beans for storage, roasting, grinding, and brewing, of course. However, it is the best cup of black coffee you can buy! You can always add vanilla, cream, and sugar if you have the need, but there is no bitter after taste that requires a cover-up. Even I, who despises the after-taste of coffee, can drink Hugh’s fresh coffee because it does not have the bitter after-taste. It’s smooth, like no other coffee I’ve ever tasted, except when I once attended a coffee convention in San Francisco, where coffee was being roasted on sight. Where and when it is ground is not any more important than when it was roasted. Once coffee is roasted, it begins to deteriorate rapidly. Whole beans are at their peak flavor at about 18-24 hours after roasting and become stale in about three days. Stores don’t get coffee on their shelves within three days of roasting, not even at Starbucks. The best you can hope for at your local stores is lightly stale coffee, but most of it is very, very stale. That is why it requires loads of sugar, cream, and flavors. Stale coffee has created a whole new career for baristas, who have the ability to add flavors to stale coffee with artist form in a cup. (Though I don’t drink coffee, I enjoy seeing the pictures of hearts and animals created with floating cream and flavors.)

There is a difference in taste between the various coffee beans, and the roasting is critical. It is important to evenly roast the beans, so air roasting or continuous stirring is necessary. Burned coffee is no good! Additionally, the roasting process causes the skin of the coffee beans to come off and fall to the bottom and then burn, making the kitchen smell for an hour or two, so don’t roast right before company it expected or you will need to get the air infuser running and supplement with an air deodorizer, too. However, it’s a price I’m willing to pay for my loved ones to enjoy their coffee and to maintain their good attitudes. We usually roast the night before we are expecting company, so the roasting smell is clear. Then, the grinding and brewing begins just before they arrive, and this smells great! We serve it with options of sugar, cream, and/or some of my homemade vanilla extract, which is offered to guests in a glass dropper bottle, which facilitates the addition of just a drop or two to beverages such as coffee or hot cocoa. With these options, we still find that once our guests taste fresh roasted coffee they often choose to enjoy it simply “black”. There is nothing bitter that needs to be covered up or compensated for.

You will find that buying green coffee and brewing it yourself will lead you into a whole new world of better coffee! Doing it yourself just couldn’t be better when it comes to coffee, because it is the only way to enjoy a truly fresh cup that isn’t stale. Remember, coffee gets stale within a few days, so by the time it is roasted and shipped to your gourmet coffee shop and prepared for you, it is already at least in the early stages of stale.

It is an investment to get set up to roast your own coffee, mainly because of the roaster, but then you are independent and able to produce your own for a long time. Like I’ve shared, we’ve calculated that we are able to produce a top quality 16-ounce cup of coffee for about 10 cents. Buying green coffee beans in bulk is an up-front expense, but you are assured of having coffee for a good long while, and you can extend the supply even further if you choose to supplement it with other “substitutes”, too. Write in and let us know what coffee supplements or substitutes you like to use and how you prepare them. We’d all love to learn from you, the SurvivalBlog community!