It takes me time to adjust to the fall time change in New England.
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 desert agriculture. For this use, an alternative to a genuine olla would be altering the clay pots that are frequently found at plant nurseries.
Now back to coffee.
“Piloncillo”, along with spices such as cinnamon, cloves, and optional anise, is robust and adds 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.
Café de olla: Mexican Pot-brewed Coffee
- Medium size stainless steel pot
- Measuring cup
- 8 Individual cups
- Fine-mesh strainer, cone filter, or cheese cloth.
- Wooden stirring spoon
- 4 cups Water
- 2 sticks Cinnamon
- 4 Whole Cloves
- 4 oz Piloncillo, brown, or demerara sugar
- 1/2 cup Medium Ground Roast coffee
- 2 cups Warmed milk
- Boil the water in a medium size steel pot.
- Carefully add to the boiled water - the sugar, cinnamon sticks, and cloves.
- With a wooden spoon, stir until the sugar dissolves.
- Add coffee grounds and stir over low heat. Don't let it boil as it will give the resulting beverage a bitter taste. Cover and simmer for about 5 mins.
- Strain coffee through a fine cone filter, fine mesh sieve, or cheesecloth.
- Add warm milk to taste.