An impromptu afternoon delight

Coffee and dessert have made a perfect matrimony since before gelato affogato.

It’s that bitter, earthy flavor contrast with sweet cream that gets me every time. So naturally when I discovered I had all the fixings for an impromptu coffee dessert, I had to try it.

Affogato in Italian means “drowned,” and generally refers to a coffee dessert with a shot or two of espresso poured over the top.

After checking my fridge, I was delighted to find some leftover Dulce de Leche from my last recipe extravaganza.

Whereas affogato usually has more ice cream than coffee, I decided to create a caramel-flavored coffee with ice cream on the side.

The ingredients:

  • Freshly brewed coffee
  • Dulce de Leche
  • Skinny Dippers popcicles
  • Whipped cream

The assembly is so amazingly simple, too.

1. Pour coffee into desired glass.

2. Mix in 1 to 2 tbs. of Dulce de Leche.

3. Unwrap Skinny Dipper and submerge in coffee.

4. Top with whipped cream.

5. Enjoy.

Enjoying coffee and dessert doesn’t have to cost you $10 for a pint of ice cream and a latte.

Get creative with what you have at home instead.

The top view

The glass

A new toy: The ‘AeroPress’

Once I had reviewed the primary brewing methods, I thought I’d covered it all.

Wrong.

I was as jubilant as a humming bird to learn about the ‘AeroPress‘ (and secretly mortified it’s been around since 2005 without me knowing).

Fortunately, the person who tipped me off about the press also owns one, so I was able to give it a try for myself.

My initial impression from the name was that it was an imitation French press, but the the box describes it as a “coffee and espresso maker.”

I was skeptical.

The AeroPress‘ flavor is supposed to set itself apart from other brewing methods because it is:

-Less acidic than coffee (it has a lower pH)

-Low bitterness

One of the AeroPress’ most marketable feature is its ability to brew in 30 seconds or less — but that seems overstated from my experience.

Disadvantages:

-The assembly time is much more involved than a French press, espresso machine or coffee maker.

-The cleanup

-The stacks of filters and the multiple equipment components.

-The plunger gets stuck

Advantages:

-Quick brew time

-Smooth flavor

-Versatility — you can make lattes, americanos and straight espresso.

The instructions provided in the package are simple:

1. Remove plunger and the cap from the chamber.

2. Put a filter in the cap and twist it onto the chamber.

3. Stand the chamber on a sturdy mug.

4. Add two scoops of fine-drip grind coffee.

5. Pour hot water into the chamber.

6. Stir the water.

7. Insert the plunger and press down, maintaining the same pressure for 20 to 30 seconds.

8. Drink the americano, or add milk to make a latte.

The idea for the brewing device is certainly innovative and fun — I just don’t see myself stumbling into my kitchen half asleep starting my coffee this way.

It’s too involved for the morning. Oh, and it costs between $25 and $30 — the same for a drip maker.

The Aeropress

Check out my slideshow of using the AeroPress here.

Coffee and caffeine health 101: Good and bad any way you mix it

As with all addictions, there are varying levels of commitment to the vice.

But unlike most addictions, coffee has its benefits, too.

The avid drinker not only appreciates how coffee induces alertness, but also how emotionally uplifting it can be – just a 6 ounce cup can do the trick.

At the same time, coffee can make us restless and anxious when it’s time to hit the hay.

And have you ever noticed how the elixir makes you jittery if you drink it without eating? Body weight and food consumption play a large role in sensitivity to caffeine.

Frequent drinkers suffer pounding headaches that could last from a day to a week.

But, research results suggest that coffee can reduce your risk of developing diabetes, insulin resistance and the metabolic syndrome by roughly 50 percent.

Caffeine in coffee is beneficial for exercise as well by improving muscular capacity.

Drinking coffee regularly helps to fulfill daily fluid requirements, too.

One concern among the coffee community is the speculation about French press coffee because it doesn’t use a filter, which means that higher levels of cafestol enter the coffee.

Cafestol is a substance that resides in the oily fraction of coffee that stimulates LDL cholesterol levels. So, if you’re struggling with your cholesterol levels, you should consider choosing filtered or instant coffee.

Aside from its ability to produce energy, coffee is also beneficial in that it is loaded with antioxidants, which are usually associated with fruits and vegetables.

One 2005 study showed Americans received more antioxidants from coffee than fruits or vegetables.

Any way you mix it, there are pros and cons. So, my final words of advice: drink at your own risk.

Photo courtesy of Claire Oliver

Latte art: The holy grail for baristas

Let’s face it – we’re used to baristas dumping steamed milk over espresso, slapping on a plastic lid and sending us on our way.

Once we’re on the road, there’s virtually no turning back. If the milk’s cold or the espresso is burnt, we deal with it.

But let’s think back to the history of coffee – a history that is marked by luxury and refinement.

