In 2012, illycaffè began collaborating with Chef Josean Alija to investigate the organoleptic characteristics of coffee and find innovative applications for this amazingly versatile product in gastronomy.
Illy and Alija have been working on the project “Using Coffe in Haute Cuisine”, decontextualizing coffee from its “most common and natural” environment and method of consumption—the coffee cup—and introduced it into the kitchen as a new ingredient to be used in a highly original way for gourmet cooking, establishing new practices in coffee consumption and creating a product that generates an experience.
Our starting point was the question: what happens when we use coffee in the kitchen in combination with other ingredients? Coffee is always the undisputed star at the end of a meal, but what if it were presented in a different context, if we used it for other, yet unknown functions? The answer was provided in October 2015 at an absolutely amazing dinner at Nerua Guggenheim Bilbao: a special tasting menu by Josean Alija including 16 coffee-based dishes.
Coffee, both green and roasted, can be a very interesting culinary ingredient, a flavor enhancer and an interlocutor with the memory. The first part of the project focused on research into green coffee as an edible food. It was a journey into the essence of the raw material— green coffee beans—through research, documentation and technique to uncover the characteristics of coffee.
To understand and, in particular, to enjoy the green coffee beans, water was added to green coffee and the beans were allowed to stand for a few hours. We discovered that green coffee is a magical product that enhances other foods: it generates harmony and elegance, and it awakens the senses. This infusion of green coffee has aromas redolent of potatoes, white asparagus, artichokes, beans, peas, green pepper, and more. It combines perfectly with these vegetables because it enhances their flavors. A broth can also be made of green coffee beans to cook vegetables or casseroles, and if the broth is thickened, it creates a dressing or a sauce that is a perfect accompaniment to stronger dishes like meat and fish. But what about roasted coffee? Does it have a place in the kitchen, too? To evaluate this question Alija and the illycaffè researchers explored the aromas of the six different degrees of roasting and applied them creatively to the culinary arts.Coffee is roasted for about a quarter of an hour at a temperature of 200°C. However, depending on the roasting degree to be achieved, the temperature and time often change. The longer the coffee is roasted, the darker the coffee bean becomes. Generally, the beans lose 20% of their weight and gain 60% in volume during roasting. In this process about 1,000 substances that cause the taste and the smell are developed in one way or another. Another factor which can influence the result is how the beans are cooled.The roasted beans range in color from yellow to the dark brown hue of roasted coffee with which we are all familiar. It is important that the coffee skins that are sloughed off in the first phase of roasting be removed, since their bitterness alters the final result.
Roasting coffee releases aromas such as hazelnut, cinnamon and vanilla. This is because the coffee beans release oils during the roasting process and become a product with more complex nuances. For example, one of the oils in roasted coffee can help complete the flavor of dishes made with mushrooms, meat and fish. Chef Alija created an array of dishes using the different aromas of the various roasted coffee levels.
So, what are these dishes? Bear in mind that they were invented by a starred gourmet chef, and they might not be very simple to recreate at home, but to give you an idea here are a few, one per level of roasted coffee:
First level of roasting: Pear confit, Garmillas serum and elderflower
Second level of roasting: Roasted mushroom, tears of sweet vegetables and coffee infusion
Third level of roasting: Chickpea stew with aromatic herbs
Fourth level of roasting: Baby carrots, enoki mushrooms and white bean juice
Fifth level of roasting: Crayfish, endive, leeks and coconut juice
Sixth level of roasting: Squid confit and black broth
Now let yourself go and enjoy the new culinary frontiers of coffee. It will be an extraordinary experience.