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Cool beans - More coffee drinkers investing in quality supplies

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ST. LOUIS - Howard Lerner and Matt Herren are proud to be bean counters, and recently, they've liked their numbers.

"Whole bean sales are definitely up," says Lerner, co-owner of Kaldi's Coffee Roasting Co., which has six coffeehouses, satellite locations in Schnucks stores and sells through retail outlets.

"Retail bean sales are definitely up across the board - in stores that just sell retail, and in cafes that also have retail sales," Herren says. Goshen Coffee is available at about 20 cafes, markets and specialty stores in the metropolitan area.

Nationwide, whole beans were the only category of mass-merchandise coffee sales that experienced an increase in unit volume in the past year, according data from the Nielsen Co. Some experts have speculated that the rise is a result of consumers' forgoing $4 lattes from the coffee shop and trying to duplicate the experience at home.

It's not that simple, says California-based Phil Lempert - aka "the Supermarket Guru" - who tracks grocery trends and consumer behavior.

"People are buying better quality coffee for use at home," Lempert said in a telephone interview. "But I'm not sure it's just because they want to replicate what they get in the coffee shop. Sure, it's value-driven - they're looking at three, four or five dollars at places like Starbucks and saying 'I can't afford it.' But they're realizing that even if they don't have fancy equipment, they can still make a good cup of coffee at home."

Lerner has noticed a increase in sales of low-tech coffee makers.

"People are buying more of things like the French press and the Melitta drip," Lerner says. "I think they're finding out that these provide better access to the quality of the coffee. And in the long run, I think we benefit when customers buy a French press, because it shows that they appreciate a good cup of coffee."

A good coffee grinder is even more important than the brewing equipment, Lerner says.

"It used to be that most people would buy a good brewer and let the retailer grind the coffee for them," he says. "But I think the quality of the coffee experience is much more dependent on the grinder than the brewing device. And grinder sales have really been on the rise."

Herren also advocates using a good home grinder. When it comes to brewing coffee, he's a fan of the simple plastic-cone drip device, which sells for less than $5.

There are two types of grinders: blade and burr. Blade grinders start at about $15. Burr grinders run from $40 to more than $100, but they grind the coffee more evenly.

Trends expert Lempert says that coffee sales also are driven by an increased awareness of studies that show apparent health benefits from drinking coffee. Herren says that in health food stores, sales of Goshen Coffee have more than doubled over the past year.

"The really interesting question," Lempert says, "is whether, as the economy rebounds, people say, 'I can now afford this indulgence at the coffee shop' - or whether they'll say, 'I can make this at home for under a quarter.' "

Cold-brewing makes delicious iced coffee

Cold-brewing is an ideal technique for making iced coffee. Steeping ground beans in cold water produces a concentrate lacking in bitterness and with a smooth, full flavor. When you're ready to enjoy a cup, pour over ice and dilute to taste.

To make enough concentrate for two servings, pour 1 1/2 cups cold water into a pint jar. Add 1/3 cup coarsely ground coffee, and stir to combine. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 8 hours.

Next, place a coffee filter in a fine large sieve and place over a pitcher or large measuring cup. If you have a smaller sieve, hold it above the coffee filter and use it to catch most of the grounds. Pour the brewed coffee through the sieve or sieves.

To make iced coffee, pour the concentrate over ice and dilute with an equal amount of water, milk or a combination. Sweeten as desired.

This recipe can be doubled. It also can be made in a French press; pour leftovers into a clean jar after brewing. The concentrate keeps about a week in the refrigerator.

Judith Evans, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Liquid Tiramisu

1/2 cup heavy (whipping) cream

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons coffee liqueur

4 cups 2-percent or whole milk

2 cups shaved bittersweet chocolate

4 tablespoons instant espresso or instant coffee, divided

4 tablespoons plus 4 teaspoons dark rum, divided

4 ladyfinger cookies, for garnish

In a medium bowl, beat cream with sugar and coffee liqueur until peaks form. (This can be prepared 1 day ahead and refrigerated; whisk before serving.)

Bring the milk to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add chocolate and whisk until melted. Simmer for 1 minute, whisking constantly. Pour into 4 mugs.

Add 1 tablespoon instant espresso and 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon rum to each mug, stirring well. Top with a generous dollop of flavored whipped cream. Garnish each cup with a ladyfinger.

• Makes 4 servings

Nutrition per serving: 688 calories; 43 g fat (56 percent calories from fat); 23.5 g saturated fat; 90 mg cholesterol; 13 g protein; 50 g carbohydrate; 37 g sugar; 4 g fiber; 128 mg sodium; 301 mg calcium; 408 mg potassium; 7 g alcohol.

Adapted from "Some Like It Hot," by Holly Burrows and Katie Walter (Chronicle Books, 2005).

Coffee Granita

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 1/2 cups water

2 1/2 cups espresso or very strong coffee

1/4 cup liqueur, such as coffee liqueur, or flavored syrup, optional

Combine sugar and water in a small, heavy saucepan. Stir over medium heat until sugar is dissolved. Boil for 5 minutes, then remove from heat. Add coffee and liqueur or syrup. Refrigerate until cold or overnight.

Pour the mixture into ice cube trays, filling them only halfway, and freeze until firm. Before serving, process the coffee ice cubes in a food processor or blender until chopped and slushy. Serve in small, chilled dishes.

• Makes 8 servings

For a different variation, freeze, in batches if necessary, in an ice-cream maker according to the manufacturer's directions. When finished, the granita will be soft and have the consistency of a sorbet. Transfer to a freezer-safe container and freeze to harden. To serve, scrape the top of the granita with a heavy ice cream spade or scoop, creating ice crystals.

Nutrition per serving: 75 calories; no fat; no protein; 19 g carbohydrate; 19 g sugar; no fiber; 12 mg sodium; 3 mg calcium; 87 mg potassium.

Adapted from "The Ultimate Ice Cream Book," by Bruce Weinstein (William Morrow and Co., 1999).

Beer and Coffee Steaks

12 ounces dark beer

1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon Tabasco sauce

4 (6- to 8-ounce) boneless strip steaks, trimmed of fat

3 tablespoons finely ground espresso or dark-roast coffee

1 tablespoon ancho chile powder or other pure chile powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground red (cayenne) pepper or more to taste

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Combine beer, Worcestershire and Tabasco in a large, freezer-weight zipper-lock bag. Add steaks, seal bag and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or preferably overnight.

Combine coffee, chile powder, cumin, sugar, cayenne, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Remove steaks from marinade; discard marinade. Pat steaks dry with paper towels and scatter spice mix over steaks, patting it in with your fingers. Place rubbed steaks into clean zipper-lock bags, seal and chill in refrigerator or cooler.

Remove steaks from refrigerator 20 minutes before grilling. Prepare a grill for direct cooking over high heat. Brush and oil grilling rack, and grill steaks until darkly crusted, about 3 minutes per side for medium-rare (about 145 degrees on an instant-read thermometer). Let meat rest for 5 minutes before serving.

• Makes 4 servings.

Nutrition per serving: 236 calories; 8.5 g fat (32 percent calories from fat); 3 g saturated fat; 74 mg cholesterol; 33.5 g protein; 4.5 g carbohydrate; 2 g sugar; 1 g fiber; 731 mg sodium; 38 mg calcium; 500 mg potassium.

Adapted from a recipe on epicurious.com from "The Tailgater's Cookbook" by David Joachim.

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