Thursday, August 03, 2006

Confessions of a coffee addict

Marlena Spieler
San Francisco Chronicle
Wednesday, August 2, 2006

The British Husband is addicted to coffee. It is one tenacious monkey on his back, I'm telling you, and it's getting worse. These days it's not unusual for him to nudge me at the crack of dawn with a hopeful look in his eye, his voice tinged with a note of begging:


Occasionally I'll get a tap around 3 or 4 a.m. "Do you think it's too early?" he asks.

I have only myself to blame, of course. I come from a long line of caffeine addicts. My grandmother was a 10- or 15-cup-a-day gal, and my mother and aunt both love the stuff. I've given birth to a coffee-swigging child, and my step-daughter does the ol' French press with grace and delight.

I have been known to misplace a cup of coffee one day in my office, and drink it later when I rediscover it, even if it's days later and I find it accidentally tucked away in my desk drawer.

Part of the appeal of coffee is taste, this is true: rich and dark and aromatic. But there is no denying that bound up in the pleasure of the daily occasion, is happy anticipation of that pharmaceutical kick. I know that many people drink decaffeinated, but to me, without the buzz I don't care so much about the delicious aroma nor, to be truthful, about life in general.

Happy sippers

Coffee drinking is nice alone, but you can go to a cafe and drink it too! It's so sociable, sipping the ol' cup of Joe together with other enthusiastic addicts: young and old, students and housewives, business moguls and out-of-work actors, artists, doctors, lawyers, and dog walkers, all happily sipping in one big caffeine-induced haze of happiness.

As addictions go, coffee seems harmless enough and, unlike some addictions, relatively affordable. And according to a British study, coffee drinkers show a lower suicide rate than non-coffee drinkers, and an even more recent study showed mental functions operated as a higher level when coffee was poured into the cup, though sad to say the study also showed that the coffee drinkers were more easily swayed as far as their opinions went, so happy were they with life.

My serious coffee habit -- I mean, appreciation -- started long ago with Bay Area coffee roasters Graffeo, Caffe Trieste and at that temple of hard-core coffee drinkers, Peet's.

Determination sets in

A few months ago, this was the scene at Peet's on Upper Market:

Placing our order at the counter, the British Husband's eyes drifted over to a framed photo: Customer of the Week. His eyes lit up. "When I saw the photo it came to me in a flash, I suddenly knew what it was I wanted in life. I wanted to be Peet's Customer of the Week.''

And so his campaign began. "Fair means or foul, I'm determined," he said.

He started by begging as he ordered his latte: "Please, please -- I've come all the way from London," he whined appealingly to the counter staff.

Then he asked, "What does one do to become Customer of the Week?'

They answered, "You must come in regularly, and be friendly and nice."

Regular visits for coffee was what he was doing already, so he started adding compliments to his normal routine. He tossed tips into the jar, lavishly, though this went totally against his British upbringing. And in between his compliments and devil-may-care tipping, he reminded counter staff that he wanted to be Customer of the Week, and he wanted it badly.

"I have my photo ready to go and measured to fit the frame, so it won't be extra work on your part," he added.

Each day he went in, drank a cup of the strong stuff, campaigned a few minutes, then left, often returning in the afternoon and sometimes the evening.

He brought in friends, he brought in family, he got coffee to go for anyone he thought might like a cup.

Yet as our date of departure loomed, The British Husband's confidence began to fall away. He became desperate as he placed his order, and even his happy hit of caffeine was not brightening his spirits.

Final plea

A few days before leaving, he said to the counter staff, "I'm going away and won't be able to be customer of the week now!" I think there were tears in his eyes.

Finally, after his long campaign, the girl behind the counter said, "You have indeed been a wonderful customer, so although there isn't enough time for Customer of the Week, you will be the official Customer of the Day tomorrow!"

It isn't often when dreams come true, but it's wonderful when they do. Ask the British Husband -- he'll be happy to relive the golden memories of seeing his picture in that frame, sitting on the counter, proudly proclaiming, "Customer of the Day."

Coffee Ice Cream Floats or Shakes

Pour a cup or two of dark strong cold coffee into a glass and add several scoops of vanilla, coffee or chocolate ice cream. Stick in a straw and sip it up.

For a coffee shake, whirl until smooth and frothy, and pour into long tall glasses for a cooling summery treat. For a deliciously boozy hit, add a shot of rum, brand, or vodka.

-- M.S.

Coffee Granita

Anyone who drinks coffee as seriously as I do needs a few recipes for leftover coffee. Here are a few favorites, though I recommend making them with decaffeinated coffee if you plan on enjoying them late in the day or evening.

Coffee Granita: Make a sugar syrup of equal parts sugar and water, so that the sugar will dissolve easily in the coffee. Mix leftover strong coffee with a little of the sugar syrup to taste, then pour into ice cube trays and freeze.

When ready to serve, whiz the cubes up in a blender or food processor, then spoon the coffee-flavored snow into a glass, top with a dollop of lightly whipped cream and spoon up. Take a deep sigh; pretend you're in a cafe in Rome.

Caffe Frappe: Place the coffee ice cubes in a blender and whirl with a little bit of milk. Pour into glasses and sip on a hot, hot day.

-- Marlena Spieler

Gelee de Cafe (Coffee Gelee)

The instructions below call for using individual gratin or souffle dishes. You can also chill the gelee in a big bowl, and serve it in parfait glasses, alternating with scoops of ice cream and/or whipped cream. Either way, the variety of textures is delightful.


1 envelope unflavored gelatin ( 1/4 ounce)

1/2 cup hot (almost boiling) water

1 cup cold water

1/3 cup sugar

1 1/2 cups very strong, brewed, cold, dark-roast coffee

To serve:

Lightly sweetened lightly whipped cream, for serving

Coffee and/or chocolate ice cream or gelato, for serving


Sprinkle the gelatin into 1/2 cup hot water in a medium bowl (able to hold about 4 cups). Stir to dissolve.

In a saucepan, heat 1 cup cold water with the sugar. Let it come to a boil and stir until the sugar dissolves. Pour the hot sugar syrup into the dissolved gelatin and water mixture. Pour in the cold coffee and stir together well. Let cool, then cover tightly with plastic wrap and chill until just syrupy.

Pour into individual souffle or gratin dishes. Cover with plastic wrap and chill until firm.

To serve, quickly dip the bottom of each souffle dish into hot water to loosen the gelee from the edge of the dish, and invert onto a dessert plate. Garnish with a dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream and a small scoop of coffee and/or chocolate ice cream (not included in nutritional analysis).

Serves 4-6

PER SERVING: 48 calories, 2 g protein, 11 g carbohydrate, 0 fat, 0 cholesterol, 4 mg sodium, 0 fiber.

Marlena Spieler divides her time between the Bay Area and London, and is a regular contributor to BBC Radio and Television. E-mail her at, or visit her Web site at