I have a confession! Yes , it’s true….If there were a 12 step program for coffee junkies I would probably be way overqualified. I have loved the taste and aroma of a wonderful cup of coffee for as long as I can remember. Through impatience I have broken several French Presses, (my favorite way to brew a pot) and I have lived through the search for the perfect bit of Latte’ art which I find to be a fabulously fun affectation. I have been known to drive miles out of my way to avoid a Starbucks. I can’t help it, to me there’s just nothing more satisfying than a wonderful cup of perfectly brewed (not burnt) coffee, with just the right amount of milk and sugar and a touch of cinnamon. I’m pretty well a purist, no fancy syrup laden latte’s for me. My husband adores them, vanilla, pumpkin, caramel, you name it. He’s a coffee as dessert kind of guy and he’s definitely as sweet as all that. I’m the kind of girl who when wandering about in Paris would still want a Gitanes with my espresso , a chocolate macaron and a little bit of Voltaire. About as sweet as I get with a cup of coffee is the Mexican version that is served at my local cantina….a perfect blend of caramelized brown sugar, a bit of chocolate, a lot of fresh cinnamon and a simple mocha java.
Somewhere in the last 20 years though, at least in America coffee has became more of a necessity than a pleasure . Gone are the days when you had to make it yourself to have a wonderful pot of it, like my mother in law used to with her trusty percolator which made incredible coffee, now instead relaxing with a great cup of it, we can find it in every store and on every corner. Coffee has ceased to be a creative and relaxing part of the day or a luxurious part of the morning, a fact which I find to be very sad. I can remember when I was first dating my husband and he was living with his mom in Cincinnati . Sunday mornings were relaxing and wonderful, as you’d wake up to a wonderful breakfast cooking, the newspaper spread out all over the table, Stevie Wonder blasting through the stereo and a freshly brewed fabulously aromatic pot of Vietnamese with cinnamon coffee.
Another one of my favorite places to eat breakfast and drink coffee is in New York City in the dining room of the Park Lane Hotel. Here you can sit with a Sunday New York Times, look out the window onto Central Park and eat a wonderful breakfast. The coffee is superb, perfectly brewed and just the right temperature, served in a proper coffee cup and poured from a proper silver pot. Whenever I’m in New York this is how I start my day because relaxing in that gorgeous dining room readies me for a long day in the city. On the other coast every morning my sister starts her day at the local indie coffee shop, with a delicious cappuccino and her LA Times before she goes down to her studio to paint. This sort of treatment elevates a good cup of coffee to the level of soul experience, not simply a way to get though the day or a jumpstart to an overly fatigued body and mind. Sadly this is what we do with coffee these days and too much of it can burn out the adrenals and perpetuate the very exhaustion that we are trying to avoid. I’d like to propose a return to the concept of coffee as a leisurely pastime that is restorative, one where we brew a pot of it, share it with a good friend and just take some time for ourselves almost in the same way that we do with a lovely cup of tea! We’d drink a lot less of it and the moments we spend in its company would go further to relax us body and soul.
Coffee as a flavoring is superb! Most bakers know that the addition of a bit of brewed coffee to chocolate will enhance the flavor of the chocolate without masking it. My mother used to make the most amazing chocolate mousse layered in a crystal trifle bowl with sherry soaked lady fingers , whipped cream and caramelized almonds. I once asked her for a taste of it before she added the coffee. She smiled , indulged me and it was then that I discovered the particularly delicious chemistry that these two ingredients share. The combination is a legendary one, think of Jamocha Almond Fudge Ice cream or tiramisu! Mocha buttercream frosting ? Imagine the most devilish of possibilities but let’s just say that it’s not JUST for cake anymore! On the savory side powdered coffee grounds make a fabulous dry rub for barbecued beef , chicken or pork when mixed with salt and other spices like cinnamon, cumin and dried ancho chile and a little bit of espresso whisked into a barbecue sauce will help to give it a rich full bodied flavor ! A classic mole sauce can be jazzed up just a bit with the addition of a couple of tablespoons of strong , brewed coffee.
For a simple yet amazing coffee syrup, just take several cups of freshly brewed coffee and slowly reduce them with a cup or two of brown sugar and lots of cinnamon. Don’t let it burn and what you’ll be left with is a wonderful syrup that you can use in coffee or chocolate martinis or even a deliciously old fashioned ice cream parfait!
An added benefit is that used coffee grounds are a fabulous fertilizer for all of your houseplants and an excellent thing to add to your compost pile as they’re heavy in nitrogen and good for all acid loving plants especially your tomatoes!
So grab your seed catalogs, pour yourself a delicious cup of coffee, lace it with a bit of honey, cream and cardamom and float over to Roxana Villa’s deliciously Illuminated Journal to see what she’s dreamt up for you. I hear murmurings of a Mocha perfume and I am beside myself with passionate longing!
Coffee Photo by Beth Schreibman Gehring, Park Lane Dining Room courtesy of The Helmsley Park Lane Hotel, Photo of Tiramisu courtesy of http://calabriataste.files.wordpress.com