Monday, October 29, 2007

Coffee Flowers

Coffee Flowers
Originally uploaded by chipandandy
When we still lived in California, Andy was kind enough to buy me a Coffee Plant. Two actually. They were cute, about six inches tall with three or four leaves each. That was a couple of years ago (seven, almost eight).

Since then, we have moved to Florida, bought a house with a yard that had absolutely nothing in it and therefore had a lot of room to plant said coffee plants. And, I think our house is built on top of a nuclear waste dump, or possibly an ancient indian burial ground, because everything we have planted has grown to twice its normal height or grown to maturity in half of the expected time.
Coffee Plant

This shot is of the coffee plants this past April which would put the Coffee plants at about eight years old. That is them growing around the Frangipani. They flowered last year and even set fruit, but only a few actually made it to harvest. And, I was so excited to have the flowers and resulting beans I never even considered what to do with them.
Coffee Flower

I will draw your attention back to that shot, and then this one, and point out the abundance of flowers on the plant. Coffee flowers are surprisingly attractive even if they don't have much aroma. And there are so many flowers that it looks like snow has fallen, if snow could fall on only one plant and in South Florida.

Once the flowers have done their little bit for the birds and the bees, you wind up with coffee fruit. And then you get to look at green coffee fruit for a long time.
Unripe Coffee Fruit
I don't know how long it takes the fruit to ripen for regular plants in, say, Hawaii, but here it took six months before any color started to show. And, even after they started to show the first blush of red, it was still another month before the fruit were ready to pick. And, without the guidance of Juan and his little burro, I am not sure I waited long enough, or maybe I waited too long, Juan where are you when I need you?

After the fruit looks like fruit, well actually after some of the started to turn from red to brown, I decided it was time to start harvesting. Grab a bowl, start pulling fruit, how simple can it be. Actually, picking the fruit was very easy, it was the hulling of the fruit that turned out to be a mess. Now, the coffee farmers have their methods for hulling the fruit and most of them are mechanical. I, however, am not a coffee farmer and have no nice Coffee Huller 3000 to zip my beans out of their protective fruit casing. Thumb and forefinger is all I got and that is what I started to do.
Coffee Fruit

I should mention here that I have mild ADD. Not clinically or anything, just a really short attention span and squeezing coffee fruits is only fun for about the first thirty minutes. So, over the next two weeks I am squeezing coffee fruit as the ones in my bowl are now turning black as the fruit shrivels up into a surprisingly hard skin over my precious coffee beans encased within. You can see in this shot the beans, some red fruit still ready for squeezing, and plenty of brown to black fruit that will need peeling. Did I mention yet that Florida is not known for its great coffee? And that all of this work may be for nothing because the beans may not be any good once harvested, roasted, ground, brewed and finally poured...

I am determined to try, damn-it, and there are several things spurring me on...

First, about six months ago I read an article in a magazine about this Doctor guy that was using grape growing techniques to train the coffee plant onto a trellis to make the plant fan out and produce more beans. And he spends six months a year in Hawaii growing his coffee, and then six months a year treating sick people. Lucky bastard.

Then, I see a couple of blogs talking about home-roasting techniques, and I am sorry that I can't find them now to link back to them, but the coffee roasting portions were actually in passing so it is not really important. I'll just say it was enough to keep the idea running in my tiny little brain-space.

Then, at the same time I am starting to harvest the beans, I get a new magazine in the mail and one of the major articles is about at-home coffee roasting. The magazine in question is Imbibe and if you drink and don't have a subscription you are so missing out. And the article in question is "HEAT WAVE: Backyard coffee roasters take their morning cup into their own hands. By ANNA MANTZARIS." One of the many options presented for the home-coffee roaster is a air-pop popcorn popper.

Now, having had many of these during my childhood and then giving them up because they quit heating properly or they were offered up in the last garage sale because we only ever use the microwave now to pop our corn it was with some delight that a trip to the local Goodwill turned up a Pop-Air 2 (and several albums, but that is another blog) with a Made-in-America sticker still proudly pasted on the side.

A quick stop for lunch and then home to try my hand at roasting my own coffee. Not just any coffee, but coffee from my own plant harvested by my own hand. The excitement grows, and even retelling the story here gives me a little giggle.

OK, I like my coffee very dark and I typically use espresso roast for my daily coffee. So with my new found knowledge, combined with lots of other knowledge already lurking around the brain, the beans go into the Pop-Air 2. Pretty quickly, the beans dry enough and roast enough to reach the 'first crack,' which surprisingly is exactly what it sounds like, a cracking noise. Very much like popping popcorn, there are a few hints of a cracking noise, then lots and lots of cracking noises, then less and less cracking which is very quickly replaced with the smell of roasted coffee. Like I said, I like my coffee dark so I am going to roast past the second crack by a lot and get what I hope to be a dark roast as close to an espresso roast as I can. Well, the second crack is not as pronounced as the first because I didn't hear it, possibly because of the rather loud motor of the Pop-Air (which, by the way, is proudly Made-in-America because the label said so). So we are all standing around watching the beans go round and round and scooping out a bean every few minutes to inspect the progress. After about twenty more minutes we decide this is as dark as we are going to get, again possibly due to the limitations of the Pop-Air 2.

