Most people who rely on coffee for their morning jolt have no idea that coffee is not a bean, but rather the seed of a fruit that grows on large shrub-type plants that reach heights of 15-30 feet. A coffee plant will yield one to two pounds of green berries each growing season. When ripe, the berries turn a deep crimson and closely resemble a plump cranberry.
The secret behind the phenomenal appeal of coffee lies in the roasting process, which burns off certain unwanted acids, while further developing those that provide the finished brew with taste and zestfulness. Roasting also causes beans to become brittle and thus easily ground.
After several minutes in a roaster, the green beans turn a straw, or amber color. Minutes later, the water content in the bean turns to steam and causes it to pop, altering its shape. This internal heat brings about chemical changes within the bean, converting raw components into flavor and aroma enhancing components, such as ketones and aldehydes, the same range of chemicals so important in the making of wine.
Aside from the darkening in color, roasting causes oils to rise to the surface. Up to 15% of a coffee bean is oil. The substance is essential to the appreciation of coffee because it is the oil that delivers the flavor components. The deeper the roast, the more essential oils make it to the bean’s surface.
Which degree of roast is best is a matter of debate among coffee aficionados. A roast where the bean has attained a light mahogany color will have trace amounts of oil on the surface. The result is a light-bodied coffee with high acidity and a broad range of flavors. Conversely, dark roasted beans are covered with an oily sheen and deliver a slightly sweet, full-bodied cup of coffee with a bold, robust flavor.
Coffee derives its characteristics from the climatic and soil conditions under which it is grown. There are those who prefer drinking coffee produced by a single variety of bean, such as 100% Colombian, Jamaican, or Kona. While often a bit pricey, it is an interesting way to appreciate the distinctive qualities of a specific growing region.
The majority of commercial coffees are blends, comprised of beans from several different growing regions. While not as exclusive, or expensive, there are appreciable advantages to drinking a blended coffee. The intent of a blend is to marry together complimentary flavors such that the sum of the parts is greater than the whole.
How to Brew the Best Coffee
The finest, most exclusive coffee beans will not salvage a poorly prepared cup of coffee. A few carefully heeded words of advice may mean the difference between a luxurious cup of heaven or a bitter, acidic mess. No coffee lover need suffer through a miserable cup of Joe. To that end, the following are the secrets to brewing a world-class cup of coffee.
- Storing Coffee Beans — An important aspect of serving a great cup of coffee is to start with fresh beans, or more accurately, to start with freshly roasted beans. The beans will quickly lose their lively aroma and flavor, thus the need for proper storage.
Do not store coffee, especially ground coffee, in a refrigerator. The ambient moisture will rob the coffee of its freshness. Even stored in a sealed container, coffee is susceptible to absorbing any food odors present in a refrigerator.
- Grinding Coffee Beans — Whole beans maintain their freshness better than ground coffee, so grinding them just before brewing is optimum. Since there are numerous methods to brew coffee, there is no one right gauge of grind. If the grind is too fine, the water will extract an excessive amount of oil and flavors from the coffee. Likewise, the finely ground coffee will clog the filter and cause minute particles of coffee to make their way to the finished cup of coffee. An excessively coarse grind allows hot water to rapidly flow through the filter causing under-extraction and a bitter, flavorless cup of coffee. Most machines require a moderately coarse ground.
- Water Quality — The simple truth is that the coffee you brew will be no better than the water you use. Distilled water is by definition flavorless and to some is therefore a detriment. Many tap waters are loaded with alkaline minerals that adversely react with the essential oils in the coffee beans. The phosphates in softened water react even worse with the coffee. Filtered drinking water, or even better, naturally balanced spring water is optimal.
- Water Temperature — The water temperature during the brewing cycle is crucially important. It ideally should be between 195˚ and 205˚ Fahrenheit. Weak, or older equipment often insufficiently heats all of the water, resulting in under-extraction and weak, bitter coffee. On the other end of the scale, never pour boiling water directly over the coffee. Always wait a few moments before using boiling water taken directly off the burner.
