Monthly Archives: October 2015

Cafe de olla: A Mexican tradition

Next week, on Monday 2nd November, Mexico celebrates the Day of Dead (Dia de muertos): a combination of prehispanic traditions in Mexico and the Catholic influence as the Catholic Church celebrates All Saint’s Day on November 1st and All Soul’s Day on November 2. But only in Mexico these celebrations became a festivity, a moment not only to remember those who have died but evem more to celebrate their life, legacy and memories. By celebrating with them, they remain with us!
Life and death are important symbols in Mexican culture.

The day of the death used to be a prehispanic celebration that, when the Spanish conquered what is now Mexico, was moved from summer to November 2nd. On this day we honour death: we show her that we are thankful and not afraid of her. Yet we show her in the most playful way that we rather stay away for her for as long as possible. The celebrations begin weeks in advance when families create a shrine at home, decorated in colorful paper, orange flowers called Cempazuchitl that flower around this time of the year, sugar skulls, pictures of the dead family members and their favourite food, drinks and possessions. On the day itself the cemeteries get these colorful decorations too and families go there with the Mariachi to play music next to the tombs. It is a party!

During this whole celebration time we eat a special sweet bread called “Pan de muerto” (bread of dead) that is decorated with little bread bones. And what better companion for sweet bread than warm coffee? So for the occasion we prepare one of Mexican finest traditions: Cafe de olla (coffee of the pot). It is called in this way because it is prepared in a big clay pot as a drink for the whole family. I will give you the recipe of my family, but reduced to make only 3 cups:
3 cups of water
3 tablespoons of coarse ground coffee
1 clove
1 cinnamon stick
1/4 orange peel (zest)
Small cone of “piloncillo” or about 30 gr of brown sugar
“Piloncillo” in Mexico, panela in other Latin American countries is unrefined whole cane sugar.

Let's spice it up!
Let’s spice it up!

To prepare the Cafe de olla, first put the water, sugar, clove, cinamon and orange peel in the pot at high heat until boiling point, then lower to medium heat before adding the coarse ground coffee. Let it in the heat for around 5 mins. Then, sieve it through a fine cloth for the spices and the coffee to be retained. Serve the coffee in a traditional clay pot.
I choose a Mexican coffee for Cafe de olla, of course. I prefere to use a mild coffee to complement the flavour of clove and cinnamon, such as the Coatepec coffee from my store. This is a balanced coffee and rich in aroma. The added orange peel will give a fresh note to the beverage as well as a smooth sweetness.

Rich in aroma, smooth in flavour coarse ground Coatepec coffee
Rich in aroma, smooth in flavour coarse ground Coatepec coffee
Cafe de olla
Cafe de olla

The smell of the spices combine with the coffee immediately reminds me of home!

Chococcino!

It’s October and as the temperature in the Netherlands drops (though we still have to work our way through lots of rainy days usually) I feel more and more the need of warm coffee and warm chocolate, and so the inevitable question arises: why not combine the two of them? This creates one of my ultimate guilty pleasures: a chococcino!

Chocolate, cinnamon and coffee!
Chocolate, cinnamon and coffee!

It is very easy to prepare, just think of a cappuccino but instead of regular milk use chocolate milk and follow the rule-of-thumb of “thirds”:
1. Prepare a standard espresso in a larger cup, so that the shot is about one third of its volume.
2. Then add a third of hot chocolate milk
3. And finish up adding a third of steamed, frothed chocolate milk.

It’s clear to me that Dutch are chocolate milk lovers, because I have a wide variety of ready-to-drink chocolate milks in the supermarket that I can choose from. Of course the usual full fat, medium skimmed and skimmed chocolate milk, but additionally there is also for instance dark chocolate milk that is more bitter and less sweet than the regular chocolate milk.

So I use a ready-to-drink chocolate milk sold here in the Netherlands: I’m happy enough with its flavour and of course simply for easiness. But if you dont have such chocolate milk at home you can also use regular milk and cocoa powder. However, I have to warn you, depending on the cocoa powder, the amounts and composition, it will be easier or more difficult to steam the milk. If I use medium skimmed milk and pure cocoa powder to decrease my guilt, then it is not so easy for me to get a nice frothed chocolate layer on top of my chococcino. I cannot really understand why, maybe the cocoa powder adds fat to the milk that makes it harder to foam, I don’t know yet. But using for instance my favourite chocolate powder from Mexico with a hint of cinnamon, I can make perfect and delicious foam. I presume it’s just a matter of trying.

When using cocoa powder, be generous
When using cocoa powder, be generous

And what about the coffee? Well, for this drink, to counterbalance the strong cocoa taste I like to use naturally dried coffees with a nutty tone, such as the Cariamanga Natural from my store (www.engrano.nl) . Using a mild coffee turns this drink into just hot chocolate and that is not the intention: the coffee should remain the star.

If you want to give an extra flavour kick then add spices! With chocolate and coffee I love to add cinnamon. But a little bit of orange zest is great too, or a tiny bit of vanilla…..

