Stimulating Beverages || Home Comforts



Stimulating Beverages

Caffeinated beverages: coffee, tea, and chocolate … Hospitality with coffee and tea: Should you be a purist? … Making coffee: freshness, roasts, storing and grinding coffee … How to use a vacuum maker, manual drip, electric drip, plunger or press method, percolator, espresso maker … Making steamed milk … Measuring coffee and water … Guidelines for making good coffee by any method … Making tea: Black, oolong, and green teas … Teabags … How to make tea … Using sugar, milk, spice, or lemon … Hot chocolate … Herbal teas … Alcoholic beverages … Aperitifs, digestifs, cocktails … Learning about wine … Temperature, uncorking, breathing, decanting, and serving … Glassware for wine and drinks … Storing wine … Wine with food

When you have visitors in your home for more than a few minutes, hospitality calls for you to offer them refreshment. Depending on time of day and whether or not the guests will be staying for a meal, you typically offer them coffee or tea, both of which contain caffeine, or some drink containing alcohol. Some sort of stimulating beverage is perhaps the most effective way to be hospitable, because it provides an extra measure of enjoyment beyond merely filling the belly or slaking thirst.

We use such drinks not only to make our guests welcome but also for ourselves, to round off meals, accompany snacks, or set off times of the day that are dedicated to restoration, enjoyment, or relaxation. Using them well is an important part of housekeeping. If you cannot boil an egg or make a bed, but you can and do make a nice cup of tea or coffee on the right occasion and serve it appealingly, you have gone farther toward making a good home than many a gourmet cook or compulsive housecleaner. You are getting right to the heart of the matter.

These drinks play such an important role that even those who avoid them, whether for medical, religious, or moral reasons, find substitutes in order to carry out all the important rituals of comfort and enjoyment that they sustain. Herb, grain-based, and decaffeinated coffees and teas can be used to replace regular coffees and teas; soft drinks, sparkling waters, ciders, or alcohol-free wines can be used instead of real wine.

Hundreds of years of tradition shape the ways in which we make and offer such drinks. This chapter contains only a primer on storing, preparing, and serving them successfully, but so vast is the lore associated with each of them that long tomes can be and have been devoted to them.

Coffee, Tea, and Chocolate

Inexpensive, easy, and delicious, coffee or tea is called for when people in their homes take a break or gather to relax. Although Americans have never institutionalized afternoon tea, as the English have, in my own home I find that if we are at home between three and five o’clock, snack time for children and teatime across the ocean, we invariably have tea (or coffee); and if we have guests, they never refuse to share it with us.

Caffeine. Not everyone thinks caffeinated beverages are a good idea. We live in a world increasingly divided between those who have become fanatic drinkers of brown brews and those who avoid them entirely. As usual, the moderate course is probably best. Countless medical studies have failed to come up with much against coffee,1 and some even suggest that tea offers health benefits. On the other hand, their caffeine can make you jittery and sleepless if you drink too much of them or drink them too late in the day, and who knows what unpleasant statistics medical researchers might one day be spouting about those who drink too many cups per day.

Brewed coffee typically has about 100 of caffeine per 6-ounce cup (but may range anywhere from 60 to 180 mg); tea has about 40 mg per cup (but amounts may range from 20 to 90 mg). Some people who cannot drink coffee after dinner can drink tea without a problem; I know English people who cannot sleep without their bedtime cup of tea. Other people, however, especially older folks, are so sensitive to caffeine that even the tiny amount left in decaffeinated beverages bothers them, and there is evidence that as people get older their bodies retain caffeine longer. But no rule applies to everyone, and you must simply know your own reactions. If you cannot tolerate after-dinner caffeine, you might try herb teas. See page 82 below.

Decaffeinated versions of both tea and coffee are suitable when you wish to avoid caffeine. They do not taste as good as regular but are often quite drinkable. I like to add flavoring to decaffeinated coffee, such as a very small amount of cinnamon or a cardamom seed ground up with the beans.

There is a wide difference of opinion as to what is the proper age to give caffeinated beverages to children. French, Italian, and Hispanic families give a little coffee in a lot of warm milk to young children, and Irish and English tots are given tea. My family gave us both tea and coffee, diluted with lots of milk and sweetened with sugar, when we were preschoolers. My own view is that tea with milk is mild enough for a four-year-old to enjoy occasionally as a special treat. A little coffee, say 2 ounces, in a lot of warm low-fat milk with a teaspoon of sugar would contain about the same amount of caffeine as 8 ounces of Coca-Cola and much less sugar, and would provide significant amounts of many important nutrients (calcium, vitamin D, vitamin A, protein, and others) while Coke contains no nutrients whatsoever. Coffee-milk is nutritionally vastly superior to apple juice, too, which is essentially sweetened, flavored water, with very small amounts of a few minerals; its calories come entirely from fruit sugars (the equivalent of 6 to 7 teaspoons of table sugar in one cup of juice!). For these reasons I see no need to be shocked by the idea of occasionally—not regularly—giving children tea- or coffee-milk with a teaspoon or two of sugar, and my pediatrician agrees that this is probably healthier than giving them Cokes or endless glasses of apple juice.


Although some types of decaffeinated tea are acceptable, none come close to the flavor of regular tea. Thus the following suggestion, from James Norwood Pratt in his Tea Lover’s Companion (Birch Lane, 1996), is particularly welcome. Mr. Pratt writes that 80 percent of the caffeine, being highly soluble, is extracted from the tea leaf within the first thirty seconds of steeping. So you can enjoy tea that is quite low in caffeine simply by discarding the water after thirty seconds (retaining the leaves) and then adding fresh boiling water to the leaves. I tried this and find that you still get a pretty good cup of tea—better, as promised, than decaffeinated.

Serving Coffee and Tea: Should You Be a Purist? Being delicate, tea seems to require pretty china—thin-lipped cups with saucers—but coffee may be served either in good china coffee cups or in hearty mugs. A distinction between porcelain coffee cups and teacups is sometimes drawn, and teacups are made slightly smaller; but few people pay much attention to this now.

