It was standing room only at Starbucks Hear Music Store on Lincoln Road yesterday. Must’ve been 70 or 80 people crowded in to see star chef Marcus Samuelsson and Starbucks’ master coffee blender Andrew Linnemann demonstrate the pleasurable pairing possibilities of coffee and comestibles. Samuelsson is the renowned chef/owner of New York’s acclaimed Acquavit. Linnemann has spent the past ten years sampling coffee crops around the globe (in a way, America’s real Mr. Coffee). The two have teamed to develop coffee blends with food-friendly characteristics. I spoke with them before they took stage at the demo kitchen.
“Starbucks makes a cup of coffee the way I would make a sauce,” explained Marcus, “or the way a winemaker makes a wine. ‘How can we highlight the flavors? And how can we do so with the specific flavors of Africa, of South America?’ It’s very much like the way we would approach a Syrah, or a Pinot Noir.” Of course we’re far more familiar with wine/food match ups, but Marcus would at least like to “begin the discussion.” Which is what this “Coffee Is Culinary” tour is all about.
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One of the two dishes Mr. Samuelsson prepared was a piquant beef stir fry with tomato, mango, and cous cous, robustly seasoned with berber spice mix and served with the yeasty injera bread. It was not only delicious, but fittingly Ethiopian -- that’s where the chef was born. It is also from the same region as Marcus and Andrew’s Ubora blend of East African coffees, which greatly aids in the compatibility. Or, as Marcus put it, “Geography is a flavor.”
Honestly: The beef and coffee went well together. That probably won’t be the case if you mix coffee with seafood, or sushi, or anything too light. Perhaps even more surprising than how well the two paired was Andrew’s exposition of the difference in taste between coffee prepared with a filter with that made in a French press pot. Everyone in the room got to sample the same joe made both ways, and the press pot product proved demonstrably superior.
For those who insist on sticking to good old coffee with pastry, two of Marcus’s desserts are being featured at Starbucks: Caramelized Apple Pecan Coffee Cake, and Chocolate Cinnamon Bread. The sweet/tart tastes of the former complement Ubora’s soft floral, herbal, and citrus notes; the richness of the latter is intensified when matched with the chef/blender’s other creation, Joya del Dia (“joy of the day”), a Latin American coffee blend that is creamy, nutty, and delicately laced with a soft cocoa finish.
Also on sale at Starbucks is Samuelsson’s colorful cookbook, Discovery of a Continent: Foods, Flavors and Inspirations from Africa, published exclusively for the coffee chain. The U.S. Fund for UNICEF will receive a dollar for every copy sold in participating stores from now until October 1. --Lee Klein