In today’s fast paced world, caffeinated beverages are very nearly life to many people. They absolutely cannot function without their early morning caffeine. I know. I am one of them. I drink copious amounts of coffee; like 3-4 pots a day copious.
I am well and truly a slave to the juice of the brown bean. By this I mean that while I enjoy other caffeinated beverages, like iced tea, I just prefer the taste and caffeine kick of coffee.
This is going to be a serious problem in a long term SHTF scenario. Not just for coffee and tea drinkers, no. Energy drink consumers can be lumped into this category as well. The average “Monster” brand of energy drink have anywhere from over 123 mg to a whopping 240 mg of caffeine per serving (not include the massive amount of sugar many of these “energy” drinks contain). This is just 3 mg of caffeine shy of one cup of brewed coffee on the low end to nearly 1.5 cups of brewed coffee at the extreme end. There are some products out there in the “extreme caffeinated beverage” market that even have as much as 660 mg of caffeine per serving (Death Wish Coffee, which is listed as having “DANGEROUS” amounts of caffeine – go figure. Like there is anything as “dangerous amounts of caffeine”). The withdrawal from your daily dose of caffeine, while relatively short lived, will be painful and in more serious cases nearly disabling. Within a few hours of not getting your normal dose of caffeine, the symptoms set in. Headache, sleepiness, irritability, lethargy, constipation, depression, muscle pain or stiffness, lack of concentration, flu-like symptoms, and insomnia just to name a few.
Caffeine addiction is commonplace in today’s western world. Whether that be in the form of coffee, tea, energy drinks, booster drinks (like 5 hour energy), soda, sports drinks, even chocolate. Western civilization consumes vast quantities of caffeine daily. Therein lays the issue as I see it.
To understand this you must go back to the botanical sources for this particular substance. In the case of coffee, tea, and cacao (the basis for chocolate and the source of that wondrous caffeine), all of these are grown in very few places, worldwide. In the case of coffee, it is only grown in 2 places that are tied to the US: Hawaii and Puerto Rico. Coffee is grown primarily in Brazil, Vietnam, Colombia and Indonesia. Tea is grown in Sri Lanka, Kenya, China and India. Cacao (the pod from which we derive chocolate) is grown in Ghana, Nigeria, Cote D’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Brazil, Ecuador, Malaysia and Indonesia. Any type of disaster that harms the movement of goods internationally or harms the global economy will in fact put a near complete stranglehold on these items making them a high cost luxury good which is in very short supply.
So what are we, as preppers, to do in supplying ourselves with caffeine? Stockpiling may be an answer for one. Another may lie in growing one of these items ourselves and learning how to harvest and process it into useable form.
Stockpiling things like coffee, tea, or cocoa (in powder form) may be the easiest and fastest path to ensuring that you and your loved ones have a steady or stable supply of these goods. I will address each one separately.
Coffee has the most volatile shelf life and hardest call in respect to prepping these items. It has a huge following, and many people cannot function without coffee. It has the highest caffeine content of the three, clocking in at 163 mg of caffeine per 8 ounce cup. The smell of fresh brewed coffee, the taste of a well brewed cup, the enjoyment of sitting and sipping while reading the paper or just watching the sunrise all contribute to the love for this beverage.
It is also very difficult to store for long periods, especially when it is ground. It contains volatile oils and compounds that react with oxygen and quickly cause the flavor and enjoyment to go downhill. Typically unopened containers of ground coffee are good for 3-5 month past printed “best by” dates on the packaging if stored on the pantry shelf. Opened coffee lasts for only 3-5 months on the shelf (people actually have coffee on the shelf that long? Oh, the horror, the humanity of it!) Whole roasted coffee beans are a bit of a different story. They will last 6-9 months past “best by date” in an unopened package. They will last a scant 6 month on the shelf in an opened package. Freeze dried, on the other hand lasts up to 20 years in an opened or unopened container. Just keep the moisture out. Green, or raw coffee beans are like the adamantium of the coffee world. They are nearly indestructible, and can store almost indefinitely if packaged correctly. Some storage ideas are: open coffee beans and/or grounds to repackage them in vacuum bags. You can then store the vacuum sealed bags in Mylar bags containing oxygen absorbers which would then be sealed. Every step you can take to distance your coffee from oxygen and light will lengthen its shelf life.
