Spoonfuls of Germany


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The coffee connection

Rüdesheimer Kaffee

During spring cleaning this week, I considered throwing out a pair of dark brown suede gloves, my longtime favorites. I’ve had them for more than a decade and they are worn but the thought of tossing them passed and I decided to keep them after all.

If you are not living in Germany you will most likely find it odd when I tell you that I bought the gloves at a coffee shop, and that they cost only as much as two tall lattes today (yes, I know, I should have bought two pairs). And if you do live in Germany, you will most likely nod approvingly, and tell me about some great purchases you’ve made at Tchibo.

Germany’s largest coffee retail chain started selling its first non-coffee items in 1973: placemats and the small boards used for breakfast and dinner in lieu of plates. They came in orange and bright green colors and flower patterns typical of the 1970s, and their sight instantly transports me back to my childhood. Today the company offers a wide range of products and services that still change weekly and include travel, insurance, and mobile phone contracts. Tchibo’s main competitor, the coffee roaster Eduscho, was also in the consumer goods business. In 1977 it caused an uproar in the book retail trade when it sold 200,000 copies of the memoirs by German actress Hildegard Knef for a discount price. Eduscho is now part of Tchibo.

My earliest memory about coffee is not coffee itself. It is the “Kaffeekanon” by German composer Karl Gottlieb Hering (1766-1853). We often sang in kindergarten and elementary school:

C-A-F-F-E-E, trink nicht so viel Kaffee!

(C-O-F-F-E-E, don’t drink that much coffee!)

Nicht für Kinder ist der Türkentrank,

(This Turks’ drink is not for children,)

Schwächt die Nerven, macht dich blass und krank,

(It weakens the nerves and makes you pale and sick,)

Sei doch kein Muselmann, der ihn nicht lassen kann.

(Don’t be a Muslim who cannot stay away from it.)

From today’s politically correct perspective, this is quite outrageous. At the time, nobody thought anything of it, not even my father, who is an Arab Muslim.

Nobody took offense in Muckefuck neither, a coffee substitute made of grains and chicory root. The word Muckefuck goes back to the French mocca faux (“false mocca”). In the hayday of Muckefuck, the English language, let alone English street slang or curse words, were not as commonplace as they are in Germany today. Of course I had to incorporate Muckefuck in my recent compilation of the ten quirkiest German food names.

Germans are serious coffee drinkers; with 15.2 pounds (6.9 kilograms) coffee beans or ground coffee per person, they consume more coffee than the French and the Italians. And Germans drink more coffee per person than beer or mineral water.

At cafés in Germany, coffee used to be offered either by the cup or in small pots called Kännchen, until the latter became an uncool thing do to, and only elderly ladies would order with cake at their weekly Kaffeeklatsch.

When it comes to coffee, I actually like it old-fashioned. At cafés in Germany I often order a pot of coffee (or tea, for that matter). I also make coffee at home the truly old-fashioned way: slowly pouring boiling water into a filter placed over a coffee pot. I will be eternally grateful to Melitta Benz, a housewife from Dresden in Saxony. In 1908, fed up with the gritty residue in coffee, she punched holes in a tin cup and lined it with blotter paper from her son’s school notebook.

Melitta’s ingenious filters are not the only contribution of Saxony to Germany’s coffee canon. Many scrumptious cakes originate there, as well as the term Blümchenkaffee – a coffee so thin that you can see the cup’s flower patterns through it. That’s the one German coffee habit I do not cherish. The coffee we drink at home is so strong that, as the German expression goes, a spoon can stand upright in it.

Making coffee the old-fashioned way

Flambéed Coffee with Whipped Cream (Rüdesheimer Kaffee)

Whether you like brandy or not, living in Germany you would know the slogans of the Asbach distillery, founded in the late nineteenth century in Rüdesheim on the Rhine. One of the brandies produced by Asbach is named Asbach Uralt (“ancient”). In German slang, something outdated is sometimes called “Asbach uralt”. That’s successful advertising!

In 1957, the Rüdesheimer Kaffee was invented by Asbach, and it has been a popular drink in traditional cafés ever since. You do not need Asbach brandy to recreate this drink; any good brandy will do.

2 to 3 tablespoons brandy

1 tablespoon sugar, or more to taste

1⁄3 cup freshly brewed coffee

Whipped cream for topping

1. Rinse a serving cup with hot water.

2. Heat the brandy in a small pot. Put the sugar in the cup, pour the brandy over it, and stir. Ignite the mixture with a long match and flambé for about 1 minute, carefully stirring it with a bar spoon. Add the hot coffee and top it with whipped cream. Serve at once.

Makes 1 serving