Archive for the ‘coffee connoisseur’ Category


The Moka: a classic until the end

February 28, 2016

Two weeks ago, the son of the man who invented the Moka coffee pot died in Switzerland aged 93 and received a fitting send-off.

As a tribute to his gift to coffee lovers, Renato Bialetti’s ashes were placed in an over-sized replica of the famous coffee pot at his funeral near Milan. His father Alfonso invented the aluminium, eight-faceted stovetop coffee pot in 1933 and Renato took over the business in 1946. Soon afterwards, he mounted a marketing campaign so successful it took the Moka from the markets in Piedmont to kitchens throughout Italy.

The result? Nine out of ten Italian households own a Moka and over 300 million have been sold worldwide.

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Up until then, coffee drinking in Italy took place in cafes or other public places before the Napoletana (drip) stovetop coffee pot was invented in the late 19th century for home use. I love the Napoletana (see my previous blog post for an explosive memoir) and it does a fine job but for those who like their coffee espresso-strong, nothing beats the Moka.

I applaud the use of ashes contained in something special associated with the deceased. I wonder if the Italian inventor of Nutella, Pietro Ferrero ended up in a large, branded jar of the chocolate hazelnut spread when he died in 1949, but it would have been a fitting send-off too.

This is so much more creative than a cardboard shoebox. Except possibly in the case of the late Italian shoe designer Salvatore Ferragamo.

I’m not sure if Renato Bialetti requested the funeral-sized coffee pot or if it was his children’s idea, but for the record, I’m liking the idea of a large marmalade jar for my remains. The label should read ‘Ambrajambra’ Mandarin Marmalade Queen.

But back to coffee. I’m raising a cup to signor Bialetti with my current drink of choice – a Caffe Shakerato (iced, strong, sweet black coffee) – to beat this hot humid Sydney summer weather.




Very Inspiring Blogger

November 25, 2014

I love the smell of an award in the morning …


No, not that one. THIS one


There’s nothing that can make up for a bad cup of coffee but sometimes it can at least be forgotten by a pleasant distraction.

Fellow blogger Colin Bisset has nominated me for a Very Inspiring Blogger Award. Che bella sorpresa, thanks so much. Writer/broadcaster Colin has a lovely blog where he blends his love of words with his love of design. We bonded over a post I wrote about my preferred coffee-making method and I’m thrilled he admits I changed his coffee habit.

Awards are hard-won, and there’s a little housekeeping to do first. I have to abide by the rules of this game by:

  • Thanking and linking to the person who nominated me
  • Listing the rules and displaying the award
  • Sharing seven facts about myself
  • Nominating 15 other blogs I enjoy, then commenting on their posts to let them know I’ve nominated them

Here goes:

  1. I was named after the main character in the 1944 romance novel Forever Amber. My mother saw the film in Italy years later and loved the name (which is Ambra in Italian)
  2. Raw onion is my enemy. Apart from giving me tears so ferocious I need a towel to mop my face, I hate the taste, the after-taste and the lingering taste the day after
  3. I have adopted the neighbourhood cat lady as my mentor and hope to become just as eccentric
  4. I badly need (swimming) stroke correction
  5. I worship at the alter of choreographer Bob Fosse (especially The Pajama Game, Sweet Charity, Chicago and Cabaret)
  6. I learnt to dance salsa in 1999, perfected it in Cuba in 2000 and didn’t stop dancing until 2007. Boy, was I tired.
  7. I’m a fairly decent cook but Asian stir fries defeat me

But enough about me. This is the business of sharing, and these are the blogs I like to read (no particular order):

Bizzy Lizzy’s Good Things – A collection of recipes, essays, food news and reviews

The Food Sage – All things gastronomic by food writer/restaurant reviewer Rachel Lebihan

Gherkins and Tomatoes – A blog about the universal language of food

Garden Drum – Plants, gardening, edibles, garden design, pets, wildlife, travel

Paradisus Garden Lovers – Garden inspiration and advice from designer Peter Nixon

Silver Screen Suppers – The wacky world of film star dining (featuring a lot of Vincent Price)

