7
$\begingroup$

Context is the same as in a previous question.

Summing up: a rebuilt, ultra-modern city state after an apocalypse where everything's produced in underground farms, and as such, certain commodities are extremely rare, coffee and tea being two of these.

In this scenario, it's more like a post-post-apocalyptic age; that is, this particular society has returned to an approximately post-Cold War era development level. Among others, it implies the need for certain less vital nutrition sources, such as energy boosting beverages; production however is absolutely unable to keep up in capacity.

It doesn't mean people are not trying, though, so I'd imagine there are products that are not as efficient as coffee, but are still loved and widespread due to their accessibility, among other factors. (advertisement, etc.)

What other products can come into the picture? What can substitute coffee as an energy source?

It doesn't have to be caffeinated, but it has to provide energy boost; also, I can image synthesizing caffeine is not impossible.

$\endgroup$
12
  • 17
    $\begingroup$ You seem to have several fairly obvious logical flaws here. 1) If the city is at an approximate Cold War level of development, why don't they just go get coffee and tea? Sailing ships did a perfectly good job. 2) If they're growing food in underground farms, they have to be well beyond Cold War technology (or modern, FTM). 3) There are lots of other sources of caffeine (and drugs with similar effects), including synthesis. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jun 25 '20 at 17:38
  • 15
    $\begingroup$ caffeinated workers are not more productive than uncaffeinated ones, it is just a luxury good. sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031938405002258 $\endgroup$ – John Jun 25 '20 at 17:39
  • 27
    $\begingroup$ "What can substitute coffee as an energy source?" Coffee is not an energy source. The sugar or the cream which some people add to coffee may be energy sources if in sufficient amount, but for the same effect you can add them to any beverage. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jun 25 '20 at 17:44
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @jamesqf most of the answers for these are superfluous details I left out on purpose: 1) they have coffee and coffee plants, but in very small amounts. The location is also very isolated, so no trading whatsoever. 2) They are well beyond Cold War technology, in certain fields. Imagine sort of an atompunk-cyberpunk hybrid setting. $\endgroup$ – Katamori Jun 25 '20 at 17:51
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Adding to what @AlexP stated, the fact that caffeine is a stimulant actually means that barring adding carbohydrates or protein in some form, it's a net energy drain. Stimulants don't give you energy, they make you run through it faster, hence why they actually make people who already have an unusually fast metabolism feel exhausted without any seeming burst of energy. $\endgroup$ – Austin Hemmelgarn Jun 26 '20 at 1:25

11 Answers 11

25
$\begingroup$

Look at what people used as surrogate for coffee during war times, when coffee was a luxury good.

Just out of the top of my head I can name, pure or mixed:

  • roasted barley
  • roasted chicory
  • roasted malt

Some of them are still sold today.

$\endgroup$
9
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Sorry, my question wasn't obvious: I meant substitutes that can actually provide energy for who consumes it; the answer is still useful though, because I'd like to explore the deeper consequences of coffee being unavailable for mass consumption. $\endgroup$ – Katamori Jun 25 '20 at 17:29
  • 27
    $\begingroup$ "Explore the deeper consequences of coffee being unavailable for mass consumption": there are no consequences. Coffee is a very late addition to the list of beverages commonly available in Europe, and an even later addition in the Far East. Human civilizations survived just fine without coffee for thousands of years, and nobody felt that they were missing something. And anyway, tea contains the exact same alkaloid and has the exact same effect; cacao, yerba maté and kola nuts are also rich in caffeine. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jun 25 '20 at 17:52
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @AlexP I meant rather low-level details: to figure out, what beverages you can see in the store shelves, and so on. How people talk about it. I'm working on a story-heavy game for which these might be interesting details later on. $\endgroup$ – Katamori Jun 25 '20 at 17:54
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Any of these could be easily turned into an energy-boosting drink by adding a little synthetic caffeine. The technology to synthesize caffeine has been around at least since WW2, and should be well within the reach of the society described in the question. $\endgroup$ – plasticinsect Jun 25 '20 at 18:32
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @Katamori -- As has already been mentioned, coffee is not a source of energy. If you want actual energy, drink Ensure. $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Jun 25 '20 at 19:39
19
$\begingroup$

Synthetic caffeine was first developed during WWII precisely due to shortages in supply of naturally caffeinated products like coffee. Today, synthetic caffeine is cheaper than sourcing it naturally, and it is extremely widespread as an additive in soft drinks, energy drinks, and other caffeinated products - the US alone imports millions of kilograms of the stuff each year. With post-Cold War technology, I see no major impediment to being able to synthesize caffeine as an additive for any energy-boosting food or beverage.

