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Ingredients, Tools, Techniques & Equipment
Dedicated baristas have engaged in devious experiments to find new delights for the coffee connoisseur in a range of beverages, and this book is intended to advance the current state of the art with their generous contributions. Once limited to the purview of competitive professionals, these formulas have trickled down to home kitchens and dining rooms of coffee-loving civilians.
The theme that unites this liquid assemblage is specialty coffee in general, and espresso in particular, with added measures of inspiration and exploration. But before we begin with the recipes, let's take a few pages for an overview of essential components and tools of the trade.
Besides the exquisite taste on its own, coffee has the ability to become the platform for many other flavors. A culinary approach to coffee requires an informed choice of ingredients as well as an informed approach to preparation. While many ingredients on the following pages will be available at your local supermarket or coffee shop, you are encouraged to stock your cupboard with a few of the more unusual fixings, often available from online merchants (see Resources beginning on page 98). All you need is enthusiasm and a little extra effort to enjoy these epicurean concoctions at home.
Practiced baristas are often compared to sommeliers. Actually, in their fanatical sourcing of beans, they are more like vintners selecting grape varieties to produce fine wines. Like venerable wine grapes, the finest coffee beans reflect terroir--they develop different characteristics when grown in different regions. Each contributes a distinctive aroma, personality, and complexity to the preparation's final character.
Let's get right to the point: the humble coffee bean engenders a special kind of loyalty among the 100 million Americans who drink an astounding 350 million cups of the stuff every day. Although there are more than twenty species of coffee plants, only two, robusta and arabica, account for the lion's share of commercial coffees.
Robusta beans have a woody, bitter taste and aroma, and they are for the most part relegated to mass-produced, pre-ground coffee blends and freeze-dried products. In Italian tradition, robustas are often included in espresso blends to boost crema, the alluring layer of tiny, smooth bubbles that trap precious aromatics.
Arabica varieties, descendants of the primitive Ethiopian coffee trees, are the most desirable beans down here where mortals tread, appreciated for their distinctive bouquet, sweet, wine-like tones, and superior acidity, or "high notes." Beans from different origins are blended to make a coffee that is higher in quality than any of the ingredients individually, often to create a proprietary or signature blend. But superior arabica varieties usually stand alone as single-origin and estate coffees.
As beans are lightly roasted, they change into a buttery gold color and develop a very mild, nutty flavor. Further roasting adds more body, and the darkest, or French roast, produces savory, rich characters with satisfying bittersweet and smoky flavors. Each variety has a peak roast level that brings out its optimum taste, and skillful professional roasting involves the senses of sight, hearing, and smell, as well as focused attention on time and temperature. If you're adventurous, you can buy green beans and roast coffee at home in a pan or wok, or in the oven, but these methods won't produce a uniform roast. You may want to shop for a specialized home coffee-roasting appliance (see Resources on page 98).
The differences between coffee and espresso are in the fineness of the grind, the brewing time, and the amount of water used in the process. Beans for espresso are ground very finely, with a consistency almost like that of powdered sugar; beans for drip coffee are ground more coarsely, a slower process in which water is in longer contact with the grinds. An invigorating shot of espresso is made with just an ounce and a half of water, taking just twenty-five seconds to pass through grounds to extract stronger, more concentrated taste profiles.
Progressive roasters are reinventing the coffee business with "direct trade," the purchase of beans directly from farms and cooperatives that grow them, and "fair trade," ensuring that workers who produced them, usually in developing countries, earn a fair wage in safe working conditions.
The first syrups date back to antiquity, when fresh fruit juices were preserved with honey so that flavored beverages could be enjoyed year-round. By the end of the nineteenth century, Italy and France were enjoying delicious limonades and sodas concocted from grenadine, mint, orange, lemon, and orgeat (almond) syrups.
In Europe, flavored syrups are added to mineral waters to make Italian sodas. On this side of the Atlantic, they have been commonly used to flavor and sweeten lattes and cappuccinos, an idea conceived by Brandy Brandenburger of General Foods and first promoted by Torani & Company of San Francisco.
Flavored syrups are very concentrated, and just a little goes a long way. Used judiciously, they can add whimsical bursts of flavor to artistic drinks without overpowering components of the coffee.
