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The Art of Coffee

by Hardy Haberman
I've been slurping down a hot brown liquid that my parents had insisted was coffee since I was 12 years old. Since that time I labored under the misconception that I had become a coffee drinker. (After all, Mrs. Olsen told me I was drinking the richest kind.)
It wasn't until somewhere in my 24th year that I shuffled into the old Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans' French Quarter. There at a tiny cafe table, sticky with the powdered sugar from fresh bignets, that my coffee horizons were expanded. That first taste of French Roast coffee, laced with Chicory was a revelation. What had I been drinking? This drink had taste, body, and an aroma that left me almost breathless. After four cups, I left the cafe with two pounds of coffee and headed to my hotel in a caffeine induced euphoria.

That was in 1974. For a few years I mail ordered my coffee from the Crescent City, secure in the knowledge that I had found the ultimate cup of coffee. Later the French Roast brands began cropping up on shelves in my local Dallas supermarkets, and I began to experiment with different blends.

Then, in 1990, I made my first trip to Seattle, Washington. That year, the coffee craze was bubbling throughout the Pacific Northwest, poised to boil over across the nation. There were Espresso stands on almost every corner that summer. I even bought a cup of coffee from a street vendor with a big thermos strapped to his back. This was a city powered by caffeine, and not just the store bought grind, these jittery folks had made coffee brewing and drinking an art.

So who started this whole Coffee thing? Some people blame the Aztecs, who called an infusion made with the beans the "drink of the Gods" but the history books look to the Arab world, noting that it was first cultivated in Yemen. Needless to say, the bean is popular in Java, which is actually west of Krakatoa, despite what the movie said. The bean is second only to cocaine as a cash crop in Colombia, and in Brazil more people dance and in Brazil more samba dancers drink coffee than any other single drink, save water. Coffee is grown in at least 25 countries throughout the world, although many types never make it to the United States. (For those who are sticklers for facts, don't check these too closely.)

coffee mug The bean, or coffee berry, as it appears on the tree, is dried and roasted in a variety of ways. Most commercial coffee in the U.S. is roasted only until it turns brown. Just enough to dry it out for grinding. There is the big problem! Unless the beans are roasted until they are fully dry, a lot of the flavor is lost. The dark roasts are the heartiest of the coffees. Additionally, the left over moisture in the beans makes them heavier, and so you get less coffee per pound with most brand name coffees.

Specialty houses, like the temple of caffeine, Starbuck's, roast the beans fully, leaving them slick and oily they come out of the roaster with a slight oily look, and brew a cup of coffee that really delivers the flavor of the bean. Happily, due to Mother Nature and enterprising botanists, there are hundreds of varieties of bean.

A Gallery of Coffee Drinks
Cafe Mexicano
While living in Mexico city, I found that most coffee served after a meal prepared in this way. Plain old brewed coffee, south of the border, is considered Cafe Americano.

1. Ground coffee, preferably a Mexican bean like Oaxacan (pronounced "wa-ha-kan")
2. A fresh cinnamon stick
3. Mexican cocoa or chocolate, unsweetened

Measure ample coffee for a strong brew into the filter basket. Break the cinnamon stick into several pieces and place it on top of the ground coffee. Add 1/4 teaspoon of powdered cocoa to the grounds. Serve with an ample shot of heavy cream and sugar.

As this brews, the aroma of cinnamon and cocoa is irresistible. Serve it with a couple of plain sugar cookies and it makes a great light desert.

Orange Mist Coffee
This delightful scented coffee drink can be served sweetened or unsweetened as the guest prefers. I first tasted it in Winter Haven, Florida.

1. Ground French roast or Viennese coffee
2. Orange flower water (find this at a gourmet store or herb shop)
3. A spiral of fresh orange peel

Brew a moderate pot of French roast coffee. In the bottom of a cup, place 1/8 teaspoon of Orange Flower Water. Pour the hot coffee over it and garnish the edge of the cup with the orange peel spiral. My host told me to rub the rim of the cup, much like you would with a lemon peel for espresso, before drinking.

Thai Iced Coffee
In the summer nothing beats this chilling treat. It goes great with a meal or as an afternoon cooler.

1. Ground French roast coffee
2. Condensed sweetened milk
3. Ice

Brew the coffee TWICE to THREE TIMES as strong as normal. Mix about a half a cup of coffee with 2 tblsp. of condensed milk and pour over lots of crushed ice.

Coffee Terminology

French Press Coffee
The French Press is a method involving a cylindrical pot having a mesh plunger that moves up and down its interior. Suitable amounts of ground coffee are placed in the pot and covered with just boiled water. After the mixture is allowed to steep for a few minutes, the plunger is pushed down trapping all the coffee ground in the bottom of the pot. Most French Press makers are glass, and add a decorative touch to an after dinner coffee serving.

Percolated Coffee
The ground coffee is placed in a metal basket which is suspended above the water level in the percolator pot. By means of a metal tube, heated water rises to a level above the basket and spills through it. In this way, first water, then less and less dilute liquid coffee flows over the grounds until it reaches the desired consistency. This is generally considered the least desirable way to make coffee.

Drip Coffee
This is the method used in most commercial coffee-makers. Ground coffee is placed in a filter basket and hot water is dripped through it into a pot below. Water can be boiled in a separate container or can come from a reservoir attached to the brewer. The "Mr. Coffee"-style makers fall into this category.

Espresso is made as its name implies, quickly. It involves a machine which forces steam through the coffee grinds. This condenses as it reaches the metal brewing nozzle and flows into a waiting demi-tasse cup below. Espresso machines are designed to make this process relatively simple, although non-mechanical, stove-top devices can simulate a machine brew. Contrary to what you might think, espresso contains no more caffeine than regular coffee, and in the case of perked coffee, less.

Vacuum Brew
Similar to drip coffee, with a theatrical twist. Two containers are fastened together by means of an air tight seal. The upper container holds the ground coffee. The lower container holds the water. As the water reaches brewing temperature, it is forced by the increasing pressure of the hot air in the pot through a tube into the cooler upper container. There it mixes with the grounds. As the heat is removed from the lower container and pressures normalize, the liquid flows back into the lower container through a filter screen. The effect is similar to drip brewed coffee, and when using a glass apparatus to brew, it makes both an attractive presentation and a good physics lesson.

Turkish Coffee
A Turkish dinner is always finished off with Turkish coffee; Dark roasted arabaca beans ground powdery fine, this coffee is simmered with sugar in a special long-handled pot called "cezve". It is served unstrained, giving the guest a chance for polite conversation while the coffee ground settle to the bottom of the cup.

Cowboy Boiled Coffee
The wild west version of turkish coffee. Ground coffee is placed directly in a small enameled coffee pot, water is added and brought to a boil. Strange as it sounds the secret ingredient is an egg shell. Cowpokes tell me this takes the acid taste out of the brew. Allow the grounds to settle in the pot before pouring.

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