I hear it all the time, the many reasons one should “avoid” coffee. Caffeine isn’t good for you, they tell me. Though I’m a proponent of the “everything in moderation” philosophy, I have stumbled upon an interesting option in Rome: caffe d’orzo. That’s right, barley coffee.
Many times in history (war, famine, poverty, etc) coffee was scarce; the importing of beans from coffee growing countries could be costly, or simply difficult, and many would seek alternatives to roast. As if true Italianos would give up their caffe ritual, they decided to roast barley, and were able to create a drink that could trick one’s tastebuds — without the caffeine buzz.
I was curious how this “coffee” would taste, so I frequented one of my favorite Roman establishments, Caffe della Pace, where caffe d’orzo is printed on the menu. They pulled the barley through an espresso machine, and presented me with a shot. The aroma was a bit off-putting, reminiscent of beef stock (it is barley, after all), but the taste was rather surprising. Lacking the dynamic notes of coffee, the barley was similar to watered down Nescafe; yet, it tasted like coffee.
Still, when I can’t prop open those eyelids in the early morning hours, barley just won’t do what strong, roasted Italian espresso will. So I order un caffe, and leave the barley for the health nuts.
(Fun article: coffee is good for you!)