Milk in coffee or tea renders the drink less bitter; sugar makes it sweet. Always be prepared to offer milk or cream and sugar to guests. (See suggestions as to lemon, sweeteners, and milk with espresso and tea, however, below, at pages 78 and 81.) So many people prefer honey to granulated white sugar that it is hospitable to keep it on hand even if you do not use it yourself. Milk adds calcium and other nutrients to an otherwise nutrient-free drink. Warm or cool milk will cool the drink a little too, a good thing as consuming things that are near boiling hot is not good for you. Once, most people agreed that cream or half-and-half (half milk, half cream) tasted even better than milk, and that whole milk tasted better than skim or reduced-fat milk. But cream, half-and-half, and whole milk contain unwanted saturated fats, so many people now use only skim or low-fat milk for coffee or tea. Many who have become accustomed to using skim say that they much prefer skim and find fattier milks and cream unpleasant. (I am still waiting for this to happen to me.) Whatever you prefer, it is hospitable to try to offer guests what they like. There are an increasing number of people who are what I call tea and coffee purists, who think that good tea and coffee should never be diminished with milk or sugar and therefore offer none. But this is a matter in which your guests’ taste should be respected, because not everyone has a palate equipped for the rigors of black coffee.

Purists also think that you must make tea and coffee with spring water and tend to know the peculiarities of every bean and leaf from every region and nation and how to brew or steep each, measure down to the gram, and use timers and thermometers. But what I mean by serving a nice cup of tea or coffee is considerably less demanding. By all means, become as knowledgeable as you wish about the secrets of making good tea and coffee, but keep in mind that as a host you wish to make your guest happy with your coffee and happy with himself or herself. When you decide to become steeped in tea lore or coffee lore, you are taking tea and coffee out of the realm of the easy and quotidian into the realm of the arcane, rigidly disciplined, and spiritually high. This might be superior, desirable, maybe even noble, but heimlich it is not. The comfortable middle ground between instant decaffeinated beverages, on the one hand, and taking the pH of your water, on the other, is broad enough to accommodate a variety of temperaments, tastes, competencies, and expertise. The recipes set forth below are neither high nor low but middle of the road.

Making Coffee. I strongly recommend that you brew coffee and avoid instant coffee whenever you can. Non-instant, brewed coffee tastes far better—less bitter and more mellow—and is really not much more trouble to make than instant. In both cases you just need hot water and the ground roasted bean. Some people get in the habit of drinking instant coffee in the office, where there is no way to make real coffee, and get so used to its taste that they continue to use instant at home. But it would be better to stretch your palate a little for the sake of guests and make real coffee after office hours.


Back in the 1960s and’70s, good food, good coffee, and good tea were waiting to be discovered in this country. People were interested in taking trouble and learning more about these things, often because they had traveled or become friends with people from abroad and had experienced foods and drinks that they loved. Their instincts for improving food and drink were fairly trustworthy because they proceeded out of love—love of pleasure, of home, of friends, and of knowledge.

Nowadays, people have to cope with clouds of confusion raised by big business as it tries to make a profit off such impulses. You want better coffee? You like to cook? Someone out there is going to try to sell you a lot of expensive equipment, coffee beans, foods, books, and habits or, worst of all, a false sense of achieving quality and superiority when you become an “expert” about something that does not really fit into your life or your home or offer much real pleasure.

To make fresh brewed coffee, however, you do have to know a few things. First, you must choose your coffee. Coffee is produced in many different parts of the world, and there are characteristic taste qualities of coffee from specific regions. Good and not-so-good kinds of coffee may come from the same country, depending upon what part of the country it was grown in and who processed it. You must simply ask, try, and, sometimes, read. Price is a much less reliable sign of quality in coffee than it is in the more highly rationalized wine industry, so do not pay high prices unless a reliable person tells you the product is superior. (Besides, taste is more variable when it comes to coffee than it is with wine. The very rare and fine bean that some connoisseurs swoon over is not necessarily what others are going to find good.) Excellent coffee is available at very reasonable prices, but you do pay a premium for freshness and high-quality processing.

Freshness is a prime desideratum. If you know of a market that offers the roast dates of its coffees, patronize it by all means. Pay attention to how your market stores the coffees, too. They should not be standing open to the air. If they are selling flavored coffees, they should not be next door to unflavored ones, as beans invariably spill from one barrel to the next. Supermarket coffees, canned preground types, are almost always considered inferior by connoisseurs, and I agree with them. Not only is the type of coffee typically used undistinguished, but what you end up drinking is inevitably stale because coffee stales very quickly after being ground.

You must then select the roast you want. This you can often determine largely by sight, choosing beans that are almost black, dark, medium, or light brown. But decaffeinated coffee may look fairly dark, even though it has not been dark-roasted, and different kinds of beans turn different shades of dark when roasted, so you must sometimes inquire. Other things being equal, dark roasts have the strongest taste, light the lightest. The darkest roast is called “espresso” or “Italian.” Other dark roasts are called “French,” which is sometimes medium dark and sometimes very dark, and “Viennese,” which is usually a medium dark but in some places (my neighborhood) is the lightest of the darks. The experts tend to look down on the dark roasts, which the person in the street discovered only in the latter part of the twentieth century, because the roast flavor drowns out the coffee flavor. With very dark roasts, they say, the best coffee is indistinguishable from poor coffee, which offers unscrupulous marketers an opportunity to charge high prices for poor quality. I suppose this boils down to there being wisdom in buying only those very dark roasts that are less expensive—if you really can’t tell the difference. But I am convinced that some dark roasts taste better than others. Although certainly the lighter dark roasts and the medium roasts retain more of the character of the underlying bean, the fact is that a good dark roast with hot milk is just indescribably delicious; it is absurd to imply that there is any degradation of taste or gullibility in enjoying it. Sometimes you can have one type of roast and sometimes another.

Blends of different roasts, for example, dark and medium, of beans from different regions are often very good. Although some experts will tell you not to try to blend coffees yourself, as it is a fine art and very complicated, I always do it, simply being careful never to offer any to coffee experts.

