It takes me time to adjust to the fall time change in New England. How about you? Gaining an hour should be something to get excited about, but waking up in the dark and having it dark by late afternoon is not exciting. There is getting used to the sun being in a different morning position. I have gotten used to a routine, as simple as where the sun shines as I write, making it feel like an old friend. For a time, it’s low enough that I have to draw the curtains a bit to keep the glare out of my eyes; causing me to feel a little ungrateful. On the upside, the sun quickly moves onward and upward, extending its welcoming warmth; allowing me to go without an oil delivery a bit longer.
This morning I had to go out and refill my bird feeders. It was a chilly morning and although it was quickly melting, a heavy frost had blanketed my backyard and neighboring pasture. As I enjoyed the crunch of frozen crystals beneath my feet, I was glad I had started the coffee brewing before heading outside. The warmth of my filled mug, as well as the steaming black, liquid gold itself would be welcomed. The outside cold didn’t deter the birds. Chickadees, being social birds, came in close as I poured seed into the feeder. I enjoyed hearing them chirp appreciation and approval. Coming back into the house, I headed directly to the coffee pot. As I filled my mug, I considered all of the ways I enjoy my coffee. Mostly, I don’t get too fancy, but in the colder months of Maine winters, I’ll occasionally imbibe in a Mexican coffee called café de olla. It defines Mexican coffee. Sometimes this coffee is called “funeral coffee” as it is served at Mexican all-night wakes. Don’t let this deter you. This coffee is always enjoyable.
Café de olla is a mellow, sweet coffee and is traditionally prepared in an earthenware jar called an olla. An olla is bulbous in shape, with a wider, bulging bottom at the base of a narrower neck. The neck is narrow, as the pot is most often used for storing water. The narrower neck retards evaporation. I expanded my research and found that when the pots are unglazed, water seeps slowly from them.
Unglazed pots are buried near the plants and filled with water. Over time, the water slowly seeps from the pots to the plants, making them an excellent irrigation tool. Master gardeners are incorporating this technique into their teachings on dessert agriculture. For this use, an alternative to a genuine olla would be altering the clay pots that are frequently found at plant nurseries.
Back to coffee. “Piloncillo”, along with spices such as cinnamon, cloves and optional anise, is robust and adds to richness to a medium grind, dark roast coffee. Piloncillo is unrefined whole cane sugar and is sold in solid, cone shapes for easy storage. It’s made by boiling and evaporating sugarcane juice. With a large amount of effort, the solid cones can be chopped or grated for use in a recipe. Extra time is needed for dissolving. The smaller the pieces are chunked or grated, the quicker they will dissolve. Raw sugar, commonly found in American supermarkets, is a close substitute. Piloncillo adds character and is a nice compliment to an earthy tasting coffee.
Most of us don’t have an olla, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy a taste of Mexico in our home. Here’s my preferred adaptation of the traditional Mexican version.
- 4 cups of water
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 4 whole cloves
- 4 ounces of Piloncillo, brown sugar or raw sugar
- ½ cup medium ground dark roast coffee
- 2 cups of milk
- Combine water, spices, and sweetener in a medium stainless pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer for 5 mins. This allows time for the spices to meld and the sweetener to dissolve.
- Remove this mixture from the heat. Be sure to note the liquid has stopped boiling, then add the coffee grounds, and stir gently. Boiling coffee grounds brings out bitter flavors. Steep for 5 minutes, before pouring through a fine mesh strainer.
- Add milk to taste. Serve immediately.
The smell and taste of the spices add character and warmth to the body, as well as the home, making it an excellent choice for an autumn or winter celebration.