It might take some doing to make "Synthetic Caffeine Beverage #7" as culturally widespread and popular as coffee, but there's not much technically that would prevent caffeinated beverages from becoming widespread even in a complete absence of coffee.

$\endgroup$
3
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ "It might take some doing to make 'Synthetic Caffeine Beverage #7' as culturally widespread and popular as coffee" ...Soda has already achieved that. (Yes, not all soda is caffeinated. Then again, there's also "decaffeinated" coffee.) $\endgroup$ – Matthew Jun 25 '20 at 21:01
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ So, basically, they're drinking Coca-Cola. $\endgroup$ – Robyn Jun 26 '20 at 3:38
  • $\begingroup$ decadentdecaf.com/blogs/decadent-decaf-coffee-co/… $\endgroup$ – Robyn Jun 26 '20 at 3:39
7
$\begingroup$

It's not clear exactly how arid the surrounding "wasteland" is, but in your other post you do mention "bandits and raiders", and it's probable that they'd want to get their fix, too.

In this case, might I recommend ephedra? Ephedra plants grow wild and abundant in all sorts of arid places, including Central Asia and the American Southwest (the latter being what gave ephedra-based drinks the nicknames "Mormon tea" or "Indian tea" - from Mormon settlers and Native Americans (respectively) brewing it for medicinal use). Needless to say, ephedra plants could thrive even in an arid wasteland.

In terms of effects, ephedrine and pseudoephedrine both have effects similar to caffeine. They're also somewhat thermogenic, so if the wasteland's particularly cold (which seems like it'd be a possibility; deserts often have cold nights for the same reason they have hot days: lack of water to absorb heat) there'd be a practical reason for even bandits/raiders to harvest it (or even outright cultivate it).

Ephedra's also a popular ornamental shrub, so if you have people living above-ground (or even below-ground but with enough light to keep a potted ephedra or two around), it could be popular (and a potted ephedra or two in a character's home could be a hint that said character might've been a former wastelander wanting a taste of home).

The city could take this further and produce something with synthetic ephedrine, possibly mixing it with synthetic caffeine as others suggested (ephedrine and caffeine happen to somewhat "boost" each other when taken together; the "ECA stack" popular with bodybuilders is quite literally ephedrine + caffeine + aspirin).

Of course, like any drug, ephedrine's got its share of side effects, increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke. It's also documented to have psychological effects (paranoia, hostility, even hallucinations in rare cases), which might play into its popularity among bandits/raiders.

$\endgroup$
1
  • $\begingroup$ That's an amazing idea, thanks for going the extra mile! $\endgroup$ – Katamori Jun 26 '20 at 9:42
5
$\begingroup$

Artificial coffee

You suggest that "synthesizing caffeine is not impossible." You are correct. This quote comes from 1977, which means the technology level is lower than your world:

[...] there are two main sources for caffeine: from coffee as a byproduct of decaffeinated coffee manufacture and the total synthesis from urea and chloroacetic acid. The current use of caffeine in the United States is about 7 MM lb/yr, half of which is natural and half synthetic. (Source)

So you can create the caffeine. Now what about the flavor? If you want to go down the rabbit hole on this topic, I recommend the book Pandora's Lunchbox. Food scientists can create just about any flavor artificially. (Somehow I miss the old Jones Soda Thanksgiving Pack.) If you want a natural flavor, check out Postum. It's an old coffee alternative and you still see it in grocery stores here in Washington DC. You could easily imagine food scientists adding synthetic caffeine to either an artificial or natural flavor and ending up with something that looks and tastes just like coffee.

