Taste It, Don't Waste It: Coffee

Photo courtesy of Sherri Brooks Vinton

For many of us, the day does not begin until the coffee has happened. Whether you study your coffee with critical intensity - weighing every aspect of your morning joe from point of origin to grind to meticulous brew method - or you dump some grounds into your auto drip and chug down your morning jolt, coffee is often a pleasure and a necessity all in one. 

As much as I love the stuff, it's not uncommon, after I've had mine, for there to be a bit extra left in the pot. When I think of all that goes into getting coffee to my kitchen - including the growing, processing and transport it takes to ship the exotic beans - I can't imagine pouring the precious stuff down the drain. Following are some ideas to enjoy that extra fuel, whether it's a little or a lot, down to the last drop. 

Start with Good Brew

Coffee and the brewing of it are rich topics that in recent years have been the subject of heightened interest and debate. A few basic brewing bullets are widely accepted: 

Fresher is better - Freshly roasted beans are more flavorful than those that have been stored for a long time. Local roasters are popping up across the country - some  that roast their beans daily. Orchestrating this aspect of the process, as well as carefully sourcing the beans, gives boutique coffee purveyors deep control over the quality and flavor signature of their product. Seek out a local roaster, look for a "roasted on" date on your packaging or buy from a source that has high turn-over to enjoy every nuance of the beans. 

Timing is everything - Grind your beans as close to brewing time as possible for the most satisfying cup. Ideally, this would be right before brewing; something that can be easily handled by a small electric grinder kept in the kitchen. If that's not for you, consider having your beans ground at the point of purchase and use within a week or two for a greatly improved cup. 

Keep it clean - The flavorful oils in coffee are volatile and spoil quickly. To prevent rancid oils from making your brew taste bitter, clean your equipment regularly. Wash French press and gravity drip (such as Chemex) units after every use. Run a diluted solution of white vinegar and water through a cycle of your automatic drip machine regularly. 

Storing Brewed Coffee

Once you brew up your java it's important not to let it linger too long. If you are not going to drink it hot, it's best to cool your coffee quickly and store it covered and refrigerated to keep the brewed oils from oxidizing and becoming bitter. Popping your pot of leftover brew in the fridge rather than letting it sit out will help. Pouring the warm brew into a heat proof vessel, refrigerating until cool and then covering will preserve the coffee's flavors best. After about three to five days, refrigerated coffee will begin to lose its flavor so it's best to use it or freeze it before then. 

To freeze coffee, you can divide it into small containers or, better yet, ice cube trays so you always have great coffee flavor on hand. Here's how to use it up. 

Coffee as a Minor Player

Small amounts of coffee can have a big impact on your recipes. Just a few tablespoons can bring depth and complexity to a wide range of dishes, both savory and sweet, without making them taste distinctly coffee-like. Here are a few ideas for getting some good background flavor out of coffee without letting it dominate. 

Add to chocolate baked goods - A dash of brewed coffee or espresso amplifies chocolate's personality, making it taste simply more chocolatey. Try this trick with recipes that are heavy on the cocoa profile, such as a dark chocolate cake or creamy chocolate mousse, for a deep, decadent flavor. 

Add to chili and stew - A little coffee in slow-cooking beef dishes complements the hearty, earthy flavor of the meat. You can pour in a splash or, if you have frozen cubes on hand, just add one or two directly to your simmering dinner.

The coffee flavor is indistinguishable but adds a depth and complexity to the finished dish. 

Make a marinade - Coffee might not be your go-to for marinades but it can be a home run, particularly when paired with ingredients that are a little bit sweet, such as balsamic vinegar or cola. The bitter flavor of the coffee tempers the sugar and vice versa. 

Sauce it up! - Homemade sauces, such as mole, barbecue and the "Super Sauce" listed below, are a perfect match for the taste profile of coffee. The acidity of the brew brightens their flavors without making them too tangy. These sauces are great at dressing up simple dishes and can also serve as a base for casseroles, soups and stews. So, I like to make extra to can or freeze. 