First batch out to cool, second batch in to start. The second batch reaches first crack in just a couple of minutes because the Pop-Air 2 is still hot from the first batch. And, the second batch delivers a more pronounced second crack, total time from green beans to roasted coffee is about twenty minutes. Mix both batches together and grab the grinder. A good long spin to get a really fine grind and into the top of the Melita it goes. The aroma is promising, the color of the ground coffee is invitingly dark, and the first water from the kettle makes it smell even better. This just might be good!

First pot and three people in the house to try it. I can not live without my morning cup. Our house guest is the same. Andy, she can take it or leave it because she has only in the last few years started to drink it with any regularity. All of us agree that a good cup of coffee is a thing of beauty and that anything less is simply brown water. With all of that in mind we watch as the water slowly drains down through the filter and fills the pot with an impressive looking dark potion of caffeinated bliss. At least we hope it is bliss that awaits us. Did I mention that South Florida is not known as one of the coffee growing capitals of the world?

Finally, the pour.

Six months of watching coffee fruit slowly grown and turn blood red. Messy hands and smelly coffee fruit hulls. Eight dollars for a used Pop-Air 2. All leading to this final moment.....


We have coffee that is drinkable. It is the best cup of coffee I have ever had, but if I offered you some you would not be impressed. It is the best cup of coffee I have ever had because it was brewed with beans that I grew, harvested, roasted, and then brewed myself. So that makes it a very special cup of coffee, to me at least.

I don't, however, think that South Florida will become the next great coffee growing location. But, if you stop by in the next day or two I will gladly share a cup my coffee. I say day or two because all the whole process only yielded a bit less than half of a pound of coffee. That won't last but a couple of days around here.

Here is the entire photo set

Coffee Flower Green Beans First Cup

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Do you measure?

Read this article by Robert Hess over at The Spirit World and thought you would enjoy it.

And I completely agree. The importance of measuring your ingredients is for consistency more so than for accuracy. I think measuring is even more important so you can write down the good ones when you are experimenting behind the bar.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Mojitos... And drinks like them.

Originally uploaded by chipandandy

Well... as most of the US starts the chilly decline into winter, we here in South Florida are still sitting under a heat index that is over 100 degrees. I only share that to make the point that those fine summer drinks, like a Mojito, don't need to be closeted away just yet.

  • 3 - 4 Mint Leaves, plus a pretty sprig
  • 1 -2 Tablespoons of Sugar, granulated is best
  • 1 medium size Lime, quartered or smaller
  • 1.5 ounce Light Rum
  • Club soda

    Muddle lime, sugar, and mint in a heavy bottomed collins glass. Add crushed ice, rum, soda, and stir lightly. Garnish with Mint sprig and a straw.

    Some recipes call for bitters, I think a dash of Angostura is a real treat in this drink.

    Why the Mojito? Well, a couple of things......

    First, I read this hilarious post over at The Art of Drink that involves. among other drinks, the Mojito. Then, Skitiki is keeping the FOM Test Kitchens busy with a Drink of the Month, and this month she has taken our humble Ti' Punch and moved it forward in time and taste to the Mojito. I figure back-to-back Mojito references is a sign to step behind the bar for a moment....

    I like Mojitos, and like many fine drinks a good Mojito is a thing of beauty and taste. Sadly, this drink is well on its way to being commercialized, if it hasn't already crossed that threshold, and that will be a shame. There is nothing more depressing than to see good drinks wind up inside of a slurpy machine (I still love you Margarita), or worse yet, seeing a whole menu devoted to all of the 'variations' (sorry Martini). But, with your help maybe we can save this one.....

    How do you make a good Mojito? Simple. Find some good looking mint, the best smelling lime you can find in your markets, and a good Light Rum. Like any other drink, quality counts so get the best you can find, or at least the best you can afford. Now, as to the rum, my friend Scottes recommends Ron Matusalem Platino. I tried the last batch with Oronoco (thanks Helz!) and I was very pleased. I don't recommend Bacardi, unless that is the only light rum you happen to have on your bar, because it is a boring rum with absolutely no character or body.

    I can't offer any kind of secret to the mint beyond fresh, or any tips for muddling the drink, or some super-secret formulation for the club soda. I can offer you a drink that will help you hold on to what ever is left of summer in your area, even if you have to stand over a heating grate to be able to wear your shorts.

    Go, get mixing.

    Yes, I know my picture is really a Caprihnia, but I was digging in the back of the bar and got distracted... The camera battery didn't make it to round two.

  • Sunday, October 14, 2007

    Blackberry Shrub

    Blackberry Shrub
    Originally uploaded by chipandandy
    OK, I read something a while ago and then forgot it.

    Then, I see a blog entry mentioning it again. It sticks in the head a little bit longer, but eventually gets pushed out by something more entertaining.

    Then, I see several people talking about it and I get this funny feeling that I already know the punch line, but it is just out of mental reach....

    Well, after reading Cocktail Nerd and finding a discussion on the humble Shrub, I decided that this time I would write it down. And I did. And now I am hooked. Now I can't wait to get to the market to pickup a couple of things to see how they work. To wit....