An indulgence, as a warm drink or a dessert. As soon as the weather cools down I spoil myself with a warm Chococcino!

Coffee and Chili

Starting from this post I will write every week about my favourite coffee beverages. Some of the recipes are my own creations but many are drinks I have had at coffee places or recipes taken from coffee books.
Even if you love your simple espresso or cappuccino every morning there is no reason why to not have fun with coffee. You can pair coffee with many complementary flavours to create exciting drinks. For instance, you can try citrus or sweet tastes, or go bold with spices, or traditional with alcoholic drinks.

One of my own favourite coffees is a chili espresso: one of my own inventions. I am born in Mexico thus I like spicy food. Well, funny enough, I don’t like it too spicy though. When I’m in Mexico with my husband (a very tall blond Dutchman who really enjoys very spicy food) we usually order a medium spicy and a very spicy dish. The waiter then usually gives me the very spicy dish and my Dutch husband gets the medium spicy one. Which we immediately switch to the surprise of the waiter.

From all the chili’s used in Mexican kitchen, I like the ones that are rather mild and are full of flavour: the Chile Poblano, it’s dry version Chile Ancho, Chile Chipotle (which is smoked-dry Jalapeno) or the Chile Guajillo, which is a dry chile Mirasol. I’m not really into chilis that are just spicy without adding much flavour.

Now for pairing with coffee I chose Chile Guajillo because of it’s taste: a bit acid, smokey and fruity, but not overpowering the flavour of the coffee. I first cut it in small pieces and then I grind it in a mortar. Obviously, the more chili powder you prepare the more flavour it will infuse into your drink and it’s to everybody’s personal taste how much chili should be added. Then I add the chili powder to the ground coffee in the portafilter and brew an espresso as usual.

Fine chop some Guajillo
Fine chop some Guajillo
Then grind it in a mortar
Then grind it in a mortar

I first tried with a strong coffee, like the Manabi that I sell in my webshop, but the coffee flavour overpowers the spice of the chili and so I tried another coffee: one with mild body and less acidity like the Cariamanga Lavado (http://www.engrano.nl/shop/coffee/cariamanga-lavado-48).

Extract as usual
Extract as usual

The chili-infused espresso with this coffee has a smooth flavour that first fills the mouth as with a regular espresso, and then comes a tingly feeling in the tongue and in the throat with an aftertaste combined of coffee and chili. Different as when eating spicy food, there is not burning or glowing feeling, no pain. I’m pretty sure that when adding enough chili the burning feeling can be obtained, but that is of course not the purpose here: we want to combine coffee and chili and not make hot chili water.

This beverage should be enjoyed without milk, though. Milk is a traditional cure for overdose of chili. The active ingredient in chili is capsaicin, and this dissolves in both alcohol and vegetable oils. However, it doesn’t dissolve in water (that is why when you eat something too spicy, drinking water won’t help relieve the pain). Milk, from mamals, contains casein, a fat-loving substance that has a detergent effect on the capsaicin from the chili’s. Thus, if you prepare a cappuccino then the effect of chili in your drink will be unnoticeable.

I can imagine that not everybody has dried chili’s at home, though your local store may sell some, or otherwise try a toko (an Asian ingredients store) as they may also have some stock on dried chili’s. As a last resort you can buy premade chili powder of course. But if you do so, please check that the chili powder has no salt….because I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how espresso with salt will taste!

Chili espresso!
Chili espresso!

Who’s who: Espresso, Ristretto, Lungo, Doppio, Americano and Long black

As you probably already know my favourite coffee beverage is espresso, and espresso is the base for many other drinks that I enjoy and that I will describe in the following blogs.

Espresso is a brewing method and the name of the produced beverage, but it is not a level of roasting or a type of beans. In fact, any type of beans and any level of roast can be used to make an espresso.
The espresso brewing method involves pressure, in fact a rather high pressure. The beverage produced this way contains lower levels of caffeine per serving than other coffee-related beverages produced by methods that require longer brewing periods. Espresso, the beverage, is extracted out of 8 to 10 grams of finely ground coffee. According to some Italian sources it should be less, about 6.5 +- 1.5 gr. It should be served in a small cup with a capacity of 50 ml, half full, and it should have a distinctive thick layer of brown foam from tiny bubbles, known as the crema.

Espresso is meant to be prepared on purpose (expressively), at the moment and to be drunk immediately. If not, the crema will shrink and break into patches. So when you order an espresso and it is brought to your table without crema, you know there was too much time between brewing and serving which is not good. Without the crema the surface of the liquid is exposed and cools down faster. Hence, the drink loses the smoothness and the balance of its taste. With time, regardless of cooling, a perceived acidity increases.

Espresso has a little brother: ristretto, and two bigger brothers: lungo and doppio, and also two cousins: Americano and long black. I personally prefer the one and only espresso, but allow me to introduce you to the whole family.

