When I was a Junior in college, I had some really swell friends from Bosnia. They introduced me to Bosnian koffee klatsch, a Balkan colloquialism known as ceif (pronounced "chafe"). However, it ignited my taste for teeny cups of sludgy coffee with a rich crema. It was also the first time I realized sugar cubes were of pretty good design: you can dip the cube in, millimeter by millimeter, to absorb some of the Turkish delight, then crunch off the coffee-flavored sweetness. We would sit on the floor of our sparse dorm rooms, trusty hot pot by our side, finely ground beans waiting to be made into the robust hot beverage. L and R even had little espresso cups and saucers. We would nosh on whatever small treat they had received in care packages from home or wrapped up in napkins and toted home from the dining hall. It was a wonderful habit, and something I truly miss in my non-European friends.
Living on the West Coast, in the Rockies and down South didn't give me too many opportunities to drink coffee prepared in this style. When I relocated to NYC, I found a good friend, A, lived in Astoria. That homeless August, I crashed in Harlem and Manhattan but whenever I could, I would take sleep on A's settee in Queens, eating ethnic on the cheap and gorging myself on Greek iced coffees. A left a few months into my Brooklyn tenure. He bestowed upon me his little Greek/ Turkish/ Hungarian/ Bosnian/ Serbian coffee pot. A himself was Armenian, but not much of a chef or preparer of anything edible. I have never used it either save one less-than-successful experiment. I do believe the thing has never made authentic southern European coffee (forgive my geography misgivings: not exactly sure how I can describe in cardinal directions where this type of brewing hails).
A few years after that Queens summer, I found myself planning a series of field trips to different areas of NYC for an integrated curriculum project. A science teacher, M, suggested Astoria, for all the Greek culture (the project was around architecture... um, the reason we went to Queens escapes me now.). It was a dreary January day, snow was on the ground, misty damp air hung loosely about. We sat in one of those amazing outdoor cafes, under a heating lamp, and drank hot Greek coffee. A wave of warmth, not only from the beverage, washed over me. All felt right and calm in the world. Bustling Astoria was a perfect haven. The misty air was romantic. We clinked our little china cups, H sat on my lap and gurgled (she was only about 4 months old). M and I enjoyed the cityscape in quiet companionship over our warm muddy ambrosia.
Passover is coming soon. In the terribly WASP-y area I live in, that doesn't mean much to most. To me, it means European-manufactured Nescafe is sitting on the kosher table at the local supermarket. I hoard this stuff now that I don't live in NYC and have easy access to ethnic delis. American Nescafe is gross; when my daughter's grandmother visits from Israel, she brings her own jar. Good woman.
I made my own version of this delightful drink today. In lieu of my almond milk, use a few tablespoons of evaporated milk or nounou milk, which I have found only in Greek groceries (Stop and Shop ain't gots it), although many purists don't take milk in theirs.
2 heaping teaspoons European-produced Nescafe (the American one is useless)
6 ounces boiling water
1 packet of Splenda
1 cup of unsweetened almond milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
lot of ice
In a small cup, blend the Nescafe and Splenda with the water. In a blender, add the ice, almond milk and extracts. Pulse until the ice is in shards. Add the coffee mixture to the blender. Whiz until all ice is incorporated and smooth. Pour into a tall glass. There should be a nice crema on top.
To make hot, leave out the whizzing in the blender and cut the milk to a 1/4 cup. Or leave it out entirely and just add more water, and shake in a martini strainer. If you want a more authentic experience, try the following (warning: recreated from memories of watching Greek expats in Queens whip these up)- a spoonful of coffee and a spoonful of sugar, to taste, and a spoonful of COLD water frappeed with a small handheld blender that many use for lattes or foaming milk should produce a frothy blend. Add ice, cold water and a bit of Carnation evaporated milk from a can. This too can be made as a hot beverage.