Monday, March 18, 2013
At Abuela’s Kitchen, a newly opened Cuban restaurant on Lincoln Road — Miami’s crowded and eclectic outdoor shopping mall — the women at the counter greet sólo en español. Since I don’t know much Spanish, I stick to what I do know: coffee. “Cortadito, please,” I ordered on a breezy Friday morning. “Non!” the robust waitress countered, shaking her head. “Too small. You want a cafe con leche — very strong and good.” It was early, and Cubans, like Italians, drink their heavy milk drinks in the early hours of the day. I nodded my head; really, I’d drink whatever she told me to — I didn’t want any trouble.
Cubans are one of the many cultures that make up the vibrant and multifaceted community of Miami, and the influence of their culture is unmistakable. Walking around Miami Beach, it can often feel like one is wandering through foreign streets; as one Colombian immigrant told me, “everyone in Miami is from somewhere else.” While I’m sure Miami natives exist, the city’s strong Latin presence is evident in Miami’s coffee scene. In nearly every cafe, one will see a café cubano on the menu.
A café cubano is a shot of espresso, often made with Bustelo beans, pulled with sugar, or sometimes, poured over sugar. The sugar caramelizes and turns into a kind of syrup, creating the notable sweetness Cuban coffee is adored for. Bustelo beans are darkly roasted (I know, I know, wrong on so many levels), so the sugar is never overpowering because the undercurrent of the coffee is so strong.
A café con leche is one part café cubano, two parts steamed milk. Often, condensed milk is used, creating an extra sweet treat.
Finally, a cortadito is the perfect blend of the two. It is a Cuban version of the macchiato: a potent shot of Bustelo, laced with sugar, cut with a drop of steamed milk.
Cuban coffee is engrained in Miami culture. Gazing at the crowd huddled around the the outdoor window at Abuela’s, one notices tourists, locals, Latinos, Haitians, and Europeans alike: a snapshot of Miami, all drinking a café cubano.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
If one mentions “drip” coffee to a third-waver, it would probably incite a cringe, an eye roll, and perhaps an exaggerated sigh of disdain. Understandably, the drip has gotten a bad rap, though most Americans still use them in their homes for their ease and availability.
So, what’s wrong with the drip? The main issue with a drip coffee maker is the inability to control the process. Coffee has many variables: water temperature, grind size, water pressure and saturation, and most importantly, time. Most coffee makers over extract the beans, resulting in a bitter taste.
But for a hefty price, one can purchase a drip coffee maker that does it right. Resembling an apparatus from a chemistry lab, Technivorm’s Mocca Master (what a name, huh?) is handmade in Holland, and was designed in the ’60s to brew coffee at the perfect temp — 200 degrees fahrenheit — as the water wets the grounds steadily and evenly for the ideal time of five to six minutes; even the SCAA (the Specialty Coffee Association of America) approves.
The process is simple: add the desired amount of filtered water on the left, and your fresh ground coffee in the filter to the right. The filter features a “no-drip,” “partial-drip,” and “full-drip” setting, which allows for more control; for example, to allow for more flavor to be extracted, place the setting on “no-drip” for the first minute of brewing, allowing the water to saturate the beans, and then flip it back to “full-drip” for the remainder of the brewing cycle. One can experiment to find their preferred taste.
The Mocca Master keeps the coffee super warm, so you can go back for a hot second cup (make sure you don’t keep the pot on the heater too long, as the taste will stale).
One can purchase the Mocca Master at Clive Coffee here.
Monday, October 31, 2011
The French Press is my favorite way to make coffee, yielding a rich, strong — if not a bit gritty — cup. It’s fairly simple and takes little time; everyone has their own way of making it; some like it strong, others a little lighter. Some extract the grounds prior to pouring, others enjoy the fullness of the grounds in the mouth. It definitely takes some finessing before one finds their perfect ratios.
I consulted Brooklyn Roasting Company’s Michael Pollack on how to make the perfect French Press, as their DUMBO cafe features French Presses on the menu. He gave me some advice, such as pumping the grounds to distribute, rather than stirring. He also recommended a helpful coffee to water ratio, which I found created the perfect strength of cup; he recommended 18 grams of coffee for a three cup pot, 30 grams for a four cup, and 60 grams for a large eight cup French Press. I used this advice when I made my morning french press, and here’s how it went!
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
In Brooklyn’s charming Cobble Hill, at Cafe Pedlar, I stumbled upon a gem of a barista — Miss Sasha King — who makes a special drink one can only call divine.