Venice: I am not Making this Up – Journalist Erla Zwingle’s wry take on life in Venice

Jovina Cooks Italian – Home-cooked Italian meals with emphasis on regional specialities

Italy on my Mind – Comprehensive ‘how-to’ recipes for elegant Italian dishes

On Food and Film – Hyperbolic ruminations on food and film

Skiourophilia – Covetable bits’n’pieces and vintage wares

Curnblog – Film reviews, interviews, opinions and interesting perspectives

Hollywood Essays – Behind-the-scenes stories and photos of Louis B. Mayer’s early Hollywood

Good Morning Trieste – Food, art, photos from my p.o.b. – Trieste

Thanks again Colin for the nomination – and the distraction.


Roasting Coffee: Don’t Try this at Home

October 31, 2014

My recent experiment with growing coffee has been so successful, I now have a huge crop of organically grown beans. But the boast is in the roast.

Last month on the blog I showed off my Seven Stages of Coffee infographic. I had nurtured the plant, harvested the ripe red cherries, squeezed the green beans from the fruit, soaked the beans for two days, removed the mucilage and dried them. But the roasting process has had mixed results, and while the coffee is drinkable, it’s not quite there yet. Stovetop pan roasting produced unevenly scorched beans: oven roasting nearly required a visit from the fire brigade. (Friends have tried a popcorn maker with good results. I’m quite worried that they had such a device in the first place, but that’s for me to fret over.)

Until I perfect the roast, what am I meant to do with a large quantity of magnificently burnt ground coffee? Not much as it turns out. I found a ’27 Household Uses for Coffee’ site that suggested using the grounds for scouring pots, deodorising the fridge and disguising furniture scratches.

I was also inspired to make coffee art.

Coffee Art


But apart from coffee-flavoured cakes or desserts involving custard, cream or Mascarpone, there’s a dearth of savoury recipes. I found a few spicy coffee rubs for meat and if I wanted to brew coffee-flavoured beer, I could try to compete with S***bucks’ brand new menu item. Or I could add two spoons of butter to a cup of coffee to make it ‘Bulletproof’– which according to Paleo diet devotees, will “make me experience a kind of mental clarity and focus that is hard to express in words”. Quite.

Then I hit pay dirt. I found a recipe for one of my all-time favourite dishes: French Onion Soup. This one included coffee. And stout.

It’s a rich, dark, complex soup and the aftertaste has a caramel/coffee flavour. You can do as I did and serve it in a cappuccino cup. Seems logical really. But I needed three cupfuls.

French Onion Soup with coffee

To give the soup an Italian flavour (essential for this Italian-centric blog), I substituted the Gruyère with Fontina, a fairly strong, semi-soft cow’s milk cheese that melts beautifully.

The recipe for the French Onion Soup with Coffee comes via the Good Food Awards from Food52, one of my favourite sites.

If I don’t find any more recipes for savoury coffee dishes, I might have to try something sweet. I fancy a Burnt Coffee Semifreddo (with apologies to Oz restaurateur/food manufacturer Maggie Beer and her Burnt Fig Ice-cream).


Growing Coffee: a backyard job

September 30, 2014
growing coffee at home

Coffee, Brioche and the Beautiful Game

July 31, 2014

BAR SPORT in Sydney’s inner-west was my family’s regular Saturday morning haunt from the 1950s to the early 1970s. Before Italian migrant families left the area for the outer suburbs and bigger homes, the café – established in Norton Street Leichhardt in 1956 as Caffé Sport – was the place to catchup with the week’s news and drink coffee. (See earlier post).



I’d abandoned it for 20 years, moving on to cafes frequented by art school students and my extended circle of friends in the inner city. But last month, I needed a place to watch the 2014 World Cup: somewhere that attracted football (soccer) folk who were just as confused as me about supporting either Italy or Australia.

The Team Sheet

The players don’t change all that much: elderly men talking illnesses, ailments and soccer; middle-aged men in business meetings; a family with a couple of kids and the odd blow-in. Owners Joe and Frank Napoliello do a fantastic job keeping soccer fans happy all year, showing Euro matches on the large screen TV. But they really take it up a couple of notches during World Cups when they throw open the doors until ungodly hours, especially for the Italy and Australia matches.



