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Texas Coffee Buzzes Strong

Good Coffee
by John Raven, Ph.B.

A very Happy New Year to everyone out there in Texas Cooking Land. 2004 is going to be a very good year for Texas-style cooking and eating. Every time I go to the supermarket I find a new product with a Texas and/or Southwestern slant.

My favorite off-the-shelf condiment is Pace's Picante sauce. It's been around since 1947 and is still going strong so it's bound to be good. It comes in "Mild" for those from North of Dallas, "Medium" for transplanted Texans, and "Hot" for real Texans. I don't know if I'm allowed to plug brand names, but I'll give it a try.

I'm sitting here with a mug of coffee trying to think of what comes next. You know, I picked up a pack of Folger's hazelnut coffee beans a while back. I found it to be the best coffee I've ever had.

Old people like me operate on coffee. We couldn't get by without it. Just something about a cup of joe that improves the quality of life and gives reason for living.

In my young years, I thought people who drank a lot of coffee did so because they were denied the beverage when they were tiny tots. I guess I was wrong. I had coffee at a very early age. Of course, it was about a tablespoon of coffee to a cup of milk with sugar added.

Before the designer coffee rage struck there were only four or five brands to choose from. I remember Folgers, Bright and Early, Eight O'clock and Maxwell House. And there was Sanka. I didn't know then what Sanka was, and I still don't. It wasn't coffee. The folks who drank Sanka were the same ones who liked to talk about their medical problems, like not sleeping well.

The Raven household was very loyal to Folgers. There was an occasional defection to Maxwell House, but that usually lasted for just one can.

Back then, the coffee came in one-pound cans. The cans were short and squatty. You opened them by unwinding the metal strip with the supplied key, just like you did the Spam. There were bags of coffee, but on the farm the cans were favored because you could always use the can for something else, like keeping marbles.

There were three types of coffee makers available. Most families had percolators. You put the coffee in a little perforated container that sat on top a standpipe and the water went in the bottom. You sat the whole thing on the stove and when the water started to boil it came up the standpipe and saturated the coffee, and then dripped back into the water supply. You let it perk until the desired strength was reached. The percolators had a little glass dome on top so you could see the coffee reach the desired color.

Then there was the dripolator. This was the Ravens' coffee maker of choice. The first coffee maker I ever saw is sitting in my kitchen as we speak. Part of the handle is long gone, but it will still make a decent pot of coffee. To operate the dripolator, you boiled some water in the teakettle. The coffee went in a perforated container under the water chamber. You poured the boiling water in the water chamber and it slowly went through the coffee and dripped into the pot on the bottom.

There were a few families who held close to their pioneer roots and made boiled coffee. Coffee and water were boiled together until the desired strength was reached. Mighty gritty stuff for mighty gritty people. Of course, some did the egg trick to "settle the grounds".

When the electric percolator came along, it was a thing of wonder and awe. So nice and quiet. You didn't have to boil any water to pour in it and, best of all, it kept the coffee hot until you unplugged it.

There were a few restaurant-style home coffee makers around, but I don't remember the names or much of the details of them.

The next big advance in coffee making was instant coffee. It was not instant then and is not instant now, unless you are a midwife delivering babies and keep a pot of water boiling on the stove at all times. You had to have boiling water to make instant coffee. It was a novelty. It never tasted as good as the real thing, but if you needed just one cup, it was the way to go.

Which brings us to what you drink your coffee from. A coffee cup is a delicate container that holds six ounces of the brew. It's favored by society folk who stick their pinky finger out like they were drinking tea with the Queen Mother.

The dedicated coffee drinker has a mug. The mug can hold anywhere from eight ounces to a quart of coffee. My personal favorite holds about ten ounces. I find the coffee cools too much if I use a larger vessel. Yes, Virginia, there are plastic insulated mugs that keep the coffee warm longer, but I just don't like them. Give me good old chinaware anytime.

If you really want to ruin my day, give me coffee in a Styrofoam cup. Ugh. The only way I will consume coffee from Styrofoam is if I need it for medicinal purposes and I have one foot on death's doorstep. Again ugh.

I've never been in a Starbucks or even a Coffee-R-Us. No way am I going to pay three-fifty or four bucks for that stuff Frasier and Niles find so enchanting. Coffee ain't supposed to have foam on top. Beer has foam on top. And I don't have a clue as to what frap-a-chino may be. I don't want to know.

Coffee Recipes
I like my coffee with cream and sugar. I will drink it black on occasion like when I'm out camping with the guys and they wouldn't think of diluting the black gold of the mug.

My choice for fancy coffee leans toward adding a goodly dollop of Amaretto. Occasionally, I'll stir in a spoon of cocoa for the chocolate kick.

Coffee is most enjoyable when you have a steaming mug in hand, and you are watching the sun come up over the horizon from a vantage point far enough away from civilization that you can't hear traffic or dogs barking. The only sounds are the crackling of the campfire and the first early bird chirping. Good to the last drop.

Of course, coffee can be used for things other than drinking. It can add a unique flavor to barbecued products. The old-time Texas barbecuers would put a handful of ground coffee in a cheesecloth bag and tie it to the end of a stick and use it for mopping on basting sauce while barbecuing.

One of my favorite barbecue sauces features coffee.

Black Jack Barbecue Sauce

  • 1 cup strong, black coffee
  • 1 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 cup catsup
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 cups chopped onion
  • 1/4 cup minced hot red chile peppers
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
Combine all ingredients in saucepan and simmer 25 minutes. Purée in blender. Makes 5 cups.

[Author note: This sauce is best on pork or chicken. It's also very good on grilled vegetables.]

Here's another that you might want to try.

Java Barbecue Sauce

  • 3/4 cup catsup
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon instant coffee granules
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
Sauté onion and garlic in the vegetable oil. Add remaining ingredients. Cover and simmer 30 minutes.

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