For the purposes of your story, you could have people buying what is basically pre-ground coffee and making it in their coffee pots. It could have the same taste, caffeine level, and social rituals.

$\endgroup$
4
$\begingroup$

You can make kvass, a refreshing wheat/bread/rye-based drink. Its main effective component is lactic acid, which is how it differs from beer - the production process is almost the same, but kvass is made with different fermentation conditions.

Lactic acid is a great source of energy for a human. It's even better than coffee, since coffee is a drug and exhausts energy reserves while kvass replenishes them.

It still contains a small amount of alcohol - it's actually an alcohol-based energy drink. And since wheat is highly available in your setting, it can be produced en-mass.

P.S. It is very popular in Slavic countries. I personally drink it a lot, when it is hot and I am not driving.

$\endgroup$
2
$\begingroup$

Certain Amino acids work well as an energy booster, In the fitness energy drinks industry caffeine free drinks are a large segment of the market. Taurine, Citruline malate and Arginine to name a few can give a boost of energy and focus, Arginine works like nitrous for cars increasing oxygen in blood flow. Amino acid powders are usually created by fermentation of milk or offcuts from animals with the concentrated residue being dried into a powder, so their not too difficult to make and generally rely on waste products like animal bones and skin.

$\endgroup$
2
$\begingroup$

https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2014/03/13/289750754/wake-up-and-smell-the-caffeine-its-a-powerful-drug

Most caffeine used in soft drinks is synthetic in origin. This has been the case for some time. It isn't absurd to think this would continue. Flavorings (and carbonation, or none) could be added. With modern technology, they might even manage to imitate coffee (though poorly, one might imagine) directly.

Other mild stimulants are also possible. Theobromine possibly. Depends on the social mores for your culture.

$\endgroup$
2
$\begingroup$

Maybe try Kombucha? A SCOBY (starter culture) can survive as long as enough sources of carbohydrates are available. In addition, SCOBYs can be used to make synthetic leather and can be used as a meat-like source of protein.

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

Since YellowApple's answer mentioned ephedra, you could go one step further: meth. Clandestine chemists can use pseudoephedrine and ephedrine, which are in ephedra, to make meth. You probably don't need a Ph.D. in chemistry from CalTech to do so. In Japan during WWII, meth in tablet form was widely available for workers and soldiers who needed to work during the night. So, meth had the role that Red Bull and other energy drinks have nowadays, and it is totally feasible even with a pre-Cold War level of technology.

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

If the property of coffee you want to emulate is stimulant/addictiveness (rather than taste or similar) you could consider nicotine, amphetamines or cocaine.

All of which are pre-cold-war, and can be synthesised in a laboratory. Nicotine doesn't have to be smoked, so you don't have to get lung cancer to use it; stop-smoking products are available as everything from patches to lozenges.

More exotic options include Modafinil and Piracetam - they're post-cold-war, but if you're going for lab-made synthetic stimulants you could use these if you want something with less 'social baggage' than nicotine, meth or coke. Or you could use a fictional placeholder with whatever properties make for a good story, I doubt readers will be complaining that your post-apocalyptic go pills don't have a direct real-world analogue.

$\endgroup$
0
$\begingroup$

During WW2, when all coffee was reserved for the Wehrmacht, for civilian use the Germans employed a reportedly nauseating substitute made from roasted acorns and walnuts, which was touted to be "stärkend, gesund und schmackhaft" (strengthening, healthy and tasty). Like chicory and the like, it hardly seems like an ideal swap.

That being said, if emulating the taste, aroma and caffein-content of real coffee, modern chemistry is more than capable of synthesizing caffeine as well as the various terpenes, flavonoids and other compounds that could comprise a believable substitute. However, unless this could be achieved on an economically viable scale (in a post-apocalypse), the delicious taste of coffee would likely remain some labcoat's rare, guilty pleasure.

I'm reminded of Doc's steam-driven ice-making contraption in Back to the Future 2. Iced Latte, anyone?

$\endgroup$

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.