    The Blackberry Shrub.
    This one is Blackberry Shrub, some simple syrup, some Silver Tequila (Milagro, to be specific) and Sprite. In a word, Yummy!

    I tried Raspberry and it is good. I tried it with many different rums and they were all good. So good, in fact, that I quickly ran out of Shrub. Then, this weekend we gathered many of us into the FOM Test Kitchens and one of the things we were cooking up is another batch of Shrub. This time, blackberry from the frozen blackberry pulp we get in our freezer section (100% frozen fruit pulp, I think Goya is the brand).

    Well, it is easy to make. The hardest part of the whole process is waiting for it to cool enough to start mixing. So, add more ice!

    Round One - White rum and Vernon's Ginger-ale. Very tasty, has a weird linger after you get to the bottom of your glass. Not sure if the linger is from the vinegar or the Vernon's

    Round Two - Medium Rum and Sprite. Very tasty, opens up the blackberry very well, but the Sprite makes it overly sweet.

    Round Three - Milagro and Sprite. On a lark, or possibly a dare, we crack open the tequila and give it a try. Cut back the syrup a tiny bit, increased the shrub by a bit, topped with sprite and WOW! This was something really nice to sit out on the deck with.

    I know most of you northerners are saying "Deck?" Well, it is still in the high 80s here in South Florida and tall refreshing drinks on the deck are still the order of the day. Not trying to rub it in or anything, just saying that the seasons run a bit contrary down here....

    Any way.... The Humble Shrub. If you haven't yet tried it, get going! This may be the best thing to happen to your bar in a while.

    Saturday, October 13, 2007

    Mixology Saturday....(?)

    We are gathering later today to make a bunch of home-brew stuff for the bar. Chris from The Modern Day Hobbitt, Don from Experiment 33, and yours truly are gathering a list of arcane recipes with unusual ingredients and even weirder preparation methods and plan on spending an evening huddled over a pile pots with bubbling potions and a stack of some empty bottles that should be full by the end of the evening.

    If everything goes according to plan we will end with some Hibiscus Liqueur, Falernum, Pimento Dram or a close approximation, and many flavored and infused syrups including the oft used Passion Syrup. I hope we will have started the process for at least two batches of bitters including Regans Orange #5. And, I hope to have started a batch of a Nutmeg Liqueur of which the recipe must, at this time at least, remain secret.

    So, provided we don't blow ourselves up or burn the FOM Kitchen Labs to the ground, all three of us should have plenty of new stuff for the bar and that means plenty of new stuff to share with you.

    Keep drinking, we need the empty bottles.

    Oh, and can you save the cork stoppers too?

    Thursday, October 11, 2007

    Want a Hawaiian Punch?

    I'm going to steal a bit of Loki's thunder and tell you about a fascinating punch he served recently.....

    Trader Vic's Tahitian Rum Punch

  • 2 pounds brown Sugar
  • 5 Dozen Oranges
  • 4 Dozen Lemons
  • 10 Bananas
  • 3 Grapefruit
  • 2 Sprigs Mint
  • 10 Bottles of White Wine
  • 6 Bottles of White Rum
  • 1 Bottle of Jamaican Rum

    Squeeze the fruit and slice the bananas and put everything except the rum in a very large crock. Everything, rinds and all, put it all in there. Let this stand overnight. On the next day, add your rum. Strain off and discard the fruit pulp and rinds and pour your punch into a large bowl (or small barrel) with plenty of ice. Add a ladle and some glassware and you are done.

    This is from Trader Vic's 1946 Book of Food & Drink. And, yes, that is TEN bottles of white wine and SIX bottles of rum, well seven bottles of rum total. The rums were originally called as Boca Chica or Brugal for the white rum and Red Heart or Myers' for the Jamaican. I think Loki used Cruzan and Meyer's because they were both readily available.

    On a side note, here in Florida you would think that we would have access to just about every rum known to man seeing as most of it has to cross our path from the Islands to you. Sadly, our liquor stores have a generally sad collection of rums. Unless, of course, you want something from Barcardi, then they have many cases of the stuff on the shelf.

    Back to the punch....

    This makes the most scary looking vat of stuff you have ever seen. Click on the photo and take a look at the other shots, you'll see what I mean. However, when this gets poured off into the serving bowl, the crowd goes wild. The total volume of this when done is just about five gallons, and I was pouring gallon three into the bowl after only about two hours of party.

    The most common question I heard was "Wow! This is good!" Then they would scrunch up their face and try to figure out what 'that' taste was.... that odd bit of something you weren't expecting from a rum punch. (psst.... its the wine!) Then, they would very quickly go back for more.

    To make a long story short (too late...) this is an excellent punch and is worth the effort. It makes a large quantity and can be made the day before your party freeing you up to other party planning duties. It doesn't have too many ingredients making it easy to mix up and eliminates the "what's that" when explaining to your guests what is in their cup. Everything a good punch should be.

    And, if you take the time to fish out the bananas, they are preserved quite nicely and make a fabulous desert if you drizzle a bit of dark rum over them.