Coffee and moms — perfect together. It's usually the first thing they think of when they wake in the morning — oh, that and the kids, of course!
For Americans, the national beverage is a steaming mug of rich, dark liquid. We insist that it's impossible to get moving, to think rationally, to answer coherently before those first couple of gulps, even if it's decaf.
In fact, almost all brands of decaffeinated coffee still contain a minimum amount of caffeine. According to the University of Florida Maples Center for Forensic Medicine, drinking five to 10 cups of decaf may deliver as much caffeine as one or two cups of regular. The bottom line: Coffee is a stimulant — the essential waker-upper.
Coffee's origin remains unclear. The earliest credible evidence of either coffee as a drink or coffee beans on a bush appears in the 15th century in Yemen. Evidently, beans were roasted and brewed in Sufi monasteries much in the same way as we do today. Another story notes that it was discovered in Yemen, but by a shepherd and his flock. (He probably chewed the beans to keep himself awake.)
History aside, it's quite a feat to go from green coffee beans to that stuff in your cup. The beans must undergo several processes before they become the familiar drip drink. First, the berries are picked, generally by hand. Then they are sorted by ripeness and color, and the flesh is removed, usually by machine.
The seeds or beans are fermented to remove the slimy layer still sticking to the beans. When fermentation is complete, large quantities of fresh water are flushed through.
Finally, the seeds are dried. The best method of drying the beans is to lay them out in a thin layer on raised tables so that air passes all round the beans.
Most African coffee is dried in this manner, and more coffee farms around the world are beginning to use this traditional method. In places where humidity is high, the coffee beans are dried in cylinders and heated air is pumped through.
Coffee is usually sold roasted. During the process, caramelization occurs. The intense heat breaks down starches, changing them to simple sugars that begin to brown. While these sugars are lost during the roasting, aromatic oils, such as caffeol, are created; this is largely responsible for the drink's aroma and flavor.
There is no single, best way to make coffee. The drip method is possibly the most widely used in American homes. The plunger — or cafetiere method — is now used and served in many coffee shops and fine restaurants. You can also buy all kinds of coffee makers these days — from a small French press to a complex cappuccino maker.
And then, there's instant. The quality of today's instant coffee has improved dramatically since its introduction by Nescafé in 1938. Indeed, there are many advantages to this over brewed. Its tightly capped lid keeps it fresh and flavorful almost indefinitely, and it's cheap, clean and convenient. I now keep a jar of instant on the kitchen counter for the times I rush home and just want to relax. There's no wait time and no pot-cleaning later.
Instant coffee also comes in handy for cooking purposes, so make sure to keep a small container around, just in case.
Try these recipes with — or for — your favorite lady on Mother's Day. She'll love you for it!
1/2 cup ice cubes or ice chips
2 scoops chocolate-mint ice-cream
1/4 cup very strong coffee
2 Tbsps. coffee syrup
1/4 cup or more milk
whipped cream/chocolate syrup for garnish
In a blender jar, place all ingredients, except for the garnish.
Whirl at high to blend.
Add more milk, if too thick.
Pour into a glass, and top with a dollop of whipped cream and drizzle with a little chocolate syrup.
Makes 2 servings.
nonstick baking spray with flour
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
2 Tbsps. espresso powder
3/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 cup chopped pistachios
3 eggs, lightly beaten
Preheat oven to 350°.
Spray a large baking sheet with nonstick baking spray with flour.
In a large bowl, stir together all of the dry ingredients, including the pistachios.
Make a well in the center. Pour in the eggs. Mix well to combine. Turn onto a floured board.
Take half of the mixture and form into a log about 12 inches by 2 inches.
Repeat with the remaining mixture. Place on prepared baking sheet about 3 inches apart.
Bake for 45 minutes, or until nicely golden and firm.
Remove from oven. Cut into 1-inch thick diagonal slices and arrange cut-side down on the baking sheet. Return to oven.
Bake 10 minutes longer. Turn heat off. Leave biscotti in oven for 45 minutes longer. Cool on a wire rack.
Makes 24 to 26 pieces.
Cappuccino Brownie Loaf
Bake at least one day ahead. Wrap and refrigerate. Slice from refrigerator. Freezes well or store in refrigerator for up to 10 days.
11/4 cups all-purpose flour
11/4 cups sugar
4 Tbsps. unsweetened cocoa powder
3 Tbsps. instant-coffee granules or 2 Tbsps. espresso powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup miniature chocolate chips
11/4 cups low-fat sour cream
11/4 tsps. orange extract
4 Tbsps. butter, melted
Preheat oven to 350°.
Spray a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray with flour. Line the bottom of pan with wax paper, then spray with cooking spray.
In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, cocoa, instant coffee or espresso, baking soda, salt and chocolate chips.
In a large bowl, whisk together the sour cream, egg, orange extract and butter.
Make a well in the center. Add the dry ingredients, mixing until just blended. Pour into prepared pan. Spread evenly, leaving a slight indentation in center.
Bake in preheated oven for 11/4 hours, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out with just a few crumbs adhering. Let stand in pan for 15 minutes.
Run a round-bladed knife around edges of pan to loosen. Cool completely on a wire rack. Wrap in plastic wrap, then foil. Store in refrigerator.
Makes 1 loaf (12-15 servings).
Chocolate-Covered Coffee Beans
Make these at home for less than half the store cost.
1/3 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup roasted coffee beans
Place the chocolate chips in a microwave-safe bowl.
Microwave for 25 seconds, or until glossy and softened. Stir to blend smoothly. If needed, cook 15 to 20 seconds longer.
Add several beans to the chocolate. Stir to coat.
Place on wax paper to harden. Repeat with remaining beans.
Freeze in a single layer. Store in an airtight container.
Makes about 1/2 cup.
'The Energize Smoothie'
3/4 cup frozen vanilla yogurt
1/2 banana, sliced
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup cold, strong coffee
1-2 Tbsps. wheat germ
honey or sweetener to taste
Place all of the ingredients in blender jar. Whirl to blend, about 20 seconds, at high.
Pour into a glass and enjoy.
Frozen Mocha Rosettes
Instant, impressive garnish for cakes and desserts.
1 tsp. instant coffee
2 tsps. cold water
3/4 cup whipping cream
1 Tbsp. sugar or to taste
2 Tbsps. grated chocolate
Cover a baking sheet with wax paper.
In a cup, dissolve the instant coffee in the water.
In a medium bowl, whip the whipping cream until just before soft peaks form. Add the coffee mixture and the sugar. Continue beating until stiff peaks form. Fold in the grated chocolate.
Using a piping bag and large star tip, pipe rosettes onto the lined cookie sheet. Place in freezer for 2 to 3 hours, or until firm. Remove and place in a freezer container. Cover tightly and freeze until needed.
Makes 10 to 12 pieces.
Ethel G. Hofman is a past president of the International Association of Culinary Professionals. E-mail her at: [email protected].