Storing and Grinding Coffee. It is far better to buy coffee as whole beans and grind it yourself at home. When you get the beans home, store them in an airtight container in a dark, cool, dry place. If you have bought a lot, store it in several different containers so that you need not continually expose the whole batch to air and humidity when you open it to get some. Experts used to advise us to freeze or refrigerate coffee beans, but now they point out that coffee beans readily absorb refrigerator odors, react badly to the moisture that condenses on them when removed from the cool, and are also harmed by extreme fluctuations in temperature when they are repeatedly taken in and out of the refrigerator. I certainly agree that coffee takes on refrigerator odors; it does this so effectively that you can actually use it as a refrigerator deodorant. But you needn’t worry about ruining the flavor of your coffee from freezer or refrigerator odors if you simply use an airtight glass container. Moreover, freezing (and cooling) really do slow down the aging process; if you are going to keep your coffee beans more than a couple of weeks, it still makes sense to freeze them. I also suspect that in summer, when temperatures in my kitchen are sweltering and the humidity is at 90 percent, my coffee beans do better in the freezer than on the shelf even for a week or two.

Do not grind your beans until you are ready to make coffee, because ground coffee stales very quickly. (Keep ground coffee at room temperature in an airtight container, in a cool, dark place; use it up promptly.) If you have frozen the beans, you need not let them thaw before grinding; but the experts say that you’ll get more flavor if you let the coffee warm up before brewing. If you have no grinder and you like coffee, put this inexpensive, long-lasting little machine at the top of your wish list. (There are expensive grinders, but very few people have any real need for them.) In the meantime, ask the store to grind your coffee according to your style of coffeemaker, store the ground coffee properly, and do not buy it long in advance.

The longer the hot water is going to be in contact with the ground beans, the coarser the grind you want. To get the finest grind, grind the beans long—for up to half a minute. To get a coarse grind, grind for only a few seconds. Have a store grind you some samples of each so you can familiarize yourself with the appearance of different grinds, and be sure to touch them as well as look at them. Very finely ground coffee is rather like superfine ground white sugar or table salt. Coarsely ground coffee has a grain something like that of granulated brown sugar, and medium is like granulated white sugar. As you read the list below of the appropriate grind for each common style of coffeemaker, keep in mind that there is inconsistent usage on this subject, probably because of different ideas about what “fine,” “medium,” and “coarse” mean. Whatever the words, the first type of maker in the following list needs the finest and the last the coarsest grind.

Espresso: very fine

Vacuum pot: fine

Drip coffeemaker: medium fine to medium

Percolator: medium to medium coarse

Melior or French press or plunger coffeemaker: coarse

In the plunger or press type, the water actually stands on the ground beans for about five minutes and thus needs the coarsest grind of all, whereas the espresso maker, which forces the water through in seconds, needs the finest.

How to Use Coffeemakers. The best coffeemaker is the one that makes coffee the way you like it most. I have tried all the different coffeemakers at one time or another, and my preferences have varied. Right now we use an electric drip machine (a Krups) most days, and for special occasions we haul out our vacuum maker. Some experts prefer coffee made in the vacuum pot, and I can vouch for its delicious taste. At times in my life I am in love with the special full flavor that you get with the Melior or plunger-type maker, at least until I become fed up with it because it is hard to wash. A drip coffeemaker is easiest, however, and the results are almost as good as the vacuum and plunger types. Electric drip machines, in general, are said to fall short of the ideal: they do not get the water quite warm enough (which causes weak flavor), they do not hold enough coffee (so it either overflows or, again, you make weak coffee), and they leave the water on the coffee too long (making the coffee more bitter). These criticisms do not apply to all makers; mine gets hot enough and holds enough coffee, but it does tend to be a bit too slow for best results. Like other good automatic drip machines, it produces fairly good coffee with great reliability. But leaving the coffee on the heated burner of the machine makes it taste terrible—bitter and acrid—very quickly.

The coffee that people in my generation grew up with—percolated—is booed by every critic. Yet when I visit my aunt, who to this day makes the strong percolated coffee that I remember from childhood, I think nothing could taste more delicious. (Not all percolated coffee is alike. See page 77 below.) And my husband and I, who follow all the conventional coffee ideas, have a secret love (at least it was secret until now) for what we call diner coffee, which you get from diners and cheap restaurants. It is near boiling hot and has a characteristic thin, strong, acid taste that you have to cut with milk and sugar. There is nothing like it to pick you up when you are out on a wintry day walking the city streets.

Vacuum Method. This method is not simple and carefree, but it is fun. The vacuum maker has two glass globes. The lower globe is a glass pot where the coffee is destined to end up. The other is a glass globe with a tube at its bottom; it is going to sit on top of the lower one for most of the brief process. It will probably come with a stand that holds a small stove, a little fondue-type heating device that makes a flame. There is also a filter that goes in the tube—which all sounds obscure but becomes easy to understand when you have the machine in your hands.

To make your coffee, first bring a kettle of water to boil on your stove. (Some manufacturers’ instructions permit you to put your lower glass globe, where the coffee eventually ends up, right on your stovetop, protecting it with a diffuser.) While this is heating, grind and measure your coffee, and place the filter in the upper globe (the one with the tube in it). Then put your measured coffee, ground fine, into the upper globe. Set the lower globe on the stand, pour in the boiled water, and light the flame under the globe.

You now put the upper globe on top of the lower one (both are unlidded), making sure that it latches on, creating an airtight seal. As pressure develops in the lower globe, the water is forced through the tube into the upper globe. Let it steep for two minutes, then turn off the flame.

The last step—a dramatic one—happens by itself after you turn off the flame: the cooling creates a vacuum in the lower globe that sucks the brewed coffee through the filter back down into the lower globe. When this is done, you remove the upper globe and set it in its stand. The coffee is ready to be served.

