“One coffee, dark” I said. ‘Um, we only have one brew’ she said, looking puzzled. “OK”, looking puzzled myself, “that’s fine, and I’d like it dark.” The look changed from puzzled to a little apprehensive, and the cadence of her speech slowed to ‘english is not your mother tongue’ speed. “I’m sorry, but we only have one brew, and it’s medium, not dark.” I was about to embark on another round of this early morn banter when the thought hit me…Karin, this lovely young woman speaks coffee, NOT cawfee.
A couple of years ago I wrote about the ritual of ordering coffee in Italy: pay first, then go to counter with receipt, or face the mockage of barista and local. I suppose a visitor from a foreign land could be forgiven her ignorance. Countries have their language and cultural norms to respect, and once I learned how, I could practically pass for local. But it wasn’t until the exchange with my local barista that I realized that coffee here (or back in my old there) speaks its own dialect too.
If you grew up in or around NYC, by the time you came of coffee age you knew the language. Step up to any deli or bodega or coffee cart counter, plop down your buck, place your order. Your choices? Regular, light, dark, black. The cardboard cup placed in your hand with its snappy “We are happy to serve you” and random blue and white Grecian theme contains the fully formed caffeinated quaff. Pull back the plastic tab on the cap, try to secure it to the thingy sticking up in the middle, fail, just rip a hole in it, wrap multiple napkins around blazing hot cup, and drink. If you ordered a “regular”, that cup contained your morning joe with milk and one sugar. Light and sweet was, well, light and sweet (lots of milk, 2 sugars.) Dark, my coffee of choice, was a touch of milk. And black, sans cow.
My guess is this ‘cawfee’ shorthand was created sometime shortly after the earth’s crust cooled and the first naugahyde diner banquette was installed, in an effort to help speed things along. Coffee in NY up until the time of the revolution sparked by Starbucks, was purely utilitarian. That first cup a necessary early morning stimulant to get you from point A to B without ripping someone’s head off, or cluelessly stepping off curb and getting hit by a bus. Civilization could function seamlessly as long as that cardboard “We are happy to serve you” was in your hand. Out here in the PNW, coffee is religion. A java church on every corner, the sacrament dosed in ounces from beans lovingly roasted in-house and lavishly described with terms like “after notes” and “floral”. It’s good, great in some cases, but it takes a Gotham gal a little time to get used to. So the next time I order from my favorite drive-thru, I’ll try to remember to translate my cawfee dark before I get to the window.:-)
A coffee-themed recipe is clearly called for, and in the spirit of caffeine-fueled indulgence I’ve got one that’s quick, easy, and under 200 calories to boot. Fast Espresso Pudding is just a variation on a chocolate pudding recipe I found a few years ago. I was having one of those days, when the incoming crap storm from work was making me cranky, and something soothing and chocolate was necessary to calm jangled nerves. Already in my jammies (ok, so what if it was 5:30pm), the thought of leaving my cozy nest to go to the market for box pudding just wasn’t going to fly. So I figured, why not make it on my own? Happily, the experiment worked, with just a few ingredients I already had and could pronounce without consulting a chemistry text. To be fair, this isn’t as good as my more elaborate chocolate pudding recipe, but for a quick fix, it’s perfect!
Fast Espresso Pudding Makes 4 approximately 1/2 cup servings
- 3 TBSP instant espresso powder
- 2 TBSP unsweetened cocoa powder
- 2 TBSP corn starch
- 5 TBSP sugar (or more, according to taste – I like things a little less sweet)
- 2 cups whole milk (I’ve done it with 2% but anything lower and the pudding tends to be a little grainy)
- A pinch salt
Whisk together everything but the milk in a saucepan. Add the milk and whisk until combined. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring continuously, until the mixture comes to a boil and thickens. Pour into cups and let cool for 30 minutes on the counter. Refrigerate for another hour until set. If you want to avoid a skin on top, cover with plastic before cooling on counter, making sure to press the wrap onto the top of the pudding. I like to froth some milk and add a dollop on top and a little cinnamon before serving. Calories: approximately 170 per serving.
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