Chocolate & Cocoa
Mutual attraction between coffee and chocolate is on display in many favorite drinks and desserts. A package of fine chocolate will list the percentage of cocoa butter and/or cacao solids it contains. High-quality chocolate contains more fat, which results in more flavor and a luxurious feeling on the tongue, or mouthfeel. The higher the percentage, the better the chocolate. Superior chocolates, the couvertures used by professional chefs, consist of 56 to 70 percent cacao solids and include 31 percent cacao butter.
Unsweetened chocolate is pure chocolate liquor and about 50 percent cocoa butter. Bittersweet chocolate blends at least 35 percent liquor with as much as 50 percent cocoa butter, as well as sugar and vanilla. Semisweet chocolate has the same ingredients as bittersweet with the addition of more sugar. Milk chocolate, which contains about 10 percent chocolate liquor, takes the process a step further by adding about 12 percent milk solids. Chocolates called for in the following recipes usually come in blocks and must be chopped or shaved before use.
Cocoa powder is made by extracting much of the cocoa butter richness from chocolate liquor (ground, roasted cocoa beans), then pulverizing the dry residue.
There are two types of cocoa, natural (nonalkalinized) and Dutch process (alkalinized). Natural cocoa powder (also called unsweetened) is simply untreated cocoa powder. Dutch process cocoa has been treated with an alkali to make the powder more soluble. Along the way, "Dutching" gives the cocoa a deep mahogany color and Oreo-cookie flavor. The most popular American brands of cocoa powder contain about 7 percent cocoa butter, while specialty and European cocoa powders contain 12 to 24 percent cocoa butter. Recipes in this book call for pure cocoa powder, not cocoa mixes that include artificial flavors, nonfat dry milk, preservatives, soy lecithin, vanilla, and sugar.
Cocoa powder is often used aesthetically, as a light dusting to add pleasing color and aromatics to a drink or dessert presentation.
These are the dried roots, barks, berries, and other seeds of tropical fruits. Spices are among the earliest commodities to have crossed the globe in trade networks. The notion of adding these powerful, lyrical, sensual aromatics to amplify the natural flavors of coffee can be traced back many hundreds of years.
For best results, buy small quantities of ground spices and store them in tightly closed containers in a cool, dark, and dry place for no longer than a year. Before using, sniff. If the fragrance of a spice has dimmed, toss it out. Chances are the flavor has weakened as well and will do nothing to improve your recipe. If you're using nonsoluble spices in your recipe, place them in a tea ball or wrap them in cheesecloth before dropping them into liquid, so you can fish them out later.
Store vanilla beans completely submerged in granulated sugar. This process preserves the moisture and freshness of the beans, and it creates an aromatic vanilla sugar that can be used for making cookies and other baked treats.
Sugar is persistently valued not only for sweetening drinks and desserts but also for adding volume, tenderness, and texture. Twenty-seven percent of American coffee drinkers add a sweetener to their coffee, and sweeteners add extra dimension to the already complex flavors in many specialty drinks.
Granulated white sugar or table sugar has medium-size granules and is the sugar most often called for in recipes. When heated, granulated sugar takes on a toffee-like color and flavor.
Confectioners' sugar, which has been crushed mechanically (and generally mixed with a little starch to keep it from clumping), is favored for its dissolving properties, especially in an iced chocolate drink.
Brown sugar is simply white sugar with a bit of molasses to give texture and color. The depth of color will depend on the amount of molasses added during processing. The darker the color, the stronger the taste, so use one that suits your taste preference. Substituting brown sugar for white sugar in a recipe will add notes of caramel and molasses. Turbinado and Demerara sugars are raw, amber in color, and coarse-grained; they are obtained from the first pressing of the cane and retain natural molasses in the crystals. Blocks of solidified, concentrated sugar syrup used in Indian cookery, called jaggery, provide a sweet, winey fragrance and flavor to a range of drinks and dishes.
Honey is a sweetener that can dramatically change a cup of coffee. You will need to experiment when choosing a particular honey because the pronounced flavors in some varieties may overwhelm the subtleties of a recipe. Since honey is sweeter than table sugar, it takes less to affect the palate. For more robust, bittersweet flavors, natural molasses is a one-to-one substitute for honey.