Manual Drip Coffeemaker. Gold filters are supposed to make better coffee than paper ones because they trap less of the coffee’s essential oils. However, you can get good coffee with paper too. First bring a kettle of measured fresh cold water to boil. While this is heating, grind and measure your coffee. Then put the filter into the cone, and put the coffee into the filter. When the water has boiled, wait a moment. Then pour enough of the water on the coffee to dampen all of it, and wait a half a minute or a bit less. (This begins to dissolve the flavors so that they are readily released into the water.) Then pour the rest of the water into the cone. You may have to wait for some of the water to drip through before all of the rest can fit in the cone. It is best if you let the coffee drip into a thermal carafe of some sort, or pour it into a thermal container as soon as it is done dripping.

Electric Drip Coffeemaker. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions. You merely insert a filter, put coffee in it, pour water in the appropriate place, and flick a switch to turn the coffeemaker on. Gold filters are supposed to be better than paper, as they do not hold any of the beans’ essential oils. Be sure to measure and grind your coffee fresh, and use measured fresh cold water. To avoid bitterness, thermal carafes are best for receiving and holding the brew. Or you might turn off the electric burner under the glass pot, or pour the coffee into a thermal container after it is made to keep it both hot and good longer.

Plunger or Press Method. Set the kettle on to boil. In the meantime, measure and grind your coffee and place it in the bottom of the pot. When the water has boiled, turn it off and wait a moment, then fill the pot with hot water and put the plunger in place at the top. Wait about five minutes, or a minute more or less if you like your coffee more or less fullbodied. Then push down the plunger. You will need to push hard. If you want to keep the coffee warm, pour it into a thermal carafe.

Percolator Method. Fill the pot with water to the desired level, then measure coffee into the metal or plastic filter basket. The trick with percolated coffee, as with plunger coffee, is to use more coffee than with other methods, so that you get flavor without percolating it to death. Bring the pot to perk over moderately high heat. As soon as the first quiet perks appear, turn the heat as low as it will go to sustain the quiet perk. Never let it percolate furiously. Turn the heat down as far as possible and stand the pot at the edge of the burner, slightly ajar, or use a diffuser, so that the coffee does not get too strong. When the color in the glass dome at the top indicates that the coffee is finished, remove it from the heat.

Another point about percolated coffee to keep in mind is that you want a stainless steel or glass pot. Other metals may taint the flavor. Even with a stainless pot, you need to use it several times to “season” it; any new metal pot produces bad percolated coffee at the beginning. And you need to be as careful to wash the pot with hot, soapy water between uses as with any other type of pot.

Espresso. We think of espresso as a particular kind of coffee, but the word actually refers to a method of brewing. Coffee made in this style is exceptionally strong, thick, and full-bodied. Espresso is made by forcing hot water through finely ground coffee beans at a very high pressure, yielding a small amount of a highly concentrated brew. You can use any kind of coffee beans, but many people like a dark roast—the Italian or espresso roast. A serving of espresso is only about 1.5 to 2 ounces and is served in small “demitasse” cups. (A regular cup of coffee is about 6 ounces.)

There are several types of espresso makers. The most common kind in the home, the moka pot, is easy to use and inexpensive. Unfortunately, it does not produce a coffee drink as thick as espresso is supposed to be, but I would not decide not to have one for that reason. The brew it makes is still espresso-like, thicker and stronger than regular coffee—and delicious. The moka pot has three parts: a base or lower chamber, a metal filter that sits on the base, and an upper chamber that screws on above the filter. The upper chamber is where the espresso ends up. The moka pot sits directly on one of your stove burners. Put cold water in the lower half of the pot and fill the coffee filter chamber with very finely ground beans. It is important not to let the coffee grounds sit in the water, so be careful not to overfill the base of the moka pot. Set the metal coffee filter over the water in the lower chamber and screw on the upper chamber. Place the apparatus directly on top of one of the stove’s burners and set on medium-low heat. The heated water is forced up into the coffee filter, and bubbles up through the grounds into the upper chamber of the moka pot. Wait to pour the espresso until the sound of bubbling subsides. You can open the lid at the top to look in to see whether you have collected a dark liquid in the upper chamber.

You can also use an electric pump espresso maker, which does make something that deserves to be called real espresso, but it is expensive and more temperamental. Follow the manufacturer’s directions carefully. And if you are in the store looking for an espresso maker, be sure to ask for advice as to the different kinds of pump and “piston” machines for espresso making that are on the market.

Espresso is served without milk, but it can be sugared. Americans often serve espresso with a piece of lemon rind that can be rubbed around the edge of the cup, adding a little zest. There are several popular espresso-based milky drinks with different names according to the ratio of espresso to steamed milk that you use. For cappuccino, add approximately ¼ cup steamed milk to a shot of espresso, and top the mixture with ¼ cup milk foam. Caffè latte is a more diluted drink, mixing one part espresso with four parts steamed milk. It does not require foam on top. You can sprinkle ground cinnamon or chocolate on cappuccino. This, again, is an American custom, not an Italian one, but that’s no reason not to do it if you like it.

Electric espresso makers often have a feature that allows you to make steamed or foamed milk to use with the espresso—this is a nozzle on the side that releases steam when you turn it on. To steam milk, put it into a heat-tolerant container, which should be no more than two-thirds full because the steamed milk will bubble up a bit; dip the nozzle deep into the milk, and turn it on. To foam the milk, the container should be no more than one-third full; let the nozzle bubble close to the surface of the milk. If you do not have an electric machine that makes steamed milk, just heat milk in a pot on your stove, but do not let it boil.

Measuring Coffee and Water. The standard coffee measure is supposed to hold two level tablespoons of ground coffee, but in fact, if you test them, you find that many hold more or less than this. Standard advice calls for using 1 coffee measure and 6 ounces of cold water for each cup of brewed coffee you wish to make. This will give you a medium-bodied cup of brewed coffee. Use a bit more or less than one measure per 6 ounces if you like a stronger or weaker brew, or use a measure that is a bit larger or smaller than the standard two tablespoons. Do not try to increase the strength of your coffee by using a finer grind than is proper for your coffeemaker; that will make bitter coffee or clog some machines. Instead, try using a bit more more coffee.

Good Coffee by Any Method. There are a variety of practices that apply to making good coffee by any method:

• Use fresh, cold, good-tasting water. New York City tap water suits me, but some think it makes inferior coffee. There are no general rules, but if you do not like your coffee, try bottled spring water. Do not use distilled water; it is so soft that it over-extracts from the beans and produces a more bitter cup.