Pre-match Entertainment

The merchandise stall is interesting, but I’m not tempted by the t-shirts, instead finding myself a spot in the unreserved area near the coffee machine.




There’s just enough time during the warm-up to inspect the footy food. On offer there’s assorted panini, focacce and dolci on display for breakfast and I decide on a mini brioche with fior di latte (mozzarella) and leg ham to go with my macchiato. They’re both perfect. The sweetness of the soft bun marries well with the filling, reminding me of the traditional sweet Easter bread (Pinza) from northeastern Italy that we’d eat with sliced leg ham.




While the spectators dash in various directions, I reflect on what’s brought me here. Regular father-daughter outings in the 1960s to see the local Italian soccer team (APIA) play in the 1960s fuelled my interest in soccer. We’d take bread rolls filled with mortadella and provolone cheese. But in my mid teens I could no longer hide my secret soccer life to school friends and foolishly embraced the oval ball game just to fit in. I also started eating sausage rolls.

Second half

The players have ramped up their diving and writhing on the pitch and I can afford to turn away for a minute and order more brioche and coffee. This carb-fest continues for a few weeks and I wish the referee would give me a caution or show me a red card.



Full time

That’s it. Time for the café brothers to snip the losing team’s national flag from the row of bunting strung overhead. And also time to dissect the game and for strangers to become friends.

Post match commentary

I don’t know when Bar Sport became a house of worship to the beautiful game. The only sports fever I remember 30 years ago was the corner table with a chess and draughts set on offer.



I gather my things and wonder if these visits would only be four-yearly World Cup affairs. Or if making the place a regular haunt might be too nostalgic. I also think about the bad coffee I’ve been drinking at nearby cafes for years and I opt for the latter. I’ve come full circle.

(*I’ve used ‘soccer’ throughout rather than ‘football’ to save confusion for U.S. – and other – readers).

This is not a sponsored post/review. No fee or caffeine supplies were accepted by the writer.






Caffè Shakerato – with a nod to Frank Sinatra

April 8, 2014

It’s with a heavy heart that I bid a fond farewell to a new-found summer friend.

The Caffè Shakerato has been my drink of choice lately, but is meant for long, hot afternoons rather than our current autumn weather.

Not quite a frappé, and certainly not an iced coffee, the Caffè Shakerato is made from espresso coffee, sugar and ice cubes shaken vigorously to create a chilled coffee with a frothy crema.

The Shakerato has been popular in Italy for a few years but I had trouble finding one in Sydney. There’s a smattering of newish inner-city cafes offering it, but the three old-style Italian cafes I visited had never heard the term and, judging by their baristas’ shrugs of indifference, weren’t in a hurry to embrace it.

Keen to make one myself, I needed to ramp up the sultry atmosphere to accompany all the grinding and shaking.

I remembered a novelty coffee tune with an uptempo beat and absurd lyrics that I first heard decades ago and had stubbornly stayed with me.

The Coffee Song was first sung by Frank Sinatra in 1946 and seemed perfect for exercising my samba legs. Also known as They’ve Got an Awful lot of Coffee in Brazil, it lampoons Brazil’s coffee glut and the inventive ways the Brazilians found to consume it. It starts off  …

Way down among Brazilians

Coffee beans grow by the billions

So they’ve got to find those extra cups to fill

They’ve got an awful lot of coffee in Brazil


You can’t get cherry soda

’cause they’ve got to fill that quota

And the way things are I’ll bet they never will

They’ve got a zillion tons of coffee in Brazil

… and The Coffee Song  gets even nuttier further along, ending with signor Sinatra attempting an indistinguishable foreign accent.  I couldn’t help thinking he had an awful lot of Spanglish in his words.

For a Caffè Shakerato, you’ll need:

. 1 espresso coffee – hot

. 1/2 tsp caster sugar (or sugar syrup)

. 6 small ice cubes

~Shake ingredients in a cocktail shaker for about 30 seconds until ice is almost ~melted. Strain into a statement glass. (You could add a dash of liqueur too).

