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Coffee, my quest for perfection

Nov 5, 2005 | From the kitchen of Rose

of all the substances, liquid and solid, that pass through the portals of my lips, coffee is the most sacred, i.e. the last one i willingly would relinquish. the funny thing is i'm not even affected by caffeine. i can drink a cup of coffee and go straight to sleep. so i don't consider my love of coffee an addiction but rather a passion.

it started when i was only 3 years old and went shopping with my grandmother. in those days supermarkets ground the coffee beans right at the checkout counter so even if she wasn't buying coffee that day someone was and i was guaranteed a whiff of the most delicious aroma i had every experienced. i wasn't allowed to drink coffee at that age except for a rare exception was when my mother would pour a little milk into the tiny cream pitchers used in those days to hold the top cream from unhomoginized milk. then, to my great joy, she would add a half eye- dropper full of freshly brewed coffee. bliss. i also loved watching and smelling the coffee percolating in the aluminum pot on the stove top.

i started drinking coffee when i went away to college. but it was a bit of a disappointment because after all those years of expectation, the delicious aroma i had smelled was never present fully in the flavor. the mystery was revealed one day in a food course when the professor talked about the concept of volatile oils. she explained that the coffee aromas were carried in the oils of the coffee bean and that what i was smelling was these wonderful aromas that were virtually flying away from the brewing coffee and disappearing into the air. in fact, she said that percolating coffee was the worst possible thing one could do because more and more aromas were evaporating while the coffee was passing through the grounds repeatedly extracting bitterness. it was as if a light-bulb went off in my head. from that moment it became my goal to find a way to keep the precious aroma IN the coffee.

to this effect i went through many coffee pots during my first marriage. when i discovered the melitta little porcelain drip pot i knew this would be the closest thing to perfection but my former husband told me that though he had been planning to give it to me for christmas that year, somehow he couldn't bring himself to do it because he felt it was just too "sick." o.k. i had already tried to no avail an aluminum drip pot, an electric percolator and even an electric vacuum coffee maker that sounded like 12 snoring dogs. but i wasn't willing to give up so why was he?

right after the divorce i bought the melitta. and i had been right--the drip system and non-reactive porcelain was as close to perfection as i had hoped. but the real epiphany happened many years later when i celebrated my birthday dinner with my present husband (now of 30 years--he knew better than to interfere with my quests for perfection) at one of tony may's wonderful restaurants. at the end of the dinner i ordered espresso and it was the best coffee i had ever tasted. in fact it had the very flavor of the aroma never forgotten from childhood. fortunately tony may was present that night and explained about a new coffee system he had brought back from italy called illy. he explained that the coffee was in individual capsules and therefore never exposed to air or oxygen that would cause deterioration until the very moment it was placed in the coffee maker.

i didn't know at that moment that my love for this coffee would, many years later, transport me (my photo) onto the wall of the new illy galleria located at 382 west broadway in soho, nyc, and that my recipe for illy café panna cotta would have the honor of being served there during the duration of this special educational theater/café. (www.illyusa.com/galleria)

panna cotta is a custard thickened with a little gelatin rather than the usual egg. i suggested serving it in the exquisite illy espresso cup collection, garnished with a coffee bean. this 5 ingredient dessert is the soul of simplicity, easy to make, yet one of the most deliciously satisfying desserts in the world. it is like eating ice cream that isn't frozen yet holds its perfectly creamy consistency. excellence of flavor depends entirely on the quality of the coffee used to prepare it.

here's the recipe in case you don't get a chance to visit the galleria, or in case you want to make it part of your own permanent collection.

serves: 6 to 9

2 1/4 cups heavy cream
7 tablespoons (3 ounces/85 grams) sugar, preferably turbinado
1/4 cup (0.75 ounces/20 grams) finely ground illy coffee
1-1/2 teaspoons powdered gelatin (4.7 grams)
1-1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
garnish: chocolate coffee beans

9--2 ounce demitasse or 6 small decorative dessert or custard cups
in a 4 cup microwave-safe measure or small saucepan, stir together the cream, sugar, and coffee. sprinkle gelatin on top and allow to sit for at least 3 minutes. stir in gelatin and microwave or heat, stirring constantly, just until bubbles form around edge. pour liquid through fine strainer or strainer lined with cheesecloth. stir in vanilla and pour into espresso cups. cover tightly and chill until set, at least 2 hours. garnish with coffee beans or chocolate coffee beans.


Good question! Illy doesn't sell instant coffee. So it is ground coffee beans. But I must point out that you must use Illy coffee, as any other will impart a completely different flavor. This noticeable by the Illy fans like myself.


