Red Espresso Is Actually Tea

Red Espresso

Red Espresso

I Paid: $8.65 for an 8.8-ounce pouch (prices may vary by region)

Taste: 4 stars

Marketing: 5 stars

Products like Red Espresso, a rooibos tea "enjoyed like coffee," aim to be the bridge between the premium coffee drinker of today and the premium tea drinker of tomorrow. The advantages of tea are debatable, but Red Espresso makes two specific claims: that the rooibos tea it's made from is naturally caffeine-free (that's a curse as well as a blessing, I'd argue) and that it's rich in antioxidants (also potentially a curse, depending upon whom you believe).

Regardless of the health benefits, Red Espresso is a lovely product, packaged in a slick, shiny red-and-white pouch that conveys both luxury and convenience. Red Espresso's herbal rooibos ("ROY-boss" or literally "red bush" tea in the Afrikaans language of Dutch-descended South Africans) has been ground very finely into a spicelike red powder that can be run through an espresso machine or a French press to create a coffee substitute that both is and isn't a good replacement for the real deal.

When served with milk and honey, its smooth, rich taste is stimulating and pleasing in a way that evokes an artisanal coffee beverage. You can pull shots of it and build drinks around it, like real espresso, or you can French-press it into a hot drink that, when dressed with honey and milk, is not quite coffeelike but is certainly tasty. Yet the missing caffeine is a literal buzzkill, in my book, and the almost applelike berry brightness of the rooibos is only vaguely connected to the flavors of coffee.

If you're looking to take caffeine out of your morning routine or just change your game when it comes to hot beverage consumption, Red Espresso is worth a try. If you're looking for a one-for-one coffee substitute, do not be deceived.

James Norton edits the Upper Midwestern food journal Heavy Table. He's also the coauthor of a book on Wisconsin's master cheesemakers. Follow CHOW on Twitter, and become a fan on Facebook.