• Use a coffeemaker that will not taint the flavor of the brew. Glass, ceramics, and certain plastics are inert and are used for the best coffeemakers. If you use metal, make it stainless steel.

• Wash your coffeemaker and all its parts thoroughly after each use with hot, soapy water, and rinse it thoroughly. Traces of the last brew left inside the pot can ruin the flavor of the next. Clean out your coffee grinder thoroughly after each use too, or stale grinds will go into your next batch.

• The goal of every type of coffeemaking is to put on the beans water that is just under the boiling temperature, and to avoid touching the coffee with boiling water. In the scorned percolator method, try to minimize the temperature and duration of percolation.

• If you let the coffee sit on a heated burner on your stove or electric coffeemaker to keep warm, it quickly develops a bad flavor. A glass carafe should not be set directly over a flame, but there are contraptions—diffusers—that you can set between the carafe and the flame that help to protect the carafe. Best of all, however, is to drip the coffee directly into a thermal carafe or to pour your brewed coffee into one.

• Coffee is always ruined by reheating.

• Heat your coffee pot and cone and/or metal filter before pouring in the boiled water. You may do this by boiling extra water and pouring some of it over the cone and into the pot. Then, of course, empty this water from the pot before proceeding to brew the coffee. It is also good to heat the cups with boiling water.

• Never reuse coffee grounds.

Making Tea. Just like coffee, tea is grown all over the world and subjected to different kinds of processing. The taste of tea depends on where it comes from as well as what has been done to it. Three basic methods of processing produce the three basic kinds of tea: black, oolong, and green. Black tea is oxidized or “fermented” for up to three hours, oolong tea is fermented for a shorter period, and green tea is not fermented at all. Oxidation makes for a stronger, “tea-colored” brew. Thus black tea is strongest and darkest; oolong second strongest and darkest; and green tea weakest and lightest.

Older supermarket teas were on a par in quality with supermarket coffees, but many—perhaps most—supermarkets now carry a wide variety of teas, including fine teas. Fine teas cost more, but not more than most people can afford to enjoy. If you go to your local coffee or tea specialty store, you will find a range of choices that is either exhilarating or dismaying, depending on your point of view. Those who are new to tea-drinking may find the list of teas below helpful in deciding what they might like to try. Or ask the clerk for suggestions.

Black Teas

Assam—full-bodied malt taste

Ceylon Breakfast—rich golden blend

Darjeeling—delicate muscatel flavor

English Breakfast—full-bodied blend

Irish Breakfast—robust and full-bodied

Keemun—fine black tea, with a “sappy” liquor

Lapsang Souchong—black tea with a distinctive smoky flavor

Orange Pekoe—name refers to type of tea; has no orange flavor

Russian Caravan—blend of black teas

Oolong Teas

Black Dragon—delicate, fruity tea

China Oolong—a pleasant blend

Formosa Oolong—known for “peach” flavor and aroma

Green Teas

Gunpowder—clear, yellow-green color and slightly bittersweet taste

Hyson—fragrant, bitter taste

Jasmine—blend of green teas and jasmine flowers, mild sweet flavor

Sencha—a Japanese green tea

Flavored Teas

Earl Grey—black tea flavored with oil of bergamot

Are Teabags Inferior? As to the taste of the tea, what matters is how good the tea is, not whether it is in bags or loose. But as a matter of fact, a lot of the tea that is put into tea bags is not good, and tea in bags may not be stored in airtight containers and in any event stales more readily. So while teabags need not offer an inferior tea, they often do. Certainly a nice pot of tea is more attractive than teabags on the edge of the saucer and a much more sensible way to make tea for more than one person. You can use bags to make a pot, of course. But they seem to make most sense when you are making just a cup for yourself. If you do not use bags, you use a small infuser to make a cup, and you use a larger infuser, or an infuser basket, to make a pot.

How to Make Tea. In coffee-making you always try to get the water cooled to slightly below the boiling point. In tea-making, however, you always try to keep the water as close to the boiling point as you can, but without applying direct heat, as this ruins the tea.

You begin by putting a kettle of fresh, cold water on the stove to boil. Set over high heat a separate small quantity of water for warming the teapot. (But put no tea into the pot until you have warmed it.) Shortly before the kettle boils, warm the teapot with water from the second pot. Then pour it out and put in the tea—1 teaspoon of black tea or one teabag for each 5½ ounce cup of tea you plan to make. (Use ½ teaspoon per cup for oolong, and 2 teaspoons per cup for green tea.) You can put loose tea right into the bottom of the teapot, into one or more infusers or tea balls, or into the infusion basket that some teapots contain. Do not pack an infuser full of tea, or the tea will not have room to expand when it becomes wet. It should be no more than half full.

Immediately when the kettle boils, bring it to the pot and pour, holding it close to the mouth of the teapot so that the stream of water does not get cooled by the air during pouring. Put the lid on the teapot; cover it with a tea cozy, if you like, to insulate the pot and keep in the warmth. Brew black tea for three to five minutes; oolong for about five minutes; and green teas for only a minute or two. Do not be misled by the fact that the tea’s color ripens long before that. You need the full brewing period to get all the flavors. Near the end of the steeping period, gently rock the pot so as to mix the brew and water evenly, and then let the leaves settle again.

Once the tea has steeped, you need to remove the leaves from the tea so that the brewing stops or the tea will begin to become bitter. You do this in one of two ways. You can simply pull out the infuser, infusion basket, tea balls, or teabags; or, using a strainer so that leaves and sediment do not come with the brew, you can pour the tea into a new teapot that has also been preheated.

Reusing Tea? Tea made from previously used leaves is not as good as tea made from fresh leaves. On the other hand, it tastes tolerable, and is economical.

