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Café Flambé

Long before I became a habitual coffee drinker I became a habitual coffee inhaler. One of my kitchen chores was to "set up" the coffee in the coffee percolator. In the fifties that's how my parents brewed their coffee. For those too young to know, an automatic electric coffee percolator boiled water, driving the water up thru a metal stem that held a metal basket of ground coffee in place. Water would percolate up the metal stem, reach the glass top and stream down through the coffee. A great idea, but it never made great coffee because it continued to boil already brewed coffee for approximately twenty more minutes. The coffee was cooked instead of simply extracted for its flavor and aroma. So stylized are these arcane contraptions in our visual archive that they linger on in our daily lives as The image of the coffee pot.

The first part of my job was to open the new can of coffee. This was among the absolutely best jobs in our kitchen. Underneath the can was glued a key which had a small slit running the length of the narrow part of the key. To free the lid, I would wind the metal strip that sealed the can around the key. The rushing release of the vacuum packed coffee would fill my nostrils with it's deep, rich, exotic, lusty aroma and I would close my eyes and inhale deeply that first burst. I was intensely jealous of French school children whom I had read would down a steaming bowl of café au lait before going off to school. I, on the other hand, had to have a glass of cold milk. Gawd!

One fateful evening in 1965 my mother and father went to see a Michael Cane movie entitled The Ipcress File. The following day my Mother became a woman possessed. She had seen just a few frames in the film wherein a French press coffee pot was employed and she was off and running to make this acquisition. She scoured the Bay Area for such a coffee maker. No luck. She ordered one from France and my days of attending the plodding percolator were over. I was getting closer to France! Naturally our coffee ceremony began to change rapidly after the advent of the French press. My Mother was a charter customer of Peet's Coffee, the original roaster in our hometown of Berkeley. Inevitably, only fresh roasted coffee beans with the requisite grinder would do. Thank God my Mother taught me to be a connoisseur.

I brought coffee appreciation into my work as a chef and the owner of Cafe Pasqual's by sourcing the best coffee and preparing it in all its permutations from drip pot to espresso and, of course, for our dinner service, individual French press pots . We use 600 pounds a month of our special blend of Mexican and Costa Rican organic/shade grown coffee developed for us by Howard Stone of Aroma Coffee. My colleague and the Cafe's general manager, David Coulson, has led us in understanding the reasons why we serve only organic coffee. He suggested we consider the following: Coffee is second only to petroleum in terms of trade dollars in the global economy! One third of the world's production of coffee is consumed by Americans. (Fuel and fuel) Starting in the 1970's, ostensibly because of a disease called "leaf rust" the world's coffee growing regions began what is termed the "technification" of coffee, and its consequences are many, both for the natural world and for the health, welfare and politics of local coffee growing communities. Consider these two recipes, keeping in mind that the more than half of the permanent agricultural land in Latin America is devoted to coffee production:


Clear-cut all foliage and plant only coffee plants very close together. In some cases plant "robusta" coffee plants for increased yield, resulting in less flavor and more caffeine per cup. Plant coffee plants in existing forest or under canopy of planted taller trees that create shade using only arabica coffee plants which have the richest flavor.

Add pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers to earth. Increase health risks for workers and their families. The leaf mulch of the forest floor of complex eco-systems provides natural fertilizers and complex eco-life, balancing habitat so that pesticides and herbicides are not necessary.

Remove habitat of 94% to 97% of migratory and resident birds. Note 1 - 3% annual loss of North American migratory bird population coincident with advent of "technification" programs. Create and maintain complex eco-web providing habitat for migratory and resident birds and other wildlife.

Typically, large agri-businesses own all or most assets and take all of the profit. Workers are not well paid, and are not able to purchase goods or services from countries with more highly developed economies, such as the U.S. Note lack of participation of resident workers in economic destiny.

Traditional farming methods allow for small family farms and community co-operatives. Because local people have more purchasing power with this system, they represent potential customers for more developed economies. See


  • Serves eight
  • In a warmed metal bowl, or the bowl of a chafing dish outfitted with a lit sterno add:
  • 2 organic oranges studded with 30 cloves each
  • the peel of 2 oranges
  • the peel of 2 lemons
  • 8 sticks of cinnamon
  • 16 dried juniper berries
  • 16 cubes of sugar
  • In a small saucepan, heat but do not boil 2/3 cup Cointreau liqueur
  • Turn room lights down. Light pan of liqueur with a match and pour over all ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon until sugar is dissolved. Add eight cups very strong regular or decaffeinated coffee. Serve in cups with a cinnamon stick in each
  • Thanks to Bill West of Wings West Birding Tours for contributing to this article.
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