Thursday, August 16, 2007

Contemplating the Flor de Tilo

My head hurts.

We're barely halfway through August and already the pain of developing a signature drink suitable for competition is wearing on me. For the past three days, I've been racking my brain, gnashing my teeth and beating myself (not in that way you dirty-minded scoundrels).

Coffee is such an interesting ingredient - one which I can find a myriad of uses for. However, the twist for competition is that it must be drinkable and prominent, which changes things significantly.

The twist here is that this drink isn't for me, it's for Ana who's pursuing the crown at the 6th annual Competencia Mexicana de Baristas in just a couple of weeks, and I feel as though I'm failing miserably at the task.

Perhaps I'm just an amateur and this is just a bit too obvious, but I've been exploring traditional Mexican recipes and ingredients in a bid for divine inspiration. I've spent the past two days and nights eating Mexican food and touring the citys' tienda Latina.

Through all this, I've found some interesting ingredients that might yield some possibilities:

- Mole
- Chile Mulato
- Chile Ancho
- Flor de Jamaica
- Eucalyptus
- Hojas de Aguacate
- Hoja Santa
- Flor de Tilo
- Alpina Caramel Spread
- Olive Oil & Balsamic Vinegar

From which I'm also pouring through these books:

- Lonely Planet Mexico
- Gourmet Coffee, Tea and Chocolate drinks by Tekulsky
- Mexico, One Plate at a Time by Bayless
- Alcohol-Free Party Drinks by Canada Dry
- Party Drinks! by Rathburn
- Foods of Mexico by Sheen
- The Cooking of Mexico by Locricchio
- The Joy of Coffee by Kummer
- Viva la Vida by Palomino
- Southwest Flavors: Santa Fe School of Cooking by Curtis
- From My Mexican Kitchen by Kennedy

My early idea was to combine Mole and espresso but since this is the Mexican Championships and mole is the national dish, I figure someone had to try them together already. Being the national dish, one of the concerns I had with a mole beverage was the regional favoritism that the jueces (judges) might have. Even on subconscious level, if the mole drink didn't meet their personal expectation for mole, then that might result in a lower score - even if the flavor balance had been on the money. For the US Nationals, not a big deal, but for the Mexican Nationals, it seemed pretty risky.

So now, I've got a bunch of ingredients to try different infusions with and, hopefully, come up with something interesting and delicious. Ana didn't really set any parameters other than "no blenders" so it's kind of open season on the ingredients.

Other options I've been thinking about are a "honey gin" kind of drink - after tasting a variety of infused alcohols at a friends bar yesterday, and an "espresso, olive oil and balsamic tasting" that pairs the three ingredients. Sounds kind of weird, sounds kind of sick and sounds kind of tasty (to me) at the same time.

Until next time, I'll be working a la mad scientist trying different combinations of balsamic vinegar and hibiscus petals...


RichW said...

Mole may be considered a "national" dish, but there are dozens, if not hundreds, of variations of moles - so it would be fair game to actually invent your own, provided you explain the process of you got there - in other words, both a sig drink and a sig mole. Maybe something tamarind based to play off the umami qualities of the coffee instead of the citrus?

Could even be a tamarind shakerato type drink with maybe a jicama swizzle stick - one thing we've learned here is to make sure the espresso is the feature, so sometimes simpler is better.

Also noted the notable omission of a pipian on your list. I have no familiarity with the Mexican comps, but I've never heard of anyone doing pumpkin in No. America to date.

Just some random thoughts. But it's cool you're working on this with someone from another country. How'd you get involved with Ana if I might ask? Japan?

true said...

A couple of suggestions--

Be careful with the jamaica! I've be hard pressed to name a more acidic additive. I've seen it etch aluminum, and I tried to figure out a way to make a jamaica ice cream and could not come up with any way to use it without completely and unreverseably curdling the mixture. Jamaica and milk do not mix.

Mole does in deed have hundreds of variations, but the core element is not chocolate (as often assumed in the US) but rather a mixture of toasted nuts and seeds that work as a thickener. There's much territory there to be mined...

Look at horchata variations... there are hundreds of regional and national variations, and I'd imagine that many can be the base of a sig drink.

Hoja Santa can have a really nice sassafras edge to it.

For english language inspirations, look to the first or second books by Bayless; both are more interesting than the TV-influenced One Plate at a time. Also, Kennedy's other books are absolutely encyclopedic.


onocoffee said...

Thanks Rich and true for the comments.

I'll definitely keep an eye on the jamaica for its' acidity and I'm on the boat, so to speak, with chocolate being a minor ingredient in mole (and only in a few northern-style recipes).

So far, it's been a fascinating discovery. I've been pouring through the books, thinking about ingredients and just starting to get into them.

Horchata just seems so interesting, as does this blue corn drink I've found at a local tienda. More discovery is on the horizon and I think it's a great reason (read:excuse) to visit more of the regions' Mexican restaurants!

true said...

I've traveled from Chihuahua in the north to Tulum on the Caribbean coast, and I'm always amazed by the variety and sophistication of the Mexican kitchen even in the most humble of comida. There's so much to learn from it, yet it's a three-note punch line north of the border. Wait until you find a way into the way different indigenous cultures flavor their food-- most of their approaches have never been fully documented, let alone in English. If you ever go to Mexico, just stay as far away as possible from the tourist resorts if you want to find real local cooking. A few months ago I was in the Maya Riveria shooting a doc, and most of the food was about what you'd expect from a mexican joint in Alabama. Playing to the expectations of the tourists, I'm guessing.

By the way, if you are ever back in Chicago, make reservations for Topolobampo (the fine-dining side of Bayless's Frontera Grill). It's easily one of the ten best restaurants that I've been to in the US. It is to Mexican what Chez Panisse is to American cuisine. The tasting menu, at $150 with wine, is freakin' amazing-- and an unbelievable value.

Treva Stose said...

Jay - I am in Guatemala and working on a recipe incorporating mezcal and coffee. I realize spirits are not permitted for signature drinks in competition - but is it possible to use agave smoke or a mezcal reduction that has all of the alcohol cooked off? is a link regarding the time it takes to cook off alcohol. Perhaps an infused foam or - - - If I can make it work I am interested in Avocado/Banana creams. Please let us know the results of your project. - Treva