- Filter Selection — Most methods of brewing require that ground coffee be placed in either a paper, or gold-plated filter. There are advantages to both. Paper filters are disposable and therefore clean and convenient. They are also inexpensive and an effective method of preventing solids from entering the brewed coffee. Conversely, they filter out more of the desirable oils and colloids, the minute solids that give the brew its body and mouth-feel.
Gold plated filters, on the other hand, allow more of the all-important oils and colloids to pass through to the finished brew. They are durable, moderately priced and quite effective at filtering out solids.
- Proportioning — In coffee parlance, a scoop of ground coffee is considered to be two teaspoons. How much coffee you use is obviously a huge factor in determining the quality of the finished product. As a general rule, two scoops of ground coffee and 8-ounces of water will yield a 6-ounce cup of coffee. This basic proportion can be adjusted slightly based on personal preference.
- Keeping Brewed Coffee Hot — Prolonged exposure to direct heat will rapidly turn a pot of ideally brewed coffee bitter. Every passing minute that the coffee sits on a burner, a chain of unwanted chemical reactions will continue to destroy and vaporize every desirable quality about the brew. While there appears to be no readily apparent explanation, the best advice is to take the coffee off the burner as quickly as you can.
- Life Expectancy of Brewed Coffee — If you’ve ever worked in an office and drank a cup of old, stale coffee, you’ll likely agree that freshness matters. It is therefore highly advisable to serve coffee immediately after the brewing process has stopped. Conventional wisdom suggests that the optimum life expectancy of brewed coffee be between 20-40 minutes, after which it is best discarded.
- Clean Equipment — The equipment you use to brew coffee should be cleaned regularly. There are several issues with cleanliness. The first and most compelling is mineral build-up in the machine that can diminish the effectiveness of the equipment, as well as taint the brewing process. The second concern is coffee residue affecting the process. As mentioned, coffee contains essential oils and solids that will remain in the machine. These elements will adversely affect your next pot of coffee.
How to Make the Best Coffee Drinks
It is estimated that more than 400 billion cups of coffee are consumed each year, easily making it the world’s most popular beverage. In fact, coffee is the second-most heavily traded commodity after petroleum.
While there are scores of venerable coffee-based drinks, several standouts have attained rarified status. One such enduring recipe is the Keoki Coffee, which is made with equal parts of Kahlúa, brandy and chocolate liqueur, a blend of ingredients that marry beautifully with the robust flavor of coffee. It may be of interest to learn that its unusual name means “George’s Coffee” in Hawaiian, homage to its creator, George Bullington of Bully’s Restaurant in southern California.
Another Java classic is the Irish Coffee. As the story goes, on a particularly cold evening in 1952, Joe Sheridan, head chef at the Shannon airport restaurant, laced his coffee with a healthy dram of whiskey, a spot of sugar and a layer of whipped cream The utterly delicious drink took on a life of its own after that, becoming a specialty of the airport’s bar. That same year, a columnist and travel writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, passed through Shannon on his way home. He sampled several of the coffees and was immediately smitten with the combination.
Word of the Shannon airport’s coffee made its way to the Buena Vista Café on Fisherman’s Wharf. The drink was replicated and immediately generated a following. Walk into the café now and you’ll see a long row of coffee mugs arranged on the bar rail. The bartender will walk back and forth pouring the drink’s necessary ingredients into the waiting glasses. The drinks are then finished with whipped cream just moments before being served to the waiting throng.
The appeal of the Irish Coffee is nearly universal despite its simplicity. The drink is made with a splash of simple syrup, a hefty portion of Irish whiskey, a near fill with hot, freshly brewed coffee and a layer of frothed milk or whipped cream.
Naturally, not all Irish Coffees are created equally. The Irish Coffee Royale features an additional shot of Kahlúa. Another version includes some Bailey’s Irish Cream and a touch of Irish Mist or Celtic Crossing.
