Forget about the cake. Now you can have your coffee and eat it, too.
National Coffee Day is just days away, and roasters and baristas alike are preparing for this one-day brewing boom.
Java is big business in Tucson, with a growing number of coffee roasters dotting the local landscape. Their clients aren’t limited to the cup of joe crowd, though. Some Tucson chefs are turning to local roasters to express their beans in the back of the house.
Consider Alex O’Neill’s latest kitchen creation: Arizona filet mignon rubbed with coffee, smoked paprika, and local ancho chile pods. The thick slices of tenderloin are plated atop a bed of Israeli pearl and parsnip couscous and brought together with baby carrots, young peaches, a loose peach gastrique and a coffee-reduction crisp made in the tuile tradition.
“In cooking, I look for coffee to be that base, that bottom note, where the other ingredients build on its foundation to create new flavor profiles,” said O’Neill, executive chef at Agustin Kitchen, 100 S. Avenida del Convento in the Mercado San Agustin.
O’Neill cooks with the Mexican Artura blend from Tucson’s Caffé Luce Coffee Roasting Company because it’s reportedly less acrid than many other coffees.
“It’s a nice and smooth house coffee, but definitely a step up from your diner blend,” he said.
The dish is in its final testing phase, and is expected to make its formal debut on Agustin Kitchen’s new seasonal menu in a few weeks.
Chef Bruce Yim has also been grinding it out, or should I say brining it out, with his coffee-brined double-cut pork chop with mustard seed caviar and blue cheese polenta.
“I love the earthy flavor of coffee and it’s a natural pairing with pork,” said Yim, executive chef at the Hacienda del Sol, 5501 N. Hacienda del Sol Road. “We’ve used coffee in dry rubs and wet marinades, and this brine really makes the pork juicy and flavorful.”
Rather than adding brewed coffee to the brine base, Yim lets the whole beans hang out in there for about an hour as it infuses. He then strains out the beans and submerges the pork in the aromatics bath for two full days before it hits the heat.
Tucson’s Arbuckle Coffee gets Yim’s nod for this dish, mostly because of the historical space that it occupies on the local coffee scene. Yim also appreciates the earthy flavors that this coffee first roasted in the late 19th century yields.
Curious if their shared enthusiasm for coffee in the kitchen translates to the cup as well, I asked O’Neill and Yim for their call when it comes to the perfect mug.
For O’Neill, it’s simple. Plain old black. And none of that decaf stuff since it’s not atypical for him to hit the sack after 2:00 am following a long night in the kitchen and return to work early the next morning.
Yim is exacting in his coffee preparation. Daily boosts of black caffeinated coffee. One teaspoon of sugar. No more, no less. He started drinking coffee intermittently as a teenager and admits that his career track measurably upped his intake.
Here’s to some memorable drinks and dishes on java’s big day. But, please, no pumpkin spice pumps for me.
Contact Matt Russell, whose day job is CEO of Russell Public Communications, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Russell is also the host of “On the Menu Live” that airs 5 to 6 p.m. Saturdays on KQTH 104.1 FM, as well as the host of the Friday Weekend Watch segment on the “Buckmaster Show” on KVOI 1030 AM.