This now completes my list of summer coffee favourites including the affogato and granita di caffè con panna (with cream on top).


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Here’s a full version of the tune (which was later covered by Sam Cooke and The Andrews Sisters among others: The Coffee Song/They’ve Got an Awful lot of Coffee in Brazil 

Any other sightings of the Shakerato are welcome.







Lurking in the Cupboard #5: Napoletana coffee pot

June 16, 2013

While not strictly a hidden treasure, this object deserves a place in my occasional Lurking in the Cupboard series as a cultural curiosity alone.

The Napoletana is a flip-over coffee pot invented in France in 1819, but so named because of its popularity in Naples. The reason it’s no longer lurking in my kitchen is because I use one regularly, as does my mother.  Italian stovetop coffee maker

A stovetop Moka user from way back, my mother was converted to the Napoletana after a scary incident years ago. At a family lunch in the eat-in kitchen, an explosion with an impressive B-grade disaster movie geyser interrupted the chat. My mother was making coffee when the malfunctioning Moka vented its fury on our guests, rendering the crisp white men’s shirts (it was the 1950s after all!) murky brown. The pale walls were given a quick coffee coloured makeover. I hid under the table. Enter the caffettiera Napoletana. 

Italian film aficionados will know the scene in playwright Eduardo di Filippo’s 1946 work Questi Fantasmi where he discusses making a perfect mid afternoon coffee in a Napoletana, subsequently turning this coffee pot into a Neapolitan original.

Eduardo di Filippo and Napoletana coffee pot

Eduardo di Filippo explains the importance of the spout cover

The play was filmed as the 1967 farce Ghosts, Italian Style with Sofia Loren and Vittorio Gassman with that particular scene unfaithfully recreated. Loren’s explanation to a male admirer of ‘putting a paper cone over the spout to keep aromas from escaping’ gives double entendres a bad name.

This type of coffee pot is not used much now, with a Moka the preferred stovetop choice. But for me, it produces a rounded, full-bodied coffee without the bitterness. As di Filippo says in the film “this is not coffee – it’s chocolate!” And that’s good enough for me.

The Alessi version

The Alessi version

In Sydney, you can buy a Napoletana coffee pot at any good Italian kitchenware shop. One day I might upgrade to the Alessi version, commissioned in 1979 and completed after eight years’ research and design by architect Riccardo Dalisi.

 Instructions for using a Napoletana coffee pot via the informative Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino blog.


It’s all about The Cup of Cino

February 9, 2013

It’s never too early to plan for your dotage.

With this in mind, I’ve gathered my disparate collection of ceramic coffee cups in anticipation of the day I breathe a sigh of relief at not having to compete with younger, louder café patrons and just entertain my friends and their Zimmer frames at home.

This frenzied stocktake was brought on by a guest blog post I contributed last week to the Italian Language Blog where I reminisced about my family’s in-house afternoon coffee catchups.

I also tut-tuted at the increasing use of the disposable cup – sometimes seen in the popular ‘bucket size’, rushing down the street with a human sucking from its plastic lid. That can’t be pleasant, surely, and not only diminishes the coffee drinking experience but also contributes to ever-increasing landfill. (In Australia alone, 500 million disposable cups are thrown away every year – each one taking up to 50 years to biodegrade.)

If I save only ONE person from ever drinking good coffee from a paper cup again my job here is done. Would you really drink a good wine from a plastic tumbler? No. You’d take Danny Kaye’s advice and admit that “the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true” (The Court Jester, 1955).


Read fullLanguage of Coffee’ post:

Related posts about coffee:


The Coffee Cocktail: Murder on the Dancefloor

September 22, 2012

I am not a fan of flavoured coffees. Vanilla and caramel belong in ice cream sundaes in my opinion. If coffee must be tampered with, then let it be adulterated with liqueur.

My parents and their Italian friends loved a drop of grappa (grape brandy) in their short blacks. As a child, I couldn’t see the attraction of this “caffe corretto” except it was probably very warming in winter. Of course it was, it’s 40-60% alcohol!