Creating delicious coffee-based drinks need not be a complicated process. The warmth and flavor of coffee marries beautifully with a wide range of flavors and products. Indeed, when it comes to creative alchemy, coffee has nearly unlimited possibilities.
- Coffee Base — Why fight nature? Scratch the surface of most contemporary coffee drinks and you’ll find they contain the classic Kahlúa, by far the bestselling coffee liqueur in the world. The reasons for its frequent use are readily apparent. Kahlúa bolsters the body and flavor of the coffee and sweetens the finished drink. It accommodates numerous other complementary liqueurs.
Now, however, there are other coffee liqueur options available to mixologists, namely Patrón XO Café Coffee Liqueur and Tia Maria. Each will contribute a different flavor profile to the drink. As they say, variety behind the bar is a good thing.
- Premium Spirits — Coffee happens to be among the most capable delivery systems for spirits and liqueurs. Cognacs and brandies, Calvados and apple eaux de vie, light and aged rums, aged tequilas, grappas and whiskeys of all types are natural complements to the flavor of coffee.
On the liqueur side, there is an even larger array of complementary flavors from which to work. The range includes chocolate (Godiva and crème de cacao), hazelnut (Frangelico), orange (Grand Marnier, Cointreau and GranGala), mint (crème de menthe), banana (crème de banana), almond (Disaronno Amaretto), anise (Pernod, Absente, anisette, ouzo and sambuca), fruit (Chambord and PAMA), vanilla (Navan), citrus (limoncello) and whiskey-based (Irish Mist, Celtic Crossing and Drambuie).
- Adding Cream — Adding Baileys Irish Cream, Amarula, or Carolans Irish Cream to your masterpiece is as natural as pouring cream in your coffee. It’s almost as if they were created to be paired with coffee. Other cream liqueurs to use include Cruzan Rum Cream and Tequila Rose Java Cream Liqueur.
- Creative Modifiers — The roster of potential modifiers with hot coffee is deeper than one might initially expect. First, there’s honey, brown sugar and spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg. In addition, companies such as Monin produce extensive lines of flavoring syrups produced with coffee drinks in mind. Flavors cover the gamut such that every creative whim can be fulfilled. As coffee and chocolate are classic complementary flavors, hot specialty drinks are often laced with chocolate, be it chocolate syrup, powdered cocoa, or chocolate liqueurs, such as Godiva or crème de cacao. Along the same lines, caramel is a flavor that works well in hot coffee, making caramel syrup a natural player in the creation of these drinks.
- Whipped Cream — Many hot coffee creations are finished with a mound of whipped cream. As the whipped cream melts into the coffee, the sweet cream adds another flavor dimension to the drink. Capping coffee specialties with frothed milk in the fashion of a cappuccino is also a delectable option.
- Garnishing — Every great signature coffee needs a flourish on top to create a grand impression. Drizzle chocolate syrup over the whipped cream, or dust the layer of frothed milk with powdered cocoa. The same can be said for embellishing these drinks with crumbled brownies or cookies.
- Iced Coffee — There is a school of thought that challenges the convention that coffee must be served hot. It explores the creative possibilities of serving freshly brewed and icy cold. There are considerable benefits to creating iced coffee specialties, not the least of which is that they’re fabulously delicious, refreshing and quite unexpected.
There are two approaches to preparing iced coffee drinks. One involves transferring freshly brewed coffee into an insulated container and storing it in the cooler. Once the temperature drops it can be used throughout the day or evening. A word of caution: pouring hot coffee directly into an iced glass may cause the glass to crack due to thermal shock.
The other technique, while more involved, adds a classy touch. Pour the hot coffee into an ice filled mixing glass, sloping the hot coffee off the back of a spoon. A swirl or two later, the chilled coffee is poured into an iced service glass. The enhanced service is an appealing benefit. Also, if you’re preparing an iced coffee drink, the ingredients can be added to the coffee in the iced mixing glass.
