Coffee Drinks

Written by Helen Glenn Court
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An adventurous palate might seem to be the first requisite to appreciating even the idea of a coffee drink. Once the image was somewhat international, artistic even. It conjured perhaps a fine espresso on a side street cafe in Florence in the shadow of the Ufizzi, or a cappuccino at a coffee bar in Paris. More recently, however, the range has come to include a venti white chocolate mocha on a cold January morning in Boston. Starbucks and Caribou Coffee and the local coffee bar have taken root seemingly everywhere. And where they haven't, the 7-11s and Wawas and Highs are stepping up to fill the niche.

A few definitions on typical brews are worth remembering. Cafe au lait is half regular coffee and half hot milk, whether with or without froth. Cafe latte is several shots of espresso to a higher proportion of steamed milk. Cappuccino is roughly equal proportions of espresso, steamed milk, and froth. The variations on these are infinite, given the flavorings that can be and usually are added. On the simple end of the cold coffee drink is the basic iced coffee I grew up familiar with, consisting of strong coffee with cream over ice cubes in July. This still does very nicely. Moving into the alcoholic beverage department, we have the famous white Russian. That, if you're not already familiar with it, is a melodious confluence of vodka, table cream, and coffee liqueur in a small glass over ice.

Then there's Irish coffee, which first came to the United States in the early 1950s, to San Francisco. The original 1930s recipe called for a jigger of Irish whiskey to two tablespoons of sugar, hot coffee, and fresh cream. Over the years, this has morphed into today's conventional recipe of Irish whiskey, Kahlua, Creme de Menthe, coffee, and whipped cream.

The Purist's Perspective

The coffee connoisseur, however, might disdain such elaborate coffee drinks on similar principle that he or she eschews flavored coffees. One significant claim against them is that they ruin what might otherwise be a fine cup of coffee, a careful brew of a fine bean. Certainly, there's merit to that perspective if you're talking about Hawaiian Kona extra fancy, or perhaps Tanzanian Peaberry, or Jamaican Blue Mountain. However, a Robusta brew--as its name might imply--can withstand a great deal.


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