Conversions & Equivalents
10 ml = 2 teaspoons (t)
1 teaspoon = 5 ml
50 ml = 3 tablespoons (T)
1 tablespoon = 15 ml
100 ml = 3½ ounces
1 ounce = 30 ml
250 ml = 1 cup + 1 (T)
1 cup = 235 ml
500 ml = 1 pint + 2 (T)
1 quart = 950 ml
1 liter = 1 quart + 3 (T)
1 gallon = 3¾ liters
10 grams = ¹⁄³ ounce
½ ounce = 14 grams
50 grams = 1¾ ounces
1 ounce = 28 grams
100 grams = 3½ ounces
¼ pound = 112 grams
250 grams = 8¾ ounces
½ pound = 224 grams
500 grams = 1 pound + 1½ ounces
1 pound = 448 grams
Tools & Equipment
Before brewing, coffee is measured in weight; after brewing, in volume. One fluid ounce is the standard extract for a single shot of espresso ristretto. What you want to achieve is a shot that reaches the 1 ounce line on a shot glass, with a layer of crema resting just above the line.
Professionals use a scale for dry ingredients. It makes measuring fast and accurate. Digital and balance scales are preferred, since they can be recalibrated to maintain accuracy. Spring-loaded scales are not as precise, nor do they hold up well over time. For home cooks, there are inexpensive digital scales available that will hold up to 11 pounds and be accurate to within ¼ ounce and also convert between grams and ounces.
To properly measure, first weigh the container each ingredient will go in. Set the zero indicator at the container's final weight. Then, add the ingredients. In effect, you have ignored the weight of the container and only included the weight of the coffee.
Measuring cups and spoons are basic kitchen utensils. Use a scoop for powder and a shot glass for syrups.
Proper coffee grinding begins with a burr mill, which produces more even particles than its rival blade grinder. The more even the coffee particles, the more even the extraction. Most models allow for a choice of grind calibrations, including French press (coarse grind), drip, and espresso. When selecting a grinder, make sure it has the range of settings that suits your personal preference.
Creative coffee drinks are most often made with espresso or at least very strong coffee. A perfect cup of espresso, say those who make it for a living, has three components: the heart, the slightly syrupy liquid at the bottom of the cup; the rich body, in the middle; and the crown, the floating layer of aromatic crema.
Brewing espresso is a culinary skill, and brewing great espresso at home requires a reliable machine that suits your needs. Because of its price and level of control, the semiautomatic has become the most common home espresso machine. Its electric pump provides consistent pressure, forcing heated water through to the finely ground coffee for thick, rich extraction.
Other than bean quality, duration of the brewing process is the single most important factor affecting the taste of espresso. With a semiautomatic machine, the length of brewing time is controlled manually, a correctly extracted shot taking between 25 and 30 seconds.
Residue from the oils and grinds builds up with use, affecting the taste of your espresso. Take the time to clean the filter, water tank, and all other coffee tools regularly.
The relatively inexpensive French press, or cafetiére, combines coarsely ground coffee beans with boiled water. This type of coffee maker separates the grounds from the brewed coffee by means of a plunger, which presses or pushes the grounds down in the beaker, leaving behind filtered, rich coffee.
The moka pot stovetop brewer produces a dense, concentrated cup, somewhere in between espresso and Turkish coffee. Coffee is placed into a filter between the lower chamber, which you fill with water, and the upper chamber, which will contain the finished beverage after brewing. Since the water is forced through the cake of coffee by pressure, the process bears more resemblance to espresso extraction than to infusion (gravity-based) brewing.
Mixing & Frothing
Properly made, a latte is approximately one-third espresso and two-thirds steamed milk, with a layer of foamed milk approximately ¼-inch thick on the top. The more air you can get into the milk, the frothier it will be. An elegant whisper of froth can be incorporated with a steam wand, the thin metal tube on an espresso machine connected to the boiler.
Frothing is easy with a bit of practice. Lower the wand into the milk (whole or 2 percent works best) about ½ inch below the milk's surface, injecting enough steam to create thousands of tiny micro-bubbles for a velvety texture. Keep the wand steady and parallel to the side of the pitcher. Do not move it around in circles or up and down. As the milk begins to heat, tip the pitcher slightly to create a whirlpool effect.
An experienced barista will "surf the froth hole" for a denser and finer bubble foam. The trick is to keep the hole at the side of the froth-aiding tube at the surface of the milk, producing perfectly textured foam. Tap the pitcher on a counter to eliminate any large bubbles that may have formed.
