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Fans in withdrawal from coffee substitute Postum

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OREM — Dark and hot — but caffeine-free — Postum has reigned for decades as the "Mormon coffee" among members of the LDS Church.

Well, it did until this fall, when it was discontinued by Kraft Foods and pulled off store shelves, leaving the hot wheat bran imbibers looking for a suitable substitute.

"It's always a difficult decision to stop making a product, even when there is a very small-but-loyal user base," said Renee Zahery, spokeswoman for Kraft Foods. "But the reason is that the demand for this product overall, both nationally and on a regional level, had continued to decline."

That small-but-loyal fan base begs to differ and has been filling online blogs with Postum memories.

"Postum was a part of my childhood," blogs William Morris, the creator of "A Motley Vision," a site devoted to discussing Mormon arts and culture. "My mom is a fan, and us kids developed a taste for it. As a kid I saw it as something Mormon. Not as Mormon as Brigham tea, but much, much tastier."

The product's origin has nothing to do with Mormonism. It was developed in 1895 by Charles William Post, a Seventh-day Adventist who felt that caffeine was an unhealthy, addictive substance.

Black-and-white Postum ads from the early 1900s show a masked and caped Mister Coffee Nerves flying around, reprimanding people for their nervous, irritable behavior — all caused by coffee. But when the characters switch to Postum, the non-addictive coffee alternative, Mister Coffee Nerves disappears until the next cartoon.

Many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints chose the beverage because the church's religious code of ethics prohibits caffeinated coffees or teas.

Postum was also useful for folks who grew up drinking coffee, but later joined the LDS Church and had to renounce their caffeinated-beverage ways.

"I am a recent LDS convert and had no trouble giving up alcohol," wrote one person on a blog titled, "Postum: Coffee Substitute."

"Giving up coffee? Painful," she wrote, "Postum really helped with this."

Others liked Postum because it was easier on their stomachs and digestive systems.

But not everyone is mourning the loss. Karol Palmer of Orem said her father used to drink it all the time, and tried to persuade her to do the same.

"I tasted it a couple of times — and that was that," Palmer said. "I hadn't heard of it for so long I thought it had died long ago."

Palmer's husband, Glen, however, used to be an avid drinker, which explained the boxes of individual Postum packets shoved in a corner of the couple's food-storage room.

"It got stuck downstairs," Palmer said. "I didn't want any of it; (Glen) never said, 'Bring more up'; the kids wouldn't even think of drinking it."

So she cleaned the store room — and tossed the now-coveted substance out.

Many tone down the strong, dark flavor with brown sugar and milk or non-dairy creamer. Some throw in Nutrasweet or maple syrup. Some just use good old-fashioned cream.

"I love this stuff," writes another woman on the Postum blog. "My grandpa used to drink it, he'd add a little milk and sometimes honey. Best stuff ever. But he'd only share a spoonful with us. I'm going to be on a hunt for it now."

Good luck.

A search on Amazon.com shows a glass Postum bottle and has this note: "Currently unavailable. We don't know when or if this item will be back in stock."

And despite the dozens, if not hundreds of e-mail and phone complaints to Kraft Foods, the decision to stop production of Postum is likely permanent, Zahery said.

That's tough news to break to customers, said Stephen Bitter, store manager at the Provo Macey's, 1400 N. State. He still has customers asking about Postum, which has been off their shelves for about a month now.

"It's been such a routine for so many years, it's like pulling penicillin off the market," he said. "With any habitual pattern ... people like it, and want to keep it that way."

There are other products still on the market, like Pero, a hot drink from Switzerland made from barley, chicory and rye, or Cafix, another Switzerland concoction similar to Pero but with the addition of beet roots.

But for some, it's just not the same.

Rebecca Sample Bernstein, who comes from an LDS family, is hoping she has a container of Postum stashed away in a pantry somewhere. Even though she and her husband are not daily Postum drinkers, it's been a part of their lives since they began dating 20 years ago.

"I suppose that if you look at it in marketing terms, then right, they don't keep making things that only a few people buy," she said. "It's just something I expected to be there forever."

E-mail: sisraelsen@desnews.com