Tea bags will go stale as well. In the pantry, packaged tea bags, loose leaf tea, and powdered ice tea mix (if you want to call it “tea”), will all last 6-12 months past their “best by” dates on the packaging. There is also freeze dried tea granules (they leave a lot to be desired in the taste department), will last upwards of 20 years on the shelf. Just like coffee, sealing the tea bags, instant tea powder, or even freeze dried granules then sealing them away in a vacuum sealed bag, then into a sealed Mylar bag with oxygen absorbers will lengthen their shelf life.
Cocoa powder and it’s assorted products like instant hot chocolate are a little different. Pure cocoa powder never really “goes bad”. It loses color and flavor over time. This can be mitigated, again, by using the vacuum sealing process I outlined which will extend its shelf life greatly. Unopened in a box, cocoa powder will last two years past the printed expiration date on the packaging just sitting on the shelf in your pantry. Opened, it will last 1 year past the printed date, if on your pantry shelf. If you or your loved ones have a penchant for or absolutely love instant hot cocoa, you should vacuum seal them immediately and open only as you use them. Because instant hot cocoa contains sugar and no-fat powdered milk, they will go bad if left in their original box and left on a shelf, usually 6-12 months past the printed dates on the packaging. Another option is “Mexican” hot chocolate, like a brand commonly sold in Texas called “Abuelita“(Grandma) or Ibarra hot chocolate rounds. These products are a compressed form of cocoa powder, sugar, and cinnamon that have been pressed into a hard disk shape. You break off wedges of the product and dissolve it in either hot water or milk (the taste is vastly superior when done in milk, but if you have none, hot water will do in a pinch). This product has a shelf life equivalent to that of pure cocoa powder, as long as it is kept dry. Like pure cocoa powder, it will lose flavor and color over time.
Another “high speed low drag” way to satisfy your daily caffeine need can be found in the form of a pill. Brands of “stay awake pills” like Vivarin or No-Doz (or any of a hundred knock-offs) can be had cheaply and have a near indefinite shelf life. Each pill contains about 200 mg of caffeine, and is extremely transportable.
I also mentioned possibly growing coffee where you live. I know technically you should be able to grow a tree anywhere; the question to be answered here is quality and yield of harvest. It is, however as simple as getting a coffee tree kit, growing it in a greenhouse or other suitable environment, harvesting the cherries (that is what the coffee fruit is called), and processing it until you have green coffee beans.
Select a tree that grow Coffea Arabica, this is the coffee we are most familiar with in North America. They can be had from EBay, most well stocked nurseries, or even in kit form. Be very patient with your tree and take good care of it. It needs to mature before it will flower and fruit. This could take a few years. It takes a couple of months after the flowers fall off for fruits (cherries) to start developing. Many of us are familiar with the red cherry that is picked for processing, but be aware that some types of coffee tree produce a yellow cherry.
The coffee “bean” itself is actually the pit of the cherry. The fruit needs to be husked off in order to get the bean out. Soak them in water until the husk loosens then shuck the fruit off, keeping the green coffee bean and discarding the fruit residue into your compost pile (you have a compost pile right?)
After you have the beans you have to dry them and remove the membrane that is around the bean. Use an electric food dehydrator or dehydrating screens (made from scrap wood and nylon screen material covered with double layers of cheesecloth). In the dehydrator it should take a few days. If using the screens, expect the drying process to take about 10 days. When they are dry, you will notice a husk (membrane) around the bean that needs to be removed. This is labor intensive but worth every minute.
As I stated before, you can store these green (raw) beans almost indefinitely. Vacuum sealed green coffee beans may well outlast the universe. They are dense, extremely low moisture, non-porous, and chemically stable. Roasting breaks the structure of the beans by literally exploding the moisture in them outward, kick starting and energizing chemical changes that end up releasing oils and aromas that can only be described as divine.
However, you can roast these immediately, if you like. In a special machine (who has time for that?), or in a cast iron skillet. They should be done at stable medium low temperatures and constantly stirred. Once they reach the desired color you want (from a light mahogany to a dark, almost black) remove them from the heat, pour them on a cookie sheet and shake them gently until cool. They will be slightly oily (the darker roasts will be even oilier, but lower in caffeine content – the darker the bean the less the caffeine). Grind the beans in an electric or preferably a hand powered grinder. Then brew as desired. Et voila! You may now call yourself Juan Valdez. Just don’t let the jackass near the coffee tree.
Got preps? Pray for the best, prepare for the worst!