Years later, embracing 1980s’ long working lunches, my arts festival colleagues and I developed a Sambuca habit with our post-meal short blacks. Sometimes drunk separately with the traditional three coffee beans* floating in the shot glass; sometimes set on fire to create a Flaming Sambuca … but mostly poured into the coffee to create a kick-ass finish to the meal. Happy days.

Move to September 2012, and the Italian Film Festival organisers have tampered nicely with coffee, inventing the Mocha Martini. Two nights ago I made the mistake of sampling one or two of these at the festival opening night party at Palace Cinemas in Leichhardt.

I have no complaints with the taste of the cocktail – an elegant mix of Lavazza espresso, Galliano Ristretto, vodka and Bols White Cacao. The mistake was sampling the cocktail after Prosecco sparkling wine and shiraz, the caffeine unleashing my inner dancefloor maniac.

A salsa tragic in the early noughties but now suffering from chronic dancefloor avoidance syndrome, I resurrected every Latin American move I’d ever learnt. My arms now ache from something called the Sombrero move and my arthritis got a wakeup call during the three piece combo’s version of Madonna’s Holiday.

The Mocha Martini hangover was not pretty but neither was my mother’s favourite headache remedy: half a cup of strong coffee with the juice of half a lemon. Imagine swallowing that and surviving. Perhaps I should have taken the Italian equivalent of the hair of the dog: an espresso with grappa alongside my breakfast croissant.

Shot glass with grappa* Supposedly, the garnish of the three coffee beans in the Sambuca represents health, happiness and prosperity. The beans floating in the glass are thought to resemble flies and chewed after drinking to enhance the flavour of the anise-based liqueur.

The Lavazza Italian Film Festival continues at Palace Cinemas throughout Australia until 28 October.

Photo top left courtesy Palace Cinemas

♦ I welcome your thoughts or retorts. The Comments button is only a click away…


Lurking in the Cupboard: Manual Coffee Grinder

August 29, 2012

An occasional post about long-forgotten household gems in my mother’s kitchen

I could feel it doing me good. Core muscles engaged and arms clenching the machine would produce great results. Am I in a gym? Hardly. I’m grinding coffee beans at the kitchen bench on my new obscure object of desire (apologies to filmmaker Luis Buñuel).

I’ve located our long-forgotten hand coffee grinder in my mother’s kitchen cupboard and it’s been getting a good workout at my house. I thought it had been donated to charity, but there it was, over 40 years old and looking at me with a downcast bottom drawer. Last used in 1989 by my dear late dad – and sometimes me  (see older blogpost) it deserved to be rescued after I developed my hankering for a fresh daily grind.

Vintage manual coffee grinderMade in Holland, it’s a wooden “burr” grinder and still works like a dream. I love the soft crunching sound of the beans being crushed between the mechanisms. Much nicer than the  screeching noise of an electric blade grinder that has me imagining a dentist’s weapon. And the aroma of the oils released by the ground beans is nothing short of heady.

I’m guessing my mother found it too much effort to use (my father being chief coffee bean crusher) and stored it away. Interestingly, she planted a coffee tree in the back garden about 15 years ago and it’s making a brave comeback after her indiscriminate pruning festival two years ago. Prior to that, we’d harvested its crimson beans and roasted them as an experiment. Then threw them away. Now, with the hand coffee grinder resurrected, we’re ready for the next stage of the ‘torrefazione’ (such a nice Italian word) process. Illycaffe – watch your back.

I’m liking the idea of calling our future crop Fairtrade coffee: if my mother promises not to go near the tree with any sort of hacking implement, I promise not to call her a terrible gardener. Fair trade.

But back to the workout. It’s quite a job turning the coffee grinder handle and keeping it steady on the bench. Multiply that by four caffeine fixes per day and hello rock-hard biceps. Ta-ta tuckshop arms.

More about manual coffee grinders

And for manual coffee grinder freaks, here’s a museum

Have also just found these many uses for leftover coffee grounds. Brilliant.

♦ I welcome your thoughts or retorts. The Comments button is only a click away…

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