Can Tea-Based ‘Red Espresso’ Stand Up to Real Coffee?

Red Espresso Review

The latest entry in the We Try it So You Don’t Have To” series, OO’s coffee-loving, if not obsessed, editor delves into an “espresso ground tea” that is supposed to be both prepared and enjoyed like coffee.

Rooibos translates to “red bush” in Afrikaans. It’s a South African tea that’s increasingly finding favor amongst the health conscious for myriad reasons. Red Espresso is a product seeking to fill the gap between coffee and tea, bridging some advantages and practices from both beverages into a new product.

One of the tag lines on Red Espresso’s Web site reads “Who would have thought a tea could play by coffee’s rules?”

Who indeed? That’s quite a claim for a rooibos tea to be making. Would it prove appealing to a coffee drinker, one who’s interest in tea has been perfunctory at best?

The product’s claims are intriguing. Indeed, as a pot-a-day coffee drinker starting to suffer some ill effects, I’m looking to cut down by at least half my caffeine consumption. So Red Espresso’s lack of caffeine is appealing. Add to that the rich antioxidants (“5x more than green tea”), which claim benefits not limited to soothing headaches, boosting immune system, and aiding digestion, we’re talking “superfood in a cup” here. Oh, and non-diuretic is key as well.

But I drink coffee for enjoyment, both the culinary aspect and the ritual aspect. To me, “playing by coffee’s rules,” means that:

1] Its “grind” is compatible with a French Press or moka pot, and
2] The flavor is robust enough to withstand a coffee-style preparation.

I had no illusions that it would taste like coffee (nor does the company claim Red Espresso will do so), but to replace some of my coffee intake, I need something that’s robust, flavorful, and able to fit seamlessly into my wake-up routine.

The initial problem with Red Espresso is that it’s not widely available in stores yet. I ordered it (available on the company’s site or waited a couple weeks until it arrived (about $25 for two 8.8 oz packs).

But once I had it in hand, the action began.

I popped open one of the packs; it has a nice, fruity smell, and reminds somewhat of damp fall hayride through the pumpkin patch. The tea leaves do seem to approximate a coffee grind. However, the company even admits on the package that the grind is not consistent. Which for coffee is a problem in developing flavor, but for tea, who knows? I tossed it into my moka pot and began the process (my general methodology is outlined here).

Well, it turns out that I took the “prepare like it was coffee” thing a little too literally. It plugged my damned moka pot right up.

I started over, filling about half the basket instead. The process, and results, are pictured in the gallery below. By itself, it’s a strong, robust tea with a flavorful, fruity, slightly nutty taste that’s mildly sweet. Quite delicious, if maybe carrying a bit of a “health-foodish” essence in the flavor . . . a little like that inevitable aftertaste from snacks you’ve purchased at the vitamin shop. But it’s a really vibrant, woody, warming and pleasing flavor overall. Definitely has a little body to it. Much like coffee, a little milk and sweetener turned the flavor profile on its side, into something more like a dark cherry or berry flavor. I liked that as well. (Ideas for cocktails starting to form . . . paging Katie)

RESULT: I tried it . . . so you don’t have to. But, whether a coffee fan or tea lover, I really think you should. It could never replace my beloved coffee, but it surely will make cutting down easier, and add some variety to my beverage consumption to boot.


4 comments for “Can Tea-Based ‘Red Espresso’ Stand Up to Real Coffee?

  1. May 22, 2010 at 10:36 pm

    I just like the flavor. A friend had it in Sweden and now I want more.

  2. February 4, 2012 at 4:15 am

    This red espresso seems to be taking off. I don’t know if it will be an adequate replacement for coffee, definitely a healthier one.
    I quite enjoy my rooibos as an ice tea.

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