Brewing up a sweet storm
Exotic varieties of coffee like Monsoon Malabar and Ethiopian Yirgacheffe are making their way out of cups to the dessert plates of food lovers, says Rahul Verma
My friends from Calcutta returned from their holiday to Vietnam with a packet of Vietnamese coffee for us. I would have told you more about the coffee if the text on the packaging had not been all in Vietnamese. What I can tell you, though, is that it was superb — with a strong flavour and a touch of vanilla. A cup of hot coffee in the morning was like a nice dessert.
It doesn’t surprise me at all that coffee is often the central ingredient in a dessert. But I find that chef Azad Taslim Arif is going a step further — he is preparing various kinds of desserts with different kinds of coffees at Chai, the tea and coffee lounge at the Vedic Village Spa Resort in Calcutta. Coffees from various parts of the world have their own flavours and add to the taste of a particular kind of dessert, he holds.
Arguably, the best known dessert prepared with coffee is the tiramisu, prepared with espresso coffee. But chef Azad likes to use Kenyan coffee for this.
“Coffee from Kenya is known for its intense flavour and pleasant aroma. It also has a flavour of cocoa in it,” he says. “So it makes our tiramisu completely different from a normal tiramisu.”
Madhumita Mohanta, the executive chef at The Lalit Great Eastern Kolkata, uses strong espresso coffee not just for her tiramisu, but for other desserts, too. “We mostly use Jamaican coffee for its smoothness,” she says.
Jamaican coffee has been one of my favourites too, ever since I had my first cup of Blue Mountain coffee several years ago. These days, however, my staple is the good old south Indian filter coffee, which I usually buy from a venerable coffee shop called Devans in central Delhi.
Chef Azad uses south Indian coffee, too, but the Monsoon Malabar coffee for his Malabar truffle slice with sea salt and chilli flakes. This is essentially a process that’s applied to coffee beans. The beans are less acidic because they are exposed to rain and wind for several weeks at a stretch. The process, he says, leaves the beans with a heavy bodied flavour, along with a nutty, spicy and chocolaty aroma.
I suppose, like wines (and Scotch), it’s the region that gives a coffee bean its special flavours. The soil, the water and the weather together add to its taste.
The Brazilian Santos coffee is known for its smoothness — and is used by chef Azad for his blueberry parfait with Belgian chocolate cake and Brazilian Santos sauce. The Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee, to be found in the Ethiopian opera slice, has a fruity and floral flavour. Javanese coffee is known for its strong flavour, and goes into a coffee mousse with mint dust.
A mousse, the chefs tell me, is a particularly good vehicle for coffee flavours. Chef Subhas Basu of The Tangerine in Calcutta complements coffee with strawberry in his coffee-strawberry mousse.
Coffee, he says, is like a spice and you have to know how much to use. “But the many uses of coffee can be left to the chef’s imagination,” says chef Basu, who often adds instant coffee to a basic dessert sauce of cream and butter emulsion for colour and flavour.
A dear friend who is a mean cook has a simple recipe for an instant coffee pudding. Take one cup of strong instant coffee, one cup of milk, three-four tablespoons of sugar, a bar of chocolate and three eggs. Blend them well in a blender. Add a teaspoon of vanilla essence. Now let it bake in an oven at 180°C for half an hour.
Try it out. And then we can move on to the Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee.
Photographs by Subhendu Chaki;
Location courtesy: Vedic Village Spa Resort, Calcutta