Most iced coffee drinks are presented in 12-16 ounce glasses, ranging in style from wine glasses and specialty snifters to beer glasses and classic shamrock cafés. A heavy pint glass is a popular choice because of its shape and thick, insulating glass.
How to Make Espresso Drinks
Espresso’s popularity has never been higher. With increasingly more restaurants and hotels equipping their bars with espresso machines, this is a trend not likely to run out of steam.
Espresso isn’t a type of coffee, rather it refers to a brewing process. In Italian, the word espresso translates to fast, which is an apt description of the process. Espresso is made by forcing hot water under extreme pressure through finely ground coffee beans. The heat and pressure cause the oils and proteins in the coffee to emulsify to produce a slightly syrupy, more viscous brew.
Making espresso coffee requires the use of a specialized machine that heats, pressurizes and rapidly brews the coffee. It takes roughly 15-25 seconds to brew a cup of espresso with properly ground coffee. Espresso is traditionally served in a demitasse, a small, 2 to 3-ounce china cup, with sugar and a twist of lemon on the side, the lemon peel being a strictly American tradition. Doctoring espresso to one’s particular tastes is quite permissible.
How to Prepare the Best Demitasse of Espresso
- Coffee — Making great espresso is dependent on using good beans. The country of origin, however, is a secondary consideration to the type of roast used. The Italian roast is most commonly selected for espresso beans. The darkest degree of roasting, it turns the beans black and oily. The resulting coffee has a full-body and tangy, slightly bitter flavor. Slightly lighter in color, French roasted beans are also popular for their lavish flavor and lack of bitterness.
- Grind — The grinding process dramatically affects the finished espresso. Finely ground espresso produces a bitter and low-acid coffee with a well-developed “crema,” a creamy, mustard-colored foam on top of the coffee’s surface. This skin, comprised of the coffee’s essential oils, is a telling indicator of a well-made cup of espresso. Conversely, with a coarse grind, less of the oils are extracted from the coffee and only a thin skin will develop. Use only freshly ground coffee beans. Stale coffee produces a dull, lifeless cup of espresso.
- Pressure — Preparing a demitasse of espresso relies on a singular brewing process. Approximately 1/4-ounce (7 grams) of finely ground coffee is put into a heavy metal strainer. Before locking the strainer into the machine, the coffee is tapped firmly to ensure uniform extraction. Once the machine is activated, the nearly boiling water (200-205˚ F) is forced under pressure (1.5 atmospheres) through the packed, ground coffee, directly into a waiting demitasse.
- Standard Variations — Years ago, if you ordered a cup of coffee “regular” you’d get it prepared with added cream and sugar. Ask for a cup of regular coffee now and you’ll get coffee laced with caffeine. Today, if you walk into a restaurant, bistro or bar and ask for a cup of coffee be prepared for a lengthy interrogation. There are numerous variations of espresso that have long been popular abroad that have caught on here in the U.S. Each combination is just different enough to make it a distinct entity.
Espresso Drink Variations
A Double Espresso is prepared using twice the amount of water and ground coffee that’s in a single espresso.
A Short Espresso, or a Ristretto, is made using less water than in a regular espresso.
An Americano is made using more water than is in a single espresso (typically about 4-6 ounces).
A Macchiato is an espresso served with a dollop of frothed milk on top.
A Doppio Espresso is a double portion of espresso made with only half the amount of water.
A Caffè con Panna is an espresso topped with whipped cream.
A Caffè Correcto is an espresso “corrected” with a small amount of grappa, cognac, sambuca, or some other spirit.
- Premium Spirits — The robust flavor of espresso marries well with a wide range of spirits and liqueurs.
How to Make Cappuccinos
Cappuccinos are typically prepared with a demitasse of espresso and equal parts of steamed and frothed milk, although this proportion may vary somewhat. The key to making a fabulous cappuccino lies in learning how to properly steam the cold milk such that it produces dense froth.