Lemon, Milk, Sugar, and Spice? Milk and sugar are good in most black teas, and so is lemon. You never use lemon and milk together; lemon curdles milk. But, generally speaking, the more delicate the tea, the less desirable is anything that will dilute it or overpower its taste. Thus Darjeeling and oolong are usually served without milk or lemon. Lapsang Souchong and green tea are not served with milk or sweetener. Honey is often good in tea, but it has a more intrusive flavor than sugar. Strong-flavored honey drowns out much of the flavor of delicate teas. Spices often drown out the tea, too, but spiced tea is a pleasant change now and then.

Making Hot Chocolate. Hot chocolate, another mildly caffeinated beverage, deserves a mention here. Every good all-purpose cookbook has a recipe. I use this one:

To make hot chocolate, measure two heaping teaspoons of sugar, one heaping teaspoon of powdered unsweetened chocolate, a tiny pinch of salt, and one cup of milk for each cup of chocolate. (Many cookbooks omit the salt, but it brings out the chocolate flavor nicely.) First mix together the dry ingredients; then add milk one teaspoon at a time, stirring constantly to prevent lumps from forming, until you have a creamy smooth mixture. Stir in the rest of the milk and place over medium heat. Stirring constantly, heat the mixture just to the boiling point. Remove from heat and add one small drop of vanilla per cup (a scant teaspoon for four cups). To make a rich dessert, add whipped cream. Children like hot chocolate with marshmallows floating on it.

The better the chocolate you use, the better the drink. Low-fat and skim milk taste very good, even if whole milk tastes better. Hot chocolate is not so good made with plain water, but hot chocolate mixes usually have dried milk in them. Hot chocolate mixes and syrups cost more and offer spurious convenience. Presweetened chocolates and mixes give you less choice about how sweet and chocolatey you want your drink.

Herbal Teas

Herbal teas are made with dried parts of certain aromatic or fragrant plants. In common parlance, “herbal” teas are any that have no caffeine and have not been decaffeinated. Many of these taste delicious, with or without sugar, honey, or a sweetener. Some of them are reputed to be nutritious or to contain substances that increase resistance to various kinds of illnesses, and many of the plants commonly used for herbal teas in fact have medicinally active ingredients. Some can be dangerous if overused or used by vulnerable people.4 It is not likely, however, that any dangerous teas will be on your grocery store shelves. In my supermarket I can buy herbal teas of rosehips, blackberry, raspberry, and strawberry leaves, chicory, mints of various sorts, chamomile, jasmine, lemon verbena, and lemongrass, and of cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, coriander, and other spices. Various fruit-flavored drinks are sometimes sold as herbal teas, including peach, cherry, cranberry, orange, and lemon.

Just as with regular tea, you make herbal tea by pouring boiling hot water over a bag or infuser containing the tea and then letting it steep. Store herbal tea in a dark, dry, cool place in an airtight container.

Alcoholic Beverages

Wines are enjoyed, as foods are, for their taste. Mild warmth and relaxation is sought with a glass of spirits; but becoming “high” is undesirable. Although the drink after work has not disappeared, it is not nearly as common as it once was as a way to make the transition between work and home or to get over a bad day.

If you do not drink, you may still wish to be able to accommodate guests who do. This is a gracious and moderate course, which is not hard to follow. Simply keep on hand some good scotch, sherry, vodka, soda water, gin, tonic, a couple of unopened bottles of red wine and a few of white, and some sort of brandy or cognac or liqueurs. You can say pleasantly, “We do not drink, but perhaps you would like …” and then offer whatever component of your bar is proper for the occasion. But if you are not interested in keeping wine or drinks and their makings at home, don’t. You need never apologize for this. Simply explain the situation matter-of-factly, and express dignified regret in consideration of the feelings of any guests who might feel a little disappointed.


According to the Schapiras’ Book of Coffee and Tea, if the aromatic or fragrant plant originates in the tropics it is called a spice, and if it comes from a temperate climate it is called an herb. But, they point out, this is a rule with many exceptions, such as cinnamon, a spice that makes an excellent “herbal” tea.

Aperitifs and Digestifs: The Cocktail Hour. During the cocktail hour, the period before dinner when alcoholic drinks are served with appetizers, the drinks best served are known as “aperitifs,” and typically they are grape- or wine-based drinks with a higher alcohol content than wine but lower than hard liquor. They help enliven your appetite by virtue of their alcoholic content, which releases inhibitions. Cocktails are mixed drinks that contain hard liquor—scotch, whiskey, gin, vodka, or rum. Throughout the twentieth century until the 1970s, cocktails were so popular as predinner drinks that this period of the day is still called the cocktail hour. Since then there has been an extended decline in their popularity, interrupted by the occasional vogue, but they have never regained their preeminence as predinner drinks, partly because people wish to drink less hard liquor and partly because these drinks never made much sense before dinner anyway. Cocktails are so strong that they often spoil your appreciation of the wines and foods to follow. Aperitifs made of grapes, such as dry sherry, Dubonnet, Campari, vermouth, Madeira, or champagne, or mixed drinks based on such drinks, are more rational choices.

At casual dinners, white wine and beer often work well as the predinner drink. Fullbodied red wine is a trickier choice because it will drown out many flavors to follow. But a lighter red, to be followed at dinner by a heavier one, would work. A white wine before dinner, even a glass of the white that you will have at dinner (or during the first course), always makes sense. (In the 1980s the wine spritzer, a half-and-half mixture of soda water and white wine, was popular among those who wanted to drink less alcohol but join in the predinner drink ritual.) Beer enthusiasts, especially young ones, insist that the right beer is excellent before, during, and after meals. There are those, however, who experience beer as overly filling, perhaps because it is usually consumed in larger volume than wine or other drinks, or perhaps because it is fizzy.

“Digestifs” are drinks served after dinner, in theory as an aid to digestion. But whereas there is some scientific support for the idea that you eat more, and with more enjoyment, if you drink a small amount of some aperitif beforehand, there is none that I have ever heard of for the idea that you will digest your meal better if you sip a little port or cognac. Many traditional digestifs are grape-based, but some people enjoy whiskeys, beers, and other types of drinks after dinner. What all digestifs tend to have in common is strength of some sort: very high alcohol content, very great sweetness, or very powerful taste. Such drinks are best enjoyed after the meal, for obvious reasons.