A new resident of the neighborhood, I wandered in one lazy morning and ordered my regular morning cortado; Sasha made it perfectly using Stumptown’s Hair Bender espresso, the milk steamed just right; I drank it in one minute flat. I went back for another. “Can I make you something special?” she asked. Could I turn that down? She pulled out a jar of Sicilian honey, and I knew it was going to be good.
The “Honey Cortado,” as she calls it, is served in a gibraltar glass, with the same ratio of milk to espresso as a regular cortado, only laced with the aforementioned sweet kick: honey. King first spoons the honey into the glass to warm it up and make it malleable, then pulls two shots of Hair Bender right on top, and stirs a bit to distribute. She steams a mixture of two-thirds half and half, one-third whole milk; the half and half’s fatty consistency makes the milk a little fluffier, and it’s steamed at a slightly warmer temperature to compensate for the extra sugars. She does a perfect pour of the the milky mixture on top, et voila.
It’s lightly sweet and creamy, yet the smoothness of the espresso creates a drink of balance — especially if one has a little bit of a sweet tooth (or yearns for a taste of one’s childhood, when momma made warmed milk and honey for a good night’s sleep…or was that just me?).
All the elements blend together perfectly, just as milk and honey, and coffee, should.
Monday, September 5, 2011
Walking the streets of Lisbon, trekking up hills and exploring valleys, one may be struck by the need for a coffee break. The Portuguese have a solution: colored hexagonal structures topped with peaked roofs are dotted throughout the city as a haven for the weary walker, the perfect place to pause. At these so-called quiosques, one can stand at the window or take a seat at a surrounding cafe table. The concept is simple and fabulous — most notably located in parks, yet also near the river and on various street corners — they function as tiny freestanding espresso bars. One can grab an espresso and pastel de Belem any time of day, they are open late into the evening. I stopped at nearly every quiosque I saw; simply another reason to admire the Portuguese people and the way they celebrate coffee: simple, delicious, and communal.
Thursday, August 11, 2011
Vacuum coffee pot, syphon, siphon…whatever you want to call it, it looks like it came out of your 10th grade chemistry lab.
But in many circles, it’s the chic way to brew coffee, and it’s no different in Portugal. At the beautiful new culture club in the Palacio Belmonte — one of the oldest palaces in Lisbon, now a gorgeously appointed hotel — one can enjoy a siphoned cup while listening to the likes of brilliant Israeli concert pianist, Elisha Abas.
Maria, owner of the Palacio along with her husband Frederic, fixed me a cup. A mid 19th century design, popularized in the 1960s, the concept is quite simple, and the cup is clean and aromatic. The siphon is made up of two glass carafes connected by a glass stem; the coffee grounds are placed in the top carafe, the water in the bottom. A flame is lit at the bottom, causing the water to heat and create a pressure vacuum, that forces the water up into the coffee grounds. Once all the water has reached the grounds, the coffee is stirred for one minute. Then, the flame is removed, and the brewed liquid passes down through the filter, back into the bottom carafe.
Et voila, the coffee is ready to serve, straight out of the glass carafe. The coffee has little sediment and clean flavor. And at the culture club, it’s an homage to the vintage idea that good aperitifs and coffee are best served with Chopin floating through the air (compliments of Elisha), which makes it the most fabulous place to have coffee in Lisboa.
Saturday, July 2, 2011
I’ve been back in the states for about two weeks now, just in time for the New York weather to kick off it’s hot, thick, smelly, sticky summer party. It makes you kind of lazy, in need of a shot of caffeine — but nothing too hot. It’s definitely iced coffee weather.
Granita di caffé is an Italian specialty, a variant of iced coffee unlike any you’ve ever had. Like a snow cone for adults, it’s Italian shaved ice laced with espresso and a bit of sugar, sandwiched between two heaping scoops of unsweetened panna.
Tazza d’Oro is known to have some of the best granita di caffé in all of Roma, but I was told of a place that had even better. I was informed that it was a small and “ugly” (though to my American eyes, it was still quaint as ever) — a no frills kind of place. But many Italians agreed, it had the best granita di caffé. So over the bridge I went to Trastevere, a bohemian district of Rome full of art galleries, boutiques, and cafes — a young Roman crowd ever present.
I found Bar San Calisto on a little street off of Piazza di Santa Maria (and a gorgeous church worth going into). It was as un-touristy as they come. A tiny bar full of Romans and baristas who don’t really speak English ensured that this would be an authentic experience. And it was. The granita di caffé was rich and strong, the espresso soaking each bite, and the homemade panna provided the perfect balance. Simple, yet divine, and perfect for a summer day. If you are as addicted as I, follow it with an espresso at the bar, which is prepared in that easy, lassez-faire-but-somehow-exceptional Roman way.
