The Ardent Epicure

An Ode to the Pleasures of Food

9:00 PM

Food of the Day - Coffee

Posted by Truffle Shuffle

Since childhood, one of my greatest pleasures in life has been drinking coffee.  There is not much I like more than a nice cup of coffee.  I started drinking coffee regularly when I was in elementary school, and I still drink it constantly.  I don't think many of my friends and family members would recognize me without a cup of coffee in my hand!
Coffee is wonderful enjoyed as a drink in one of its many forms, or used as an ingredient in various foods from cakes and other baked products, to ice cream, to sauces, to candy.  Although coffee is best known (as an ingredient) in sweet products, it can be also used to add a distinctive flavor to many savory dishes.
What Is It?
From Cherry to Bean
Coffee is a plant grown in many parts of the world.  This plant bears a fruit, called a coffee cherry, the seeds inside which eventually help create that drink known and loved throughout the world.  The unripe fruit is green, but ripens into a nice bright red, hence the moniker "cherry".
 Coffee Plant
The seeds from this "cherry" are cultivated, and are usually a dull yellow or green color.  While the beans in this form have little use, they hold the potential to create all of the coffee and coffee-flavored food items we know and love.
 Raw Coffee Beans
The beans are then roasted, which brings out their natural oils, and causes them to have that coffee flavor with which we are all familiar.  Varying types of beans from all over the world can be roasted from light to dark roasts, to create every kind of coffee imaginable!

                        Light  Beans                    
Dark Beans

Does Country Matter?
In this case, yes it does.  Coffees from all over the world have distinctive flavors, as different as any cheese, wine, or other food.  From the dark, bitter roasts of Italy, to the pungent, floral flavors of Central America, I recommend that you try coffees from everywhere.  It is like a journey in a cup that can take your across the world with just a sip.
Some of the best coffees in the world come from Ethiopia (the origin of coffee as we know it), Indonesia, Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, and Costa Rica, and Jamaica to name just a few.  Don't be afraid to try them all!  Whether you like the soft, subtle notes of a breakfast coffee, to the rich, deep flavors of an Italian coffee drink, you are in for a treat.
What Do I Look For?
When checking out a coffee, there are a few things you can do to test it for quality.  First, see if it is from one of the countries I mentioned.  While some more expensive coffees may be a special treat, you can find some of the best coffees right here if you look around.
Take a whiff! If your coffee smells good, it is more likely to taste that way.  Make sure the coffee is fresh, and try to buy coffee that is not previously ground, when possible.  In general, darkly-roasted coffees, as well as coffees that appear slick or oily, are those that will yield the most flavor.
How Do I Make It Myself?
There are several different ways of making coffee at home.  You can use a coffee maker, an espresso machine (for dark espresso roasts), a french press, or any other machine made for making coffee (there are many types out there, old and new).  Many people like the rich flavor of a french press, while the automation of a drip coffee pot can be quite a "perk" (what, that wasn't funny?  Sorry...)  However you make your coffee, experiment with different measurements until you find the balance that suits you.
The Grind
If you buy whole bean coffee, you need to grind it before you can use it.  Most places you buy coffee will grind it for you, just be aware that it should be used quickly for optimal freshness.  Store unused coffee in an air-tight container, in a cool, dry place.
 Ground Coffee
Or, you can use a coffee grinder to grind it yourself.  For most coffee makers, a medium grind will be appropriate.  Too coarse, and your coffee may come out weak; too fine, and it may come out muddy.  Basically, you want a coarse grind for a french press, a medium grind for a normal machine, and a very fine (Turkish) grind for espresso. 
Note: try using an espresso blend coffee in your regular machine.  Grind and make it like regular coffee, and you are in for a rich, dark treat!
What Do I Put In It?
I enjoy my coffee black.  However, there are many wonderful ways to spice up your coffee, or add a different level of taste.  Try adding half and half, milk, raw sugar, honey, cinnamon, nutmeg, ground chocolate, or flavored syrups to your coffee for a little kick.  But to really enjoy the true flavor of the beans, try drinking your coffee without any additives.
A few flavors that go very well with coffee are chocolate, mint, vanilla, caramel, hazelnut, brandy (or cognac), Irish cream, raspberry, cherry, and cinnamon.
Espresso -  The Grand Duke of Coffees
Espresso is a very bold, darkly-roasted coffee.  Espresso is very strong, and is made in a special coffee maker called an espresso machine.  The coffee is ground to a very fine powder, and packed tightly in the machine.  Then, very hot water is forced through the coffee, resulting in a powerful, dark drink full of flavor (not to mention caffeine!)  While this drink can be enjoyed on its own (usually in small amounts), it is often used to make espresso drinks, such as cappuccino, macchiato, latte, mocha, and many others.  The very strong coffee mixes well with warm milk, and creates a drink that many prefer over the taste of a regular coffee with milk.  While a cup of coffee usually has mostly coffee and a small amount of milk, an espresso drink is quite the opposite: a large amount of milk, into which "shots" of espresso are added as desired (with a couple of exceptions).  Here are a few of the most notable espresso drinks available at most specialty coffee houses:
Espresso - served in small cups, usually containing one or two shots of pure espresso.
Red Eye - a  cup or coffee with a shot of espresso (often known as a Black Eye when two shots are added).
Latte - a large amount of steamed milk, with a shot or more of espresso, sometimes topped with foamed milk.
Cappuccino -  Very similar to a latte, but with much less steamed milk, and much more foamed milk. Stronger than a latte.
Macchiato - Foamed milk "marked" with a shot or more of espresso.
Mocha - an espresso drink made with steamed milk, espresso, chocolate syrup or powder, and steamed milk or whipped cream.  Basically a chocolate latte.
Espresso Con Panna - Espresso topped with whipped cream.
Americana - Espresso combined with hot water, to create a less intense flavor.
Note: Try ordering your espresso drinks wet (with more milk), dry (with less milk), breve (made with half and half), or iced.  These are just a few of the coffee world terms out there one can use to personalize a favorite beverage.
Coffee As An Ingredient
Coffee can also be added to many food products to add an amazing depth of flavor.  Most of us have had coffee-flavored ice cream or pastries, and the flavors often go hand-in hand.  Also, try adding coffee to some of your savory dishes.  Try it with pork chops, barbeque, gravy, or anything else you think might fit!  You can also use freeze-dried coffee, or brewed coffee to flavor many desserts, giving them something new.
Want to try something special?  Try taking finely-ground coffee or espresso, and using it as a spice: sprinkle it over meat dishes or sauces.  You might be surprised!
Wine And Cheese... How About Coffee And Dessert?

Coffee is just one of those things that goes great with many things, from breakfast to dessert.  It's hard to go wrong with adding a cup of espresso or a new coffee and milk to your dessert menu, but try to choose flavors that mix well.  A tiramisu with a dark Italian coffee, for instance, or a fragrant Guatemala with a cinnamon coffee cake.  Also, for a special treat to add to any meal, I highly recommend Starbucks Casi Cielo, a coffee designed to drink with food.  It is one of my favorites, and pairs well with dessert or a main dish.

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