Whole milk is typically used to make a cappuccino, although 2% reduced fat milk works equally well. Pour the milk into a handled, metal vessel, preferably brass, for frothing. A container or pitcher that is wider at the bottom than the top is considered the most efficient shape. The vessel should be no more than half full at the beginning of the procedure.
Espresso machines are equipped with a steaming nozzle. Place the tip of the nozzle just under the surface of the milk and slowly release the steam. To prevent scalding, the pitcher should be moved in a circular motion. The milk should be frothed to approximately 135-150˚ F. Since it will continue to heat up after the steaming process is done, the milk will optimally peak at roughly 150-170˚ F. When done properly, the bubbles of the frothed milk should be compact, tightly knit and long lasting. Milk can be steamed two or three times before being discarded.
Once the milk is frothed, carefully pour some of the steamed milk, about 3 to 4 ounces, into the espresso and then spoon on the frothed milk. An appropriate garnish is a sprinkle of shaved chocolate, a dusting of powdered cocoa, nutmeg, or ground cinnamon on top of the frothed milk. One of the genuine simple pleasures in life, cappuccinos are delicious and attractive.
Among the most popular variations of the cappuccino is the Caffè Latte. The drink originated in Italy and is typically prepared using a demitasse of espresso and four parts steamed milk with no froth. In America, the drink is popularly served as one part espresso diluted by four to six parts steamed milk and one part frothed milk.
Another classic variation is the Café au Lait, which in French means “coffee with milk.” The Café au Lait is served in an oversized cup and made with a demitasse of espresso coffee that is then highly diluted with steamed milk. The proportion of milk to coffee is a matter of personal preference, although it is often made with one part espresso to 4-8 parts steamed milk. A thin layer of frothed milk is often spooned on top.
One obvious twist on the cappuccino is to make it with decaf espresso, which is referred to as a “Harmless,” “No fun,” or “Sleeper.” A Dry Cappuccino is prepared with a larger percentage of frothed milk and a double cappuccino is made with two demitasses worth of espresso. A Brevé Cappuccino is made using half & half instead of milk, while a Skinny Cappuccino is prepared with nonfat milk.
The Mochaccino, also known as the Café Mocha, is a cappuccino made with either frothed chocolate milk, or a healthy portion of chocolate syrup or powdered cocoa. A Vienna Cappuccino is made with equal parts of espresso, hot cocoa and whipped cream and the Caramella is a cappuccino with added caramel sauce.
- Premium Spirits — Cappuccinos make ideal delivery vehicles for most spirits and liqueurs. If the product tastes great mixed with coffee, it’ll be that much better served in a cappuccino.
- Iced Cappuccinos — Iced cappuccinos have made it possible to sip and savor these drinks even in the heat of summer. It’s made by pouring 8-ounces of cold milk and two, freshly brewed demitasses of espresso into an iced mixing glass. Shake the concoction vigorously and then serve in an iced, 16-ounce specialty glass. Garnish with whipped cream and a sprinkle of shaved chocolate.
So go ahead, add a scoop of French vanilla ice cream to your cappuccino. Splash in some chocolate syrup or caramel sauce. Drop in a dollop of whipped cream and crumble a fudge brownie on top. The creative possibilities are only bounded by your imagination.
The Back Story of Tea
Some 4700 years ago, the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung was boiling water when some leaves from a nearby Camellia sinensis plant, now known as the black tea shrub, landed in the open pot. Intrigued by the brew’s aroma, the emperor drank the mixture and declared that it “gave vigor to the body, lent contentment to the mind and instilled determination of purpose.” Also known as the Divine Healer, Shen Nung set out to learn more about the attributes of the plant and is largely responsible for the cultivation of tea.