Aperitifs, digestifs, and cocktails are remarkably fashion-sensitive and have the same ups and downs in popularity as hemlines.

Cocktails. If you wish to serve cocktails in your home, you have to stock a bar with what you need in the way of liquors, soda, tonic, various flavorings, garnishes of olives or onions, juices, etc., and all the implements, ice buckets, jiggers, shakers, and glassware you will need for making and serving them. You can aim for a less elaborate bar, one that can handle a few standard drinks (plus the latest fad or two), or a more elaborate one that can produce just about anything. Besides the fashionable drinks of the moment, there are certain more standard cocktails—martinis, Manhattans, old-fashioneds, margaritas, Rob Roys, gin and tonics, or sidecars—that never go completely out of fashion. Beginners can find out what is what in any of many enjoyable and reliable books on the subject that are perennially available.

A cocktail party is one that serves only hors d’oeuvres or appetizers—no dinner or supper—along with cocktails. Cocktail parties are less popular than they used to be, partly because people work so much more than they used to that there is no one to prepare or attend them. Cocktails can also be served at any evening party, and you can hold a party at the cocktail hour without cocktails, instead offering wine, champagne, aperitifs, beer, or soft drinks.


Learning About Wine. There are excellent books, classes, and teachers to help you learn what kinds of wines are best suited to your tastes and meals. You can begin by buying what a friend or restaurant served that you liked. Then get one of the many excellent introductory books about wines and learn the meaning of all the things that the labels say so that you can choose to acquire for yourself the same wine, winemaker, grape, year, or wine region, knowing what you are doing. (My own favorite, Jancis Robinson’s Wine Course, is both astonishingly fact-filled and a delight to read.) Experiment broadly: reds, whites, roses, dry and sweet wines, light and heavy, aperitifs, dessert wines, Madeira, and port. Whenever you try something you like, turn to your books and learn as much as you can about what pleased you. Good wine stores and knowledgeable clerks can sometimes offer invaluable assistance also.

Wines go in and out of fashion just as cocktails do—Australian reds enjoyed a vogue in the 1970s, Chardonnays were hugely popular in the 1980s, Beaujolais Nouveau in the 1990s. But this is a fact that beginners should rejoice over. Although not every wine fashion appeals to connoisseurs, a beginner who serves the latest fad can be more confident that his or her choice will be acceptable. It is fun, too, to be au courant, and a little grouchy to insist on ignoring popular taste entirely. There is time enough to buck the trends, or set them, when you are no longer a beginner.

If you plan to serve wines, you must learn to store, chill, and serve them properly.

Temperature. White wine, rose, Beaujolais (a red wine that is fruity and light like a white), and Beaujolais-type California wines should all be chilled before serving. Lighter whites are best when served at 40-50°F, so you might pop these in the refrigerator in the morning of the day they are to be served and then take them out to warm slightly close to serving time. (Your refrigerator, if it is properly cool, chills them to just below 40°F.)

Full-bodied whites and light reds are best served at 50-60°F; put these in the refrigerator for one or two hours. Or chill them in an ice bucket. To do this, first remove the cork and place the bottle in the bucket. Then fill the bucket with ice cubes. Lastly, fill it with cold water. The cold water will chill the wine much more rapidly than the cold air of the refrigerator will. If you have no ice bucket and you have forgotten to chill your wine, put it in the freezer. But do not forget to remove it before the wine freezes, the cork pushes out, or the bottle cracks.

Full-bodied reds are best served between 60° and 66°F—a fairly cool room temperature by American standards. I do not worry much about cooling reds so long as my room is below 70°. When it is over 70°,I put a red in the refrigerator for a little while. Connoisseurs often have small cooled storage areas or coolers for their wines.

Uncorking. Pierce the cork with your corkscrew right down its center, and make sure that it goes all the way. You may break the cork if you do not. If you should mangle the cork hopelessly, you have no choice but to push it into the bottle. Then decant the wine through a strainer or a clean coffee filter or cheesecloth to catch the bits of cork. Good wines, by the way, tend to have good long corks.

Uncork sparkling wines such as champagne very carefully in order to preserve the bubbles (you don’t want it to go flat) and to prevent the wine from fizzing out and being wasted. You first peel off the foil wrapping around the bottle opening. Then you loosen the metal wires that hold the cork down, while keeping your hand on top of the cork—otherwise, if pressure has built up inside, the cork might pop off when the restraining wires are gone. Now you want to loosen the cork enough to let some gas escape without removing it from the bottle yet. To do this, tightly grip the cork so that it will not get away from you and gently turn the bottle, not the cork, while you gently push up on the cork with the thumbs. Gas should slowly bubble out around the cork, with a soft hissing. There may or may not be a gentle pop. When the hissing subsides, push the cork out and pour. But in case things do not work out as planned, keep a glass at hand to catch any champagne that fizzes out suddenly.

Breathing. To taste its best, wine, especially red wine, must be uncorked and exposed to the air for a period of time before it is drunk. This is called letting the wine “breathe,” and it gives the wine a mellower, less sharp flavor. Those new to wine-drinking may be surprised at how profound the difference is in taste before and after breathing. White wines, rosés, and very light Beaujolais need very little breathing time, perhaps five or ten minutes. Most reds will need much more, how much depending upon a number of factors.

One rule of thumb with reds is that the younger the wine, the longer it needs to breathe, since airing the wine is a way of aging it by exposing it to oxygen. If the wine is already very aged, you can send it over the hill by letting it breathe too long. The type of grape the wine is made of also affects breathing time. Red Bordeaux and various Chiantis need a great deal. A Bordeaux under five years may need as much as two hours, while one between five and ten years may need only one hour. Burgundies and pinot noirs tend to need between a half hour and an hour. The heavier Beaujolais should be treated like burgundies. Some very old wines may need very little breathing time, but others may need fairly substantial breathing periods. If you are uncertain, be sure to consult your wine book or ask a knowledgeable clerk when you buy your wine—especially if your wine is a fine one.

Decanting. Decanting—pouring the wine out of its bottle into a decanter or pitcher—hastens the breathing process by exposing a larger surface area to the air. It is really necessary only when sediment has collected or when you wish to hasten breathing; otherwise it is perfectly all right to pour wine from its bottle.

