Most people would not think to put a blend of mushrooms in their coffee.
No, not the white button or Portobello mushrooms you buy at the supermarket and sauté in butter.
Reishi Roast of Santa Rosa is a blend that includes reishi and chaga mushrooms that grow on trees and are hard and woody in texture. They are common in Maine and elsewhere in the northeast. They are good for boosting the immune system, de-stressing and detoxifying the body, proponents say.
“It’s a great way of getting herbal medicine into people’s hands, having a brewable herbal product that tastes like coffee and is rich and has the depth that coffee has,” said Lily Mazzarella, who along with Amy Charnay are co-founders and owners of Reishi Roast.
Both women are herbal nutritionists who met in graduate school in Maryland in 2003, and have been mixing herbs together ever since. And they talk about blending herbs with the same enthusiasm that astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson talks about galaxies in the universe.
“We both enjoy the art and science behind different products, the way plants are used, and combining herbs and looking at how they might blend synergistically,” said Charnay.
Charnay has a background in product development for teas, oil blends, and other natural products. Mazzarella is also the owner of Farmacopia, a natural apothecary and integrated pharmacy in Santa Rosa. She also blend teas, infused oils, and salts, unique to Farmacopia.
Reishi Roast is made with roasted chicory root, reishi and chaga mushrooms, dandelion root, cacao pods and other herbs. The suggested method of preparation is steeping in a French press.
What does it taste like?
What it doesn’t taste like is mushrooms. It has a depth and richness like coffee, without the bite, and is earthier. Chicory is an ingredient sometimes added to coffee to soften the bitter edge, and the cacao adds a slightly chocolatey flavor.
It’s also a neutral herbal blend, not stimulating or sedating. It can be brewed with coffee or on its own.
There is also a liquid version which can be blended with coconut milk. According to Mazzarella, it tastes “like a very good white Russian.”
So who drinks this stuff?
Charnay and Mazzarella say they drink it every day. It nourishes the nervous system, and is good for those experiencing burnout, restlessness, and fatigue. It supports the adrenal glands, the immune system, and overall health.
It’s also used by those who don’t drink or are weening themselves off coffee.
“Some people can drink coffee and they’re fine, others are anxious all day and can’t sleep and shouldn’t be drinking it,” Mazzarella said. “We’ve seen people apologizing and confessing to us for their coffee habits.”
Without a suitable product to recommend for replacing coffee, the duo saw a demand for the product they have been making some version for themselves for about 10 years. In May 2014 they started packaging it.
At Reishi Roast’s first launch, at an herbal symposium, it sold out in two hours. It has also won two awards from the American Herbalist Guild. At the annual Renegade Craft Fair in San Francisco, “our booth was swamped the entire weekend with a crowd five or six people deep. We thought it was going to be a tough sell. What the hell? This is a coffee mushroom drink? I guess the market was more ready for it than we knew,” Mazzarella said.
The product costs about $23 for an 8-ounce bag. It can only be purchased at Farmacopia or online at its website.
Business is mostly from word of mouth, and demand for the roast comes from as far away as Australia and Europe.
The Nectary in the Barlow in Sebastopol will soon be serving it by the cup, as will a new restaurant in Oakland.
A PURE PRODUCT
Charnay and Mazzarella are fanatical about the purity of their product. They would rather run out of stock — which they have — than use ingredients that are not sourced and processed up to their standards, which include environmental, pesticide and ethical issues.
“In theory the ingredient that’s listed is what’s left in the end product. But has it been correctly identified in the first place?” Mazzarella said. “Does it have fungal or microbial contamination? In extracting herbal medicine unhealthy solvents may linger, and there are issues of contamination. You can’t be 100 percent sure it’s all been removed.”
So how do you really know what you’re eating or drinking? A lot of times you don’t.
“That’s why we’re doing what we’re doing,” Mazzarella said. “That’s the point of Farmacopia as well. We carry products that are third party tested. We’re making sure that things meet label claim. We know that each herb that we receive is what it says it is, and it doesn’t have too much of a viral or bacterial load.”
Chaga mushrooms, for example, grown on trees in Siberia can accumulate heavy metals.
Aflatoxins are also a big problem. They are naturally forming carcinogens produced by certain fungi found on a variety of herbs, spices, and crops such as coffee, peanuts, and also mushrooms.
Aflatoxins are ubiquitous in natural products, and Charnay and Mazzarella have been in the business long enough to know whom does and does not test for them. They employ a Canadian firm that preforms “the most rigorous testing we’ve ever seen” on the ingredients. The product is blended in Sebastopol by an equally thorough company.
“We have vetted all our suppliers and make sure they test for those things, and we don’t accept any batches of herbs that don’t meet our standards,” Mazzarella said.
Cynthia Sweeney covers health care, hospitality, residential real estate, education, employment and business insurance. Reach her at Cynthia.Sweeney@busjrnl.com or call 707-521-4259.
CORRECTION: Charnay does not blend teas or other signature products for Farmacopia, they are created by Mazzarella.