If you can’t make it to Rome, the Washington Post has a recipe here; it’s easy to prepare at home to beat the heat.
Live, work, or visiting in Rome (if so, I envy you)? Also in the neighborhood: Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica in Palazzo Corsini, housing a lovely Caravaggio — amongst other works — and Villa Farnesina, with gorgeous frescoes completed by Raphael. It’s also fun to wander, popping into the art galleries and boutiques featuring local designers, granita di caffé in hand.
Wednesday, June 8, 2011
TAKE YOUR COFFEE LIKE AN ITALIAN
Italians drink coffee constantly, it’s part of their daily ritual. The Italian coffee culture consists of many “short” drinks throughout the day, and large amounts are never consumed in one sitting. As a worker at Sant’Eustachio Il Caffè told me, “we don’t have those things (insert hand gesture mimicking a gigantic venti cup here).” As the art of Italian living entails breaking every so often (for coffee, or aperitivo) there is a protocol one must follow to fake it as a local while having your daily caffé:
MORNING: Un caffé, or a single espresso, is preferred; one takes it at the bar. Stand for a moment, savor it, then go on to start the day. In keeping with consuming small amounts at a time, a single espresso is always had. One can order a double, but this is not Italian and is usually not on the menu. A milky drink like a cappuccino can also be had in the morning, as the large amount of milk makes sense to Italians during breakfast time. Oh, and soy milk? Skim? Che cosa?
DAY/AFTERNOON: To much of my dismay, cappuccinos are not traditionally had by Italians after 11 am, though it is possible to order uno cappuccino during the day — especially early afternoon hours — and not be considered strange. Un altro caffé is usually drunk, as is caffé machiatto (espresso topped with a little steamed milk). If you only have a moment, go to the bar. If you are meeting a friend, sit at one of the many sidewalk cafes, located at practically every turn. As a tourist, it’s always nice to pause, to absorb how Italians live, and feel the energy of this pulsing city. Skip one of the sights in your guide book, it will still be there tomorrow; the real culture is here, al tavolo.
EVENING/APRES DINER: Italians don’t really drink large amounts of milk after meals, so therefore un caffé (or sometimes, macchiato) is usually sipped after dinner. If one orders a cappuccino after their meal: a) their tourist flag is waving, and b) Italians simply find it odd. (Again, this is quite hard for me, as I like to drink cappuccinos all day, every day; they are my comfort food.)
Or, forgo this entire guide and do what you want (I simply need my cappuccino in the afternoon!) But as they say, when in Rome…
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
As of late, I was feeling as though I was at a crossroads. My beloved cappuccino was just a little too much milk for my afternoon pick-me-up, but I still wanted something warmer and more comforting than a simple shot of espresso. A macchiato (a shot of espresso marked with equal amounts milk — not the Starbucks mock-iato) wasn’t creamy enough for my afternoons, either. I had, of course, heard of a cortado — it’s nothing new or trendy. They’ve been drinking them in Spain for years.
In essence, the cortado is the Spanish lovechild of a macchiato and a cappuccino. It’s really all about ratio. The milk is used to cut the acidity of the espresso, but not too much. The espresso comes through to balance the milk, which is steamed more like a latte, with little-to-no foam. The milk is steamed at a lesser temperature as well, and it is served in a 5 to 7 oz. glass rather than ceramic. In this way, you simply cannot take a cortado to go, so relax and stay a while.
It’s small but perfectly satisfying; I often order two, it is just so good.
On your next trip to the cafe, order a cortado (La Colombe makes an amazing one). I promise, once you taste it, you’ll be hooked, and you might just order another!
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
The pour-over: It’s so simple; It’s so small; It barely takes up any room on your kitchen counter. A pour-over is just that — a way of brewing in which you pour boiled water water over the coffee.
Bring water to a boil, then set aside. Place the ceramic piece over the cup, insert a coffee filter, add freshly ground beans, and then pour. Pour slowly and steadily (I’m missing this gadget, which provides a more perfect form of pouring). Yet I’ve found that this method is nearly fool proof. Unlike the French Press, which requires a precise brew time — stop a little short, the cup is watery, brew too long, muddy — this is very forgiving. Just make sure to pour slowly, and to saturate all the beans. Fill up the cone to the brim with water, using slow, circular movements. Allow the coffee to “bloom,” or create an elevated foam. After the initial bloom, allow the coffee to brew for a moment, then continue to pour until there is a sufficient amount of water to fill one’s cup.
And that’s it. It takes less than five minutes, it makes a perfect cup — little sediment, and a clean, full flavor. As simple as the (awful) single cup “pods,” and better tasting to boot.
I use this one, from Blue Bottle.