Because white wines do not collect sediment, you never need to decant them, although you may if you wish. Wines are stored on their side, which means that the sediment is stirred up when you pick up the bottle for drinking; and every time you tip the bottle to pour a glass the sediment is disturbed anew. With reds, you should first stand the bottle for an hour or so before decanting so that the sediment has a chance to settle on the bottom of the bottle. Then pour the wine out slowly with light shining behind the bottle so that you can see when the sediment first appears in the neck of the bottle. When it does, stop pouring. Later on, when there has been more settling of the sediment, you can salvage still more of the small amount of wine that you left in the bottle.

Beautiful crystal decanters have long been favored for wine, but these (if they are real crystal) contain lead, which can be leached out by the wine. Letting wine stand for any period of time in crystal decanters, to breathe or for refilling glasses, is therefore not a good idea, unfortunately. See chapter 44, “China and Crystal,” pages 548-50.

Serving and Glassware. Ordinarily, one bottle of wine or half a bottle of a dessert wine serves four people. Do not fill the glass more than half full; this means that to serve an ordinary four-ounce serving of wine you need an eight-ounce glass, and you may use an even larger one if you wish. If you are serving two wines with dinner, provide different glasses for the two wines and set them in a triangle with the water glass. See chapter 6, “Serving Meals,” page 64. Serve the lighter wine first and the heavier second. At a formal meal, when cheese is served after the salad, keep the red wine for the cheese course, and serve the dessert wine when the sweet is served. You can serve cognac or a digestif with coffee or after it.

Wineglasses are stemmed so that you can hold the stem and not warm the wine with the warmth of your hand. They are large, relative to their contents, to permit swirling the wine, which releases its bouquet, and the sides curve in at the top to prevent the wine from sloshing over the top when it is swirled. The two main shapes in wineglasses are the tulip, which curves in slightly at the top, and the burgundy glass, a sphere with its top sliced off. Occasional wine drinkers and beginners may prefer to use an all-purpose wineglass, a medium-sized tulip-shaped glass that can be used for whites, reds, champagne, or dessert wines. Wineglasses are highly variable in size.

Champagne does not need swirling because its bubbles carry up its bouquet. Champagne glasses come in three shapes. The tulip is taller and narrower than the wine tulip. The flute is like the tulip except that the top does not curve in. The coupe is a very shallow, broad bowl. Champagne lovers disfavor the coupe because it lets the champagne go flat sooner by exposing a wide surface area to the air; and it does not show a pretty stream of bubbles ascending from the bottom of the glass to the top, as do the flute and tulip.

Storage. Many experts say that wine ages best if stored at 55°F, although a few hold out for slightly colder storage. Jancis Robinson says that 40-59°F is ideal, but 59-68°F is not likely to do any great harm.5 What is most important is that the wine experience no rapid change in temperature, as wine will be harmed more by an abrupt shift than it would be by a gradual seasonal warming over a period of many weeks. The experts disagree about the effect of light on wine during storage. At one extreme, surely you should not expose it to direct sunlight, and at the other it is clear that perfect and constant darkness is not required. But you probably do not need to get fanatical about exposure to light, particularly when you remember that wine bottles are colored and filter out a great deal of light anyway.

You can get a wine-storage refrigeration unit installed in your home that will keep the wine at an ideal temperature, but you must weigh the pros and cons. Some connoisseurs point out that if a power outage would subject your wine to a violent shift of temperature, you might be better off using your cellar and exposing the wine to gradual, subtle warmings and coolings. But if you live in an overheated city apartment and intend to get serious about fine wines, artificially cooled wine storage is your only sensible option. Those who wish to be a bit less serious yet still enjoy their wine should keep it in the coolest closet they have. Make sure that there are no hot-water pipes passing through any of its walls, and place the bottles where they will not be bumped. If you use your cellar, watch out for areas near your furnace, hot-water heater, or washer and dryer that may grow too warm or show great fluctuations in temperature.

Some who store very fine wines worry about vibrations, which can keep sediment stirred up and cause corks to loosen. Subways, trains, and big trucks that frequently pass by can cause problems, although vibrations pose less of a threat to wines than heat and temperature swings. I cannot imagine any threat from vibrations to ordinary good wines in ordinary homes if wine is stored in an out-of-the-way place not subject to bumpings and hangings.

Store wine on its side so that the cork stays wet. If the cork dries out, it may shrink and admit air, which would ruin the wine. You should not turn or move the bottles, so position them in such a way that you can read their labels without moving them or picking them up.

Which Wine? There are customs governing which wines complement which foods, but none rise to the level of rules. In the long run, your own tastes are your best guide. Beginners, whose tastes are in the process of being formed, can get much good advice from books, friends, and professionals. Beginners used to be told, “Whites with fish and white-meat poultry; reds with red meats.” This is not really wrong; it is just not always right. What you really want is not to overpower the wine with the food or the food with the wine. A strong-tasting wine will leave you unable to taste a delicate dish properly, and strong-tasting food will overcome a gentle wine. In fact, fish and poultry are often delicate and go well with light whites, but not always. Red meats often do really go well with full-bodied red wines. You definitely want the latter for spicy sausages. But there are full-bodied whites that will stand up to almost any meal, light reds that are good with milder foods, and so forth. With vegetarian meals, go by the strength and nature of the tastes. Strongly spiced dishes and tomato-based dishes will demand stronger wines. With desserts, drink sweet dessert wines, or, more generally, make sure the wine is sweeter than the food.

You need not drink French wine with French foods or Italian wines with Italian food. When you are in doubt, it is sometimes a good bet to go with a wine of the same national or regional origin as the food you are choosing. But you can always find a French wine to grace an Italian meal or a California wine to serve with a curry.

Three of my favorites are Jancis Robinson’s Wine Course (Abbeville Press, 1996); Corby Kummer, The Joy of Coffee (Houghton Mifflin, 1995); and Joel, David, and Karl Schapira, The Book of Coffee and Tea (St. Martin’s, 1975,1996).



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