From the onset of the holiday season, scrooges and Christmas fans have one complaint in common, if it’s so wonderful why isn’t it like this year round? Then January 2 happens and there’s a collective gasp – what have I done?! Nothing fits! I’m so hungover! I have to get rid of this tree! Churches empty and gyms fill, and it’s only been a month. While I support the idea of everyday peace, love and understanding, I don’t think we’re up to daily Christmas just yet.
Resolutions can restore some balance, and I have personally resolved to stick to a new Tuesday-Thursday-Sunday posting schedule which I thought I’d mention to keep me honest. My kitchen is only starting to come together after a quick renovation went long, so I was excited to get back in there yesterday. I couldn’t think of a better way to start a new year of on-schedule posts than with really strong coffee. Having been home for the holidays, I’d gotten used to stopping at ventanitas, the coffee stands set up at most Cuban restaurants in Miami. The small stations usually contain a warmer full of pastries, a giant juicer packed with oranges, cigars and cigarettes, a large igloo water dispenser, and an enormous espresso machine working non-stop. Typically manned by one or two women, they calmly take multiple orders, give change, give advice, settle arguments, and serve countless pastries while producing a steady stream of pitch perfect coladas, cafe con leches and cortaditos.
If I only found great espresso at the ventanitas, I would leave it the professionals and Hindu goddesses with the skill and twenty arms it takes to work those stations. But visits to friends and family begin with the offer of un cafecito which they also seem to get right – hot, strong and sweet. I’ve never been very good at making Cuban coffee at home, so I resolved that this year I would put away my Krups machine and finally learn to use my stove top espresso maker. The more it’s used, the better the result and it was the only way I knew to get the espumita, that even layer of caramel colored foam that settles across the espresso once it’s poured. Though good coffee is typical, great coffee is rare so I consulted my aunt in charge of cafe and espuma at all of our gatherings for measurements, techniques and tricks. Five days into the new year, I’m only three batches into my new maker but already hooked. It’s the one resolution I’ll have no problem keeping. I had planned on making a cake for Three Kings Day but I’ll have to leave Balthazar, Gaspar, and Melchior cafecitos instead. I’m sure they’ll appreciate the gesture for the long road ahead.
The following measurements are based on a 6-cup stove top espresso maker.
1 1/3 cup of cold water*
4-5 tablespoons espresso, finely ground coffee
4 teaspoons of sugar
Fill the lower chamber with cold water. Insert the funnel and fill with coffee. Pat smooth with back of spoon to level off but do not press down. Replace upper chamber with handle and lid and screw tightly. Place pot over low heat.
When the coffee just starts to percolate, take the first few drops and add it to the measuring cup with a few teaspoons of sugar then beat it to form a creamy paste while the rest of the coffee percolates. Off heat, pour in in the rest of the espresso in a steady stream and mix until well blended with the sugar emulsion. Pour into the individual demitasse cups for a quick shot or add to steamed milk.
*Many espresso makers have a line indicating the proper water level. The water should always come below the safety valve and should not come up through the funnel when it’s replaced on the base