An alternative to the steam wand is a dome-top plunger, similar in design to the French press. Rapidly agitating the plunger handle up and down introduces air into milk to impart the desired smoothness and creamy texture, which can then be microwaved in the heat-resistant borosilicate glass pitcher.
Whipped Cream Dispenser
The whipped cream dispenser, invented in London during the 1930s, is a versatile barista tool, reliable for basic whipping cream, but also, with the addition of sugar, syrups, or flavorings, for the more creative espumas, or foams, that accompany signature drinks.
Pressurized cartridges of tasteless nitrous oxide are discharged into the aluminum container, instantly transforming the cream into a frothy, whipped state. Shaking the dispenser a few times helps the gas dissolve. When the dispenser's valve is opened, the cream or cream-based mixture is released through the nozzle under high pressure.
For any mixtures left over after initial use, place in the refrigerator. The dispenser will keep its contents fresh for up to two weeks.
Storing & Freshness
Key to the best-tasting coffee is freshness. Delicate beans quickly begin to lose flavors if not stored under cool, dry conditions, protected from sunlight. Coffee is susceptible to damage from odors, temperature fluctuations, and moisture, and should be kept in an airtight container (not in the refrigerator or freezer). If you must store coffee beans for a long period, separate portions into plastic bags, then wrap each bag tightly with aluminum foil. Coffee deteriorates quickly after grinding, so grind only the amount you are going to use at one time.
For best results, coffee should be brewed no more than two weeks after the beans are roasted, and no more than two minutes after the beans are ground.
Holding & Serving
Brewed coffee should never be kept on a warming plate, at least not for more than a few minutes; continued heating will make the coffee bitter. To keep coffee hot for short periods of time, or for travel, use a thermally insulated container to reduce the loss of essential aromatics.
For service, set aside your demitasse cups and gather a few cordial and sherry glasses for showier presentations. Whenever possible, select servingware that both retains heat and channels fragrance to your nose. Make it a practice to preheat ceramic cups and temper glasses before brewing coffee. This will keep the coffee at its optimal temperature and allow aromatics to fully develop. A non-preheated cup will quickly draw the heat from freshly brewed coffee.
Chris Ganger, Ithaca Coffee Company, Ithaca, New York
During the Second World War, American GIs in Italy sought after the familiar "cup of Joe" they were accustomed to back home. Local baristas complied, albeit reluctantly, by adding hot water to espresso, providing the accustomed strength of regular drip coffee. The "Americano" tradition still lives on in coffee shops and serves as the inspiration for this ambitious signature drink. With a range of flavors and aromatics, Chris transforms a simple motif into a full-fledged theme--diluting strong espresso with a chamomile infusion, sweetening with honeyed fruit, and scenting with anise cream.
star anise–infused whipped cream:
1 vanilla bean
1 cup heavy cream
3 whole star anise pods
1 teaspoon sugar
pear purée and honey poaching liquid:
6 Bosc pears, as ripe as possible, peeled, quartered, and cored
2 cups honey
1 whole vanilla bean, split
2 tablespoons loose chamomile tea leaves
12 ounces water, heated to a boil
4 ounces pear purée
2 ounces honey poaching liquid
4 ounces espresso
8 ounces star anise-infused whipped cream
Split and scrape the vanilla bean. Combine with the heavy cream, star anise, and sugar and infuse for 3 days. Strain into a whipped cream canister. Insert a nitrous oxide charger and shake vigorously (or set an electric mixer on high and whip until soft peaks form). Place the pears in a saucepan. Add the honey and vanilla bean. Bring to an extremely slow simmer, and continue to simmer for 1 hour. (The pears should just barely hold their shape). Strain the pears from the honey liquid and set aside. Reserve the liquid with the vanilla pod in it. Allow both the pears and the honey to mature for a day or two before continuing.
Steep the chamomile in a small French press with the water for 2 to 3 minutes, then plunge the French press and stop the infusion. Into each of four 5-ounce Bodum Pavina double-wall thermo glasses ladle 1 ounce of pear purée, then ½ ounce of honey poaching liquid. Equally distribute the chamomile tea among the four glasses, or up to within 1 inch of the rim. Pull a single shot of espresso into each glass. Discharge the whipped cream and use a warm spoon to add about 2 ounces of whipped cream to the top of each drink. Serve on a saucer with a demitasse spoon. (Instruct each recipient to stir two or three times before drinking.)
Makes 4 servings
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