The tea plant is an evergreen shrub and a member of the Camellia family. It grows in the tropics and subtropical areas of the world’s temperate zones, specifically in Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka and in many parts of Asia, including China. The tea plant flourishes in high altitudes and requires abundant rainfall, especially during the hot season. In the wild, the plant can grow in excess of 45 feet in height, but in cultivation it is normally kept under 6 feet, this for the practical reason of making it easier to harvest the tender shoots and top leaves.
Catering to tea consuming guests begins with a balanced offering of tea styles with which to satisfy even the most discriminating of palates.
Black tea is the most widely distributed type of tea in the United States. Each variety has a distinctive flavor. For example, Assam is a black tea from India with a full-body and pronounced, malty palate, while Darjeeling, also from India has a delicate taste. Darjeeling tea is prized for its quality, which is reflected in its price. Orange Spice is black tea with small pieces of orange peel, cinnamon and cloves.
Several varieties of black teas are used to create now famous blends. English Breakfast tea is a blend of Sri Lanka and Assam (Indian) teas. Irish Breakfast tea is a combination of various Indian teas and Earl Grey is a popular blend comprised of three varieties of black tea flavored with the oil of bergamot.
Green tea, also known as China tea, is not allowed to ferment before drying, which allows it to retain much of the natural taste, color and aroma. It is often served as a single variety and not blended with other teas. Gunpowder is widely considered the highest quality of Chinese green tea. It has small, tightly rolled leaves and a subtle aroma and flavor.
White tea is picked and harvested before the leaves open, leaving the buds still covered by fine white hair. They contain less caffeine and more antioxidants than other varieties. White teas are not allowed to ferment. They are often floral, somewhat sweet and not at all “grassy,” a characteristic of green teas. There are many varieties of white tea, but they are all scarcer and therefore more expensive than the other types of tea.
Oolong tea, which is also referred to as red tea, is allowed to partially ferment prior to drying. Most oolong teas have delicate, fruity flavors and floral bouquets. Jasmine tea is made from a blend of green and oolong with fresh jasmine blossoms, the tea has a flowery aroma and a fresh, mild flavor.
Herbal tea consists of the dried flowers and leaves of plants other than Camellia sinensis. Herbal teas can also be made using fresh flowers, herbs, seeds, fruit, or various spices. They are typically caffeine-free.
How to Brew the Best Tea
You don’t need to be hosting a high tea to need to know how to properly brew tea. It is a relatively straightforward process. Here are a few pointers that if heeded, the end result will be a marvelous cup of tea.
- Water Quality — A cup of tea can only be as good as the water used to make it, and therefore spring water or bottled drinking water will yield the best results. Start with cold water and bring to a rolling boil. When making green tea, the water should be just off the boil.
- Proportions — Typically one teaspoon of loose tea, or one tea bag, is used per 6-ounces of water, although some people prefer increasing the ratio to two teaspoons (or bags) for every 6-ounces of water. When using loose tea, fill the infuser or metal ball no more than half full. The tea leaves will quickly expand when wet and swell to the point of impeding the free flow of water through the infuser.
- Preparation — Always preheat the teapot. Fill with hot water and let stand for a few minutes and drain before use. Allow loose tea to steep for 3 to 5 minutes. Since tea bags contain more finely chopped tea, it requires a shorter brewing time to attain the same degree of extraction. To prevent tea from becoming bitter, always remove the tea bags or loose tea immediately after brewing. Never allow prepared tea to boil.
- Proper Service — Serve tea immediately after preparation. This will ensure that it will be sufficiently hot and at its freshest. When pouring steaming hot tea into a delicate china or porcelain teacup, place a spoon in the cup to prevent cracking. After serving, place the remainder of the tea into an insulated carafe to enjoy later.
How to Make the Best Tea Drinks
Consumption of tea in the United States is skyrocketing. One explanation for its popularity is the medical studies showing that regular consumption of tea has been associated with lowering the risk of heart disease and some types of cancer. Black and green teas contain flavonoids that are highly effective antioxidants. Tea is also lower in caffeine than coffee, something a growing number of Americans consider important. An 8-ounce cup of tea contains approximately 60% less caffeine than a typical cup of coffee. Most herbal teas don’t contain any caffeine.
