I've always been a bit of an anomaly in the journalism world in that I don't drink coffee. Caffeinated soft drinks and water fueled me for late-night meetings and tight deadlines.
I've tried a sip or two over the years, even ordered a mocha-frappa-iced something that a friend swore I would like. I love coffee's robust aroma, but its tongue-gripping bitterness stops me cold.
So when I was invited to try the table-side siphon coffee service at All Chocolate Kitchen in Geneva, my first inclination was thanks, but no thanks. The invitation touted siphon brewing as the best way to brew coffee, resulting in a "rich, full body of french press, and the clarity of a drip coffee." Hmm. Maybe I just hadn't tried good coffee.
So I trekked down to world famous pastry chef Alain Roby's shop with an open mind.
Coffee siphons use heat and vacuum pressure to brew coffee. The process started in Japan centuries ago and became popular among French royalty in the 1830s, explained Kit Willadasen, head barista at the Geneva shop. Siphon brewing is seeing a bit of a renaissance around San Francisco, and it appears Roby's All Chocolate Kitchen is the first spot in the suburbs to introduce it to customers.
When you order the siphon coffee service, a barista brings the glass vessels and butane-powered burner to the table then goes back to grind Bristot beans, an Italian brand that blends robusta and arabica varieties.
Water goes in the lower chamber; the heat of the butane flame warms the water and pushes it into the upper chamber that contains the freshly ground beans. The barista gently stirs the grounds to thoroughly saturate them for maximum flavor extraction. The foamy head (like on a nice pint of Guinness) indicates fresh, high-quality beans, Willadasen said. When the heat goes off, the vacuum pressure pulls the liquid back through a filter into the lower chamber revealing a pristine cup of coffee.
The aroma lured me to the cup now in front of me and I anxiously took a sip. Phew! The coffee was not scalding hot (the water never reaches more than 190 degrees) and was actually pleasant. Deep, roasty flavor without any bitter bite. I noshed on an amaretto-soaked pecan half dipped in dark chocolate, one of Roby's recommended accompaniments, and took another sip, throughly enjoying how the coffee mingled with the rich chocolate still lingering in my mouth. I finished my cup and had another, punctuating every few sips with cocoa-dusted almonds and nuggets of chocolate-dipped papaya and pineapple.
I'm sure my newfound coffee enjoyment had much to do with the whole experience, but nonetheless I can no longer say I don't like coffee.
The tableside coffee experience costs $19.99 and provides enough liquid enjoyment for four people. It's available 4 p.m. to close Monday to Thursday, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. Add either the nutty chocolate flight or the dried fruit flight (enough nibbles for four) for another $14.99 each. Through the end of February, buy one flight, get the second for $5.
All Chocolate Kitchen is at 33 S. Third St., Geneva. (630) 232-2395; allchocolatekitchen.com.
Coffee achievers: While I don't count myself in that group (at least not yet), I know they are out there, and so do the folks behind the CoffeeCon2012, a consumer coffee conference set for Feb. 25 in Warrenville.
Sponsored by the city of Warrenville and hosted by Warrenville resident and noted coffee expert Kenneth Sinnot, CoffeeCon2012 runs 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the IBEW Local Union 701, 28600 Bella Vista Parkway.
The free event -- you caught the "free" part, right? -- is billed as part coffee school, part coffeehouse with brewing demonstrations, exhibitors, lectures by noted experts, a coffee museum and live entertainment.
Even though the event is free, advance registration is required. Sign up at coffee-con.com.
If you can't make it to Warrenville that day, head to your local coffee shop. Shops around the country can stream the lectures.
Mad for mustard: Did you know mustard is second only to black pepper in the spice popularity rankings? Sure you've probably spread it on a hot dog or whisked it into vinaigrette, but mustard can do so much more.
The good chaps at Colman's English Mustard (you might recognize the name from the yellow tin in the spice aisle) say mustard pairs with any type of meat and adds fabulous flavor to soups, dressings and dessert with just a few calories and little fat.
Curious? Try this recipe for Chocolate Spice Cookies or head to colmansusa.com for a host of other recipes.
• Contact Food Editor Deborah Pankey at email@example.com or (847) 427-4524. Be her friend at Facebook.com/debpankey.dailyherald or follow her on Twitter @PankeysPlate.