Missoulians have an affinity for locally grown food and love their coffee, but, alas, there's no local coffee, since coffee plants prefer the tropics. Barley, though, thrives in Montana, and an entrepreneurial farmer in Conrad is out to prove that it makes a good coffee substitute.
Earlier this year, Linda O'Brien began marketing RoBarr, a brewed beverage made of Montana-grown, ground, roasted barley, with a touch of chicory, which was a common coffee substitute during the Great Depression.
"It's similar to coffee, but without the acid after-bite...it's mellower than coffee because it doesn't have those acids," O'Brien says. "But it's more robust than tea...I tell people that it's kind of in between tea and coffee."
I bought a bag from the Good Food Store and poured boiling water over the sandy grounds in a filter. The brown brew had a mild, nutty flavor. O'Brien says she adds a creamer that makes RoBarr—which is caffeine-free—taste like a chocolate mocha. She says it can also be used to make cappuccinos, frappuccinos—just about any coffee drink.
It took O'Brien about two years of experimenting, she says, before coming up with a recipe she thought tasted good and could be recreated consistently. She and her husband grow barley on their farm, but in 2010 they sold their yield to Anheuser-Busch, "so if you're drinking my barley now, you're drinking beer." They're hoping part of this year's barley crop will be used for RoBarr.
The beverage reflects the growth in the production of value-added agricultural products, seen as a way for farmers and ranchers to earn a premium compared to what they'd otherwise make on the commodity market.
"Sales have been really good," O'Brien says. "I wasn't expecting this to grow very quickly...I now have over 15 stores that are selling it for me."
O'Brien will visit the Good Food Store on June 11 to offer free samples.