Regardless of what sparked the current boom in the U.S., tea and all that surrounds it are piping hot. To stoke the fires somewhat, here are the best kept secrets behind America’s greatest tea drinks.
- Hot Tea Drinks — The traditional path for tea-based drinks is serving them warm. That end of the spectrum is represented by drinks like the Blueberry Tea — Disaronno Amaretto, Grand Marnier and hot herbal tea — and the Earl of Grey, which is made with Scotch whisky and Earl Grey tea. Fanciers of something a wee bit stronger might want to sample the Irish Tea, a hearty brew made with Irish Mist, a dram of Jameson and Irish breakfast tea. The drink has a marvelous bouquet eclipsed only by its bracing constitution. Also from the UK is Winnie’s Hot Honey Pot, a fanciful combination of Drambuie, honey, lemon juice and English breakfast tea. The drink has all of the makings of a happy ending.
- Chai Tea— People are increasingly discovering the tranquility of chai tea, a soothing drink made from spiced, sweetened tea mixed with milk. While there are any number of variations of chai, it’s typically made from Darjeeling or Assam black tea, a sweetener, milk and a mixture of spices referred to as the chai masala.
Some recipes of chai accentuate the flavor of the spices; others the character of the milk. The masala usually features spices such as anise, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves and cardamom. Some chai tea recipes also call for the use of black peppercorns, bay leaves, fennel seeds, grated ginger, vanilla and star anise. The array of spices are added to the tea and steeped. A mixture of milk (whole, non-fat or soy) and water are then added to taste. It can be sweetened with sugar, brown sugar, or honey.
- Iced Tea — The first World’s Fair in the United States was held in St. Louis in 1904. One of the exhibitors was a tea plantation owner named Richard Blechynden. He had intended to serve fair goers samples of his hot tea, but an unexpected heat wave spoiled his plans. In an effort to salvage his investment, he offered the parched throngs glasses of brewed tea served with ice. It became an immediate hit and sparked a new American tradition.
- Preparing the Best Iced Tea — The first step entails brewing tea as usual, with the exception that it is prepared using twice as much loose tea or twice as many tea bags. After the brewed tea has cooled, it can be served in a tall glass filled with ice. Depending on the type of tea used, the brew may turn cloudy when poured over ice. Although this will not affect its taste, some people do not care for the appearance. To clarify the tea, add a small amount of boiling water and stir.
The second is the cold-water method. It involves using 1 1/2 times to twice the number of tea bags as would usually be used for the volume of water. The tea is allowed to slowly steep in the cold water for 6 to 8 hours. Once it has attained the desired strength, the tea bags are removed and the tea is ready to drink.
The sun tea method uses the same tea-to-water ratio as the cold-water method. The water and tea are placed in a loosely sealed glass jar and set out in the direct sunlight for 2 to 4 hours. The sunlight slowly brews the tea. Once brewed, the tea bags are removed and it is served over ice.
One creative option is to freeze brewed tea in ice cube trays and use the resulting cubes in glasses of iced tea. This will prevent the iced tea from becoming overly diluted. Along the same lines, freeze fruit juice in ice cube trays and drop a few cubes in a glass of iced tea for a blast of flavor.
The Back Story of Hot Cocoa
Hot cocoa is a comfort beverage. It is often the drink of choice for a relaxed Sunday morning, just before bedtime or after a late dinner. Hot cocoa is a classic American beverage-warm, satisfying and best of all, made from pure, 100% chocolate.
Hot cocoa's origins go far beyond Bosco or Ovaltine. In fact, cocoa beans were so revered by the Aztecs that they were used as money. The royalty and priests drank a warm concoction made of crushed cocoa beans and water called chcolatl. The Emperor Montezuma served Cortez and the Conquistadors chcolatl in golden goblets when the Spaniards arrived in 1519.