Full on Java Jolt

Leftover coffee can also be used in recipes where you want that unique flavor front and center. Use these ideas to highlight that smoky, dark coffee flavor that we love. 

Iced coffee - The easiest way to use up chilled, leftover coffee is to just add ice - maybe with a little milk and sugar, if that's how you take it, for a quick iced coffee. Up the ante and use coffee ice cubes so you won't water down your drink. 

Whip up blended drinks - You don't need to make a coffee run to enjoy a blended coffee treat. A whir in your blender will turn your leftover coffee or coffee ice cubes into a coffee milkshake, frozen mocha latte and more. 

Make tiramisu - It's a classic for a reason. This famous Italian dessert of silky mascarpone cheese and coffee-dipped lady fingers is easy to make and full of creamy, coffee flavor. 

Coffee cocktail - Yes, Irish Coffee qualifies here, but there are so many ways to enjoy your coffee on the rocks, too. The "Bronx Bomber" with its mix of gin and absinthe sounds dangerously delicious. Or combine after dinner drinks and dessert all in one with this sweet concoction of coffee and all of the liqueurs. 

Frozen desserts - Not that a caffeine-filled coffee treat will ever be kid-friendly, but fun frozen desserts such as pops, ice cream and granita are great grown-up delights. Or swap in decaf so the whole family can dig in. 

Red eye gravy - They say this traditional southern combo of sautéed country ham and coffee-based gravy gets its name from the way the fat and liquid separate in the pan to form a "red eye." But my South Carolina-born grandma told me it's called "red eye" because it cures red eye (aka: a hangover). I believe my granny. You can go old-school and keep it simple or take this southern standby to the next level.

Recipe 

Super Sauce

Makes about one quart

Here is a sauce that has so many uses, you might want to double or triple the batch and freeze some for later. Slather it on meat before you throw it on the grill, add a few tablespoons to your rice, quinoa or couscous pot for gorgeous color and flavor, serve it as a burger or sandwich spread, swipe a bit on a grilled cheese, use it as a base for soup, chili or stew. It's even great on eggs. The coffee adds flavor but the volume of it is too small to add considerable caffeine, in my view. If you are sensitive, however, you can use decaf. 

Ingredients:

¼ cup neutral oil, such as organic canola

1 large yellow onion, diced

Salt and pepper

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 roasted red bell pepper, * skin, ribs and seeds removed and roughly chopped

1 ancho chili, stem, ribs and seeds removed

2 quarts tomatoes, preferably home canned

1 cup brewed coffee

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon ground coriander

½ teaspoon ground allspice

2 tablespoons brown sugar or molasses

Method:

In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, sauté the onion, seasoned with salt and pepper in the oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer on low, partially covered, until thickened, about half an hour. Remove from the heat. Remove none, half or all of the ancho chili, depending on your tolerance for spice. Puree the sauce with a stick blender or in batches in a traditional blender (being careful not to splash yourself with the hot liquid). Return the sauce to the pot, if necessary, and simmer on low heat until very thick (a dollop of the sauce spooned onto a saucer will not weep liquid), about another 10-15 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent scorching. 

*To roast a pepper: Lightly oil the pepper by rubbing it all over with a few drops of neutral oil, such as canola. Char the skin by using tongs to hold it over a gas burner; placing it under the broiler; or roasting over a hot grill until blackened on all sides. Place the pepper in a small bowl and cover with a saucer to allow the pepper to steam. When cool enough to handle, rub the charred skin off of the pepper and proceed with your recipe.


Sherri Brooks Vinton  wants you to have a more delicious life. Her writing, talks and hands-on workshops teach fellow eaters how to find, cook and preserve local, seasonal, farm friendly food. To find out more, visit www.sherribrooksvinton.com.