Freegan Harry Thompson told Come scavenge with me he couldn’t survive on what he gets from bins because he would not be able to function without coffee. Sometimes supermarkets and cafes throw out surplus beans that are past their best but this is rare.
But there is an alternative, the humble acorn.
Acorns are the best-known natural substitute for coffee, they are supposed to have a similar taste and effect and at this time of year there are loads of them all over London’s parks. Harry and I went for a walk on Hampstead Heath in North London and found a huge oak tree. The ground underneath it was covered with acorns so we gathered up a couple of handfuls and took them home, still skeptical that they would taste as good as a steaming hot latte from Costa.
Although I didn’t say anything to Harry, a hardened freegan, I was slightly concerned about eating something straight from the muddy Heath, so I was glad when he suggested boiling them before peeling them, for about 15 minutes. We let them cool before trying to peel off their hard outer shell and skin. This took a very long time although boiling them is meant to make peeling easier and reduce their bitterness. I had an experimental bite of a raw acorn and it was horribly sharp and astringent.
Once the peeling was done we put the acorns in a pestle and mortar and crushed them up as finely as we could before putting them in the oven at 200 degrees centigrade to roast until dark brown (around half an hour but keep checking so they don’t burn!)
Meanwhile, pop the kettle on (this is the easiest part). When the acorns are ready, put around three tablespoons in a cup of boiling water, stir and add milk and sugar to taste. Three large handfuls of acorns made more than enough for two cups.
The resulting brew did look like coffee and smelt pleasingly nutty. Surprisingly, it tasted quite nice, although not a bit like coffee. I usually drink my coffee black but this is much better with milk and sugar, which was not scavenged but bought from my local shop.
I don’t have the patience to lovingly hand peel acorns every time I want a caffeine fix but I would happily drink this acorn concoction again.