While Cortez lusted after the Aztec's gold and riches, he and his men had little fondness for the bitter mixture, until they surreptitiously added cane sugar. Upon his return to Spain in 1528, Cortez introduced King Charles V and his Royal Court to sweetened hot cocoa, and not surprisingly, it became the rage of the aristocracy. For centuries the Spanish held a monopoly on cocoa, until the secret of its existence leaked out.
Many countries began planting cocoa plantations in their tropical colonies. Shortly thereafter, the fame of cocoa beans spread throughout Europe. By 1657, cafés devoted exclusively to serving hot chocolate began opening in London. The process of grinding cocoa beans was long, hard work then, which made it prohibitively expensive to the masses.
For more than a century, cocoa remained the domain of the wealthy and privileged. By the early 19th century however, steam-operated grinding machines caused prices to drop dramatically. In 1828, Dutchman Coenraad Van Houten invented a mechanized press that better extracted the highly valued cocoa butter. The innovation greatly improved the flavor of cocoa and led to large-scale manufacturing.
The cocoa tree grows only in tropical climates in a band 20 degrees north and south of the Equator. It produces kernels, or nibs, which contain up to 54% cocoa butter. When the beans are crushed, heat is used to liquefy the cocoa butter to form chocolate paste. When dried, it is crushed and pulverized into a fine powder. Most premium producers of cocoa powder add a small amount of alkaline salts to the paste prior to drying. The salts render the powder darker, give it a more intense chocolate flavor and allow it to stay in solution longer in liquid.
How to Make the Best Hot Cocoa
One of the great features of making a cup of cocoa is that it doesn't require specialized equipment or training. Although there are many ways to make hot cocoa, the following is a typical scratch recipe.
In a saucepan over a low flame, whisk together 1/2 cup of cocoa powder, 1/3 cup sugar and 1/2 cup of water. After the powder and sugar go into solution, stir in another 1/2 cup of water and a cup of milk. Keep stirring over low to moderate heat for approximately 10 minutes, stirring from the bottom of the saucepan at a low temperature to prevent scalding. Once the mixture is hot, remove the pan from the burner and allow to cool. Serve with whipped cream, marshmallows or both for a finishing touch.
- Premium Spirits — The robust flavor of espresso marries well with a wide range of spirits and liqueurs.
- Creative Modifiers — A 3/4 full cup of hot cocoa is almost begging for an added blast of flavor. It could be a splash of hot fudge or chocolate sauce; after all, chocolate and caramel complement the flavor of hot cocoa. If adding a sauce is more concentrated than what you’re looking for, perhaps a splash of black raspberry or vanilla syrup is called for.
Some recipes call for the addition of vanilla extract, cloves, cinnamon, lemon juice, instant espresso powder or mint chocolate chips for flavor. Cornstarch or arrowroot can be added for thickening. Substituting brown sugar for regular granulated sugar is another creative option.
Then there’s the Mayan Hot Cocoa, made famous in the movie Chocolat. It’s made with milk, pure cocoa, unbleached flour, dark brown sugar, powdered sugar, vanilla, grated nutmeg, cloves, crumbled cinnamon and chili pepper. The drink is spicy and highly aromatic.
- Ice Cream — After modifying the cocoa base, it may well be time to drop in a scoop or two of ice cream. Shortly after splash down, the melting ice cream forms a frothy layer on the cocoa. It creates a fabulous presentation. The coup de grace is there’s a wide variety of ice cream flavors that work with the satisfying taste of hot cocoa, a list that includes banana, chocolate, French vanilla, raspberry, strawberry and Almond Roca, to name but a few.
Warmth coupled with soul satisfying flavor makes an irresistible combination. Whether crafted with coffee, espresso, tea or cocoa, a well-conceived hot drink is a timeless thing of beauty. More importantly, they’re capable of soothing frayed nerves and thawing frostbitten extremities. Have fun, experiment and concoct the next international phenomenon.