Louise Allen
Louise Allen
06/24/2008 10:55 AM

I hope this is not a stupid question but - the recipe calls for 1/4 cup (0.75 ounces/20 grams) finely ground illy coffee. Is that ground coffee beans or instant coffee? thank you, Louise


On the subject of coffee and making your Killer Kahlua Chiffon, just wanted to share that I will try this recipe by using macadamia nut oil instead of safflower oil.

I think it should work? and how appropriate for my locale.


it says on the side of the jar--i think 1 teaspoon per cup but do it by taste.


Dear Rose. I am 1 cake behind, but would like to plan for the next cake already. I am planning for Mexican Killer Kahlua Chiffon Cake from Rose's Melting Pot, all these words I can identify with, and the presentation is simplilly STUNNING!

Question. How can I substitute Medaglio d'Oro instant espresso powder with Illy freshly shot espresso? How many teaspoons (or grams) of instant espresso equals to one Illy espresso cup? I've read somewhere that to make espresso, you can dissolve 1 tsp of Medaglio d'Oro instant espresso poder in 3 oz of hot water (the size of a espresso cup filled to the top).


May I suggest a source for coffee that will feed your passion for good coffee as well as your passion for good in the world: Dean's Beans, www.deansbeans.com, sells fair trade organic coffee beans that produce a brew that surpasses anything I've tasted. And when you buy beans and grind them yourself, you *know* you're getting fresh taste. Dean's prices are reasonable, his shipping is prompt, his coffees are the best, and his politics are chock-full of social conscience.


of that i have no doubt (i got to meet her twice since arizona--the first time in japan a few years ago and then in amhurst when i was doing an event for my recent book and discovered she was in college there)! i hope to meet you too pat.


Sawa is still the sweetest and most enchanting person ever.


for those of you who like a good true story of amazing symmetry, the deep and undying connection formed between me and pat's girl friend sawa happened at an arizona resort many years ago when i met this adorable then 5 year old little girl from japan and we discovered we were born on the same day. never before or since have i met a sweeter more enchanting child and when her parents told us they named her sawa because it means peace i hoped we would all be friends forever. pat's posting is such a lovely example of how people's spirits can touch and connect in such unexpected and delightful ways.


Hi Rose,
You don't know me, but you know my girlfriend, Sawa Matsueda. She showed me this article, and from the first sentence I felt that I shared a deep and undying connection with you. For me, too, coffee is the most sacred thing that passes between my lips, but it has almost nothing to do with the caffeine, which barely affects me. I will search out this illy coffee and observe its wondrous qualities. Sawa and I are both going to try this delicious-looking recipe of yours.



Congratulations on your new site. Still not picking up your PBS show here in Columbus, Ohio.

My vote for best coffeemaker: Black & Decker Infuze. They manufactured 5000, which were eagerly snatched up by coffee lovers, and then mysteriously abandoned the product. I happened to catch a back episode of Cook's Illustrated's America's Test Kitchens on Saturday and they picked the Infuze as best. It uses the old vacuum method, is easy to clean plastic, and brews perfect coffee. Now if I can only find spare parts for when mine inevitably wears out.

Jim Wiggin
(Nice picture, by the way!)


YOU are a sweetheart caitlin and i can't wait to see you and meg end of january when i come for the fancy food show. by the way, for those of you who visit the bay area, caitlin and meg have a fantastic bakery called miette, located in the old ferry building featuring all organic baked goods that are exquisitely delicious.


I can't wait for your next visit to the bay area! This time we can take a detour from the desserts and visit my sweetheart's coffee roastery and small kiosk located in hayes valley (also available mail order). for another fun blog, you should check out one of his employees blogs all about the coffee business



terry, thank you for your valued support and enthusiasm! my 13 part show "baking magic with rose" is airing on pbs (check with your local affiliate as they are all independent and can air anytime they chose for the next 3 years). if you are referring to the food network, it's not possible to be on both FN and PBS--they are competitive stations.


Terry Lautin
Terry Lautin
11/20/2005 04:42 AM

Dear Rose,
I'm not sure what made me google your name this morning, but I'm sure glad I did, and found this blog!
I just gave "The Cake Bible" for the 3rd time as a gift, hoping it will enrich the family life of the recipient as much as it has enhanced ours. You are my kitchen idol. Why do you not have a show on Food TV!???
So glad to have found you in cyberspace


Dear Rose,
Congratulations on a fabulous site! And thank you for bringing even more of the wealth of your knowledge into our homes. We love you and your passion - you are addictive!



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