Ristretto means limited in Italian so it is a limited espresso. It is made from the same amount of ground coffee as an espresso but with a reduced brew time, only 15 to 20 sec., instead of the usual 25 to 30 seconds for an espresso. The result is a smaller espresso (15 to 20 ml) with a concentrated flavour, thick texture and usually strong aftertaste.

An espresso and his little brother ristretto
An espresso and his little brother ristretto (both in 60 ml cups)

Lungo means long in Italian so it is a long espresso produced by letting the extraction continue for more than 30 secs. Usually a lungo is a 60 ml beverage with more solubles and more caffeine than the ristretto or the espresso. Lungos have a thinner body and a dryer and more acid taste.

Doppio means double in Italian, so it is just a double espresso.

Now, enough with Italian lessons as the two other relatives of espresso are not italian inventions. The Americano nevertheless has an European background. Legend says that during the second World War the American soldiers found espresso too strong for their taste so they added hot water to it (to the disgust of the Italians, so the name Americano for this kind of beverage is actually not positive). So, that’s it, an espresso with added hot water. The amount of hot water varies according to the taste of the drinker.

Long black is a name for a beverage that comes from Down Under: Australia and New Zealand. Sometime in the 80’s when their coffee preferences started shifting from instant coffee to espresso-based beverages they came up with names such as short black (espresso), long blank, flat white. Long black is basically espresso + hot water but, different from the Americano, in this case you should add the espresso to the hot water so that the crema is not disturbed. Also the water to espresso ratio is kept to 2 to 1, so that the drink remains strong. One can argue whether an Americano and a Long black actually taste different, and to be honest: not really.

A long black with undisturbed crema
A long black : the Aussie cousin of espresso (250 ml cup)

So with just an espresso and some hot water we can already produce 6 different beverages. And this is just the beginning! We can add milk and produced a whole new range of beverage and not to mention adding herbs, or alcohol or….  But that will be something for other blogs in the near future.

International Coffee Day!

Today 1st October is the first International Coffee Day though you may have not heard about it yet. I myself learned about it not so long ago: I was browsing through internet and wanted to check a future event from the International Coffee Association and then I stumbled upon it.
Personally, I am not so in favour of all those international days, but hey, it is coffee and we love it, we drink it everyday and so maybe everyday should be international coffee day. Anyway, I was curious and read about why they came up with this… and I liked the story behind.

Apparently many countries already had a National Coffee day (I didn’t know that either) so the association wanted to gather all these smaller celebrations and come up with a special day for all coffee lovers worldwide:
To honour the men and women who grow and harvest the coffee we love
To celebrate the journey of coffee from the farm to the coffee place
To celebrate a journey of diversity, quality and passion

And they got me! So at my coffee business we subscribed an event to also celebrate 1st October:  http://internationalcoffeeday.org/international-coffee-day-events-netherlands-engrano/

I feel that the International Coffee Day is a good reason to consider not only the coffee as a drink but everybody involved in making this coffee possible.
Most people who love and drink coffee are not aware of the long journey each cup of coffee has followed so I will try to write about it in this blog in the coming months. In a nut shell: there are a lot of people working hard to be able to plant, grow, harvest, clean, dry, transport, roast, pack and sell coffee. Even though we nowadays appreciate coffee more for its taste and for the whole feel-good-experience of drinking it, the coffee market is still mainly a commodity market which main purpose is to commercialize a brown beverage containing caffeine while taste is just secondary. But let us start to change this: let us today honour the people who grow and harvest the coffee. How? Maybe by learning a bit more about your coffee and its taste knowing when and where it was grown. So many factors influence the coffee taste among others: the type of bean, the altitude and the soil where it was grown, if it had shade
or not, the amount of rain. Another interesting factor is the way the coffee bean was cleaned out of the coffee cherry. So you could understand better how your coffee got its flavour.

Labour conditions of people growing coffee vary a lot in different countries. Fair trade coffee typically assures that coffee farmers get a reasonable price for their coffee and additionally some fair trade brands also require that coffee plantations that fulfill a minimum standard of labour conditions. However, note that those minimum labour conditions may vary among different fair trade organizations. Also, if a coffee is not fair trade it doesn’t automatically mean that the coffee growing people live under bad conditions or that coffee farmers get underpaid. Small coffee roasting companies with a passion for coffee often trade directly with the farmers and thus also do fair trade (though they are not certified) whereas companies that see coffee mainly as commodity may just try to get the coffee at the lowest possible price. If you’re curious how your coffee was obtained you could for instance check the website of your the store where you buy the coffee and see if that information is available.

Since most of the coffee is grown between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Tropic of Cancer while the highest coffee consumption (per inhabitant) is registered in countries above the tropics international trading is an important and necessary part of production and consumption of coffee. It could be interesting to know how many kilometers your coffee traveled to get to you.

Lets today celebrate the diversity and the quality of our coffees but most of all lets share our passion for it!

Cheers (with coffee) and lets all enjoy a happy coffee day!

Cheers!
Cheers!