The aesthetic and cultured qualities of coffee are perhaps best conveyed through latte art, a sophisticated technique of creating pictures using espresso and foamed milk.

I set out to investigate the nuances of this technique at Cornerstone in McMinnville, Ore. My mission: to find out what it takes to make latte art (and to give it a try myself).

Good latte art results from the crema (the caramel-colored foam of the espresso) and the foam (specifically microfoam) of the milk mixing together.

There are two types of latte art: free pouring and etching. In free pour, the art is made as the barista pours the milk. In etching, the barista creates the contrast of crema and foam and then draws in the image using a pointed tool.

Today, we’re learning about the free pour.

Basic tools:

-An espresso machine

-A milk pitcher with straight walls and a pointed spout.

-A 12 to 16 ounce cup.

The process:

1. Pour cold milk into the pitcher. Breve works best because of its fat content, but even nonfat can produce microfoam.

2. Insert thermometer or place hand to side of pitcher before steaming.

3. Heat until 80 degrees Fahrenheit before placing wand the side of the pitcher to aerate. Continue steaming until it reaches between 150 and 160 degrees.

4. Continue swirling the milk in its pitcher to prevent the microfoam from settling on top of the milk. Pull your shot of espresso.

5. Pour the espresso into your cup and begin pouring until the cup is half-full. Begin pulling the pitcher up as you shake it back and forth to create a rosetta design.

6. Once the milk reaches the top, pour the milk up the center of the pattern.

Art may be pretty, but it’s never too pretty to drink.

Check out my video on latte art here.

Brewing in style with the French Press

Politics aside, there’s a reason to like the French – and not just for their fries or for the Statue of Liberty.

I’m talking about the French Press, a sophisticated and simplistic brewing device that dates back to the late 1800s.

The last time I reviewed brewing methods, I briefly introduced the French Press, only indicating that it requires a slightly coarser grind than the coffee pot.

So you might be wondering if it’s a slightly different brewing method – why choose to use a French Press over a coffee pot?

There are key flavor distinctions:

-Smooth

-Earthy

-Balanced

The French Press is also the least expensive brewer available – cheers to that! And it’s the best way to control time and temperature when brewing.

This unparalleled flavor from the French Press results from the extraction time and the delivery of volatile oils, which often get caught in the paper filters.

Steps in brewing:

1. Boil the correct amount of water for the press.

2. Freshly grind the coffee. About 10 to 12 pulses of the grinder will suffice.

3. Place the coffee grounds in the bottom of the glass. Make it about an inch thick. Use more or less depending on how strong your prefer your coffee.

4. Pour the boiling water (between 195 and 200 degrees Fahrenheit) over the coffee until it fills the press.

5. Replace the plunger.

6. Set a timer for 4-5 minutes.

7. Slowly push the plunger down.

8. Pour coffee and enjoy.

Use the press to impress!

For tips from the pros, visit this video to see how a World Barista Champion brews French Press coffee.

View my slideshow of making French Press coffee here.

Learning the Classics: How to Make a Vanilla Latte

Brewing a pot of coffee at home is certainly not rocket science and also spares you some pocket change at the local drive-thru.

Those budget-conscious people who cannot part with their morning latte seem to think there aren’t any alternatives to spending $4 a day.

Wrong.

A few weeks ago, I reviewed the four primary home brewing methods and the equipment required for each. Espresso machines, however, require some elaboration.

Contrary to popular belief, espresso machines are a fairly inexpensive investment. A fully functional espresso maker with a steam wand can be as cheap as $60 – or about 20 lattes.

As always, you’ll need a coffee grinder and whole beans before attempting to make espresso. You’ll also need to spend about $10 on a tamper, which is a device that helps evenly distribute and pack your espresso in the filter basket before brewing.

Once you have your equipment in place, you’re ready to begin.

The basic components of a vanilla latte include:

1. Freshly brewed espresso (two shots for 16 oz.)

2. Freshly steamed milk with foam

3. Vanilla syrup (2 tablespoons for 16 oz.)

The steps in brewing espresso:

1. Grind the espresso finely.

2. Overfill the filter basket with ground coffee.

3. Use the tamper to pack the coffee in a puck shape. Apply about 30 pounds of pressure.

4. Tap the filter basket on the counter to shake up loose espresso. Press down once more.

5. Pull the shot for no more than 10 seconds.

Check out the composition of a good shot of espresso here.

Put your espresso skills to the test in a vanilla latte by following my instructional video.

Here’s a preview of the final product:

Coffee Houses You Need to Visit

Seattle may be a coffee mecca, but Portland’s not far off base. Here’s a list of my favorite local coffee houses:

1. Stumptown

2. Dragonfly Coffee

3. Anna Bananas

4. Coffee Time

5. Ava

6. Rimsky Korsakoffee

7. Sip and Kranz

8. Bijou Cafe

9. Barista

10. Spella

Your coffee experience in Portland isn’t complete until you’ve visited a few of these places.