Chocolaty Vienna-Style Coffee

CAFFE' ALLA VIENNESE

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Have you ever heard of “Caffe Viennese” or “Vienna Coffee”?

I have to confess that I never really checked if it actually has anything to do with Vienna, or if it does my version may not be the most authentic: I discovered this perfect beverage during my college years, in the historic cafes of Venice and Trieste – such as the Florian and the Tommaseo – and regarded it as my grown-up upgrade from Italian hot chocolate. My roommates and I found that it helped immensely with the cold, the fog, the all-nighters before exams, and heartless boyfriends .

While in general I find that most elaborate coffee drinks are just bad examples of “gilding the lily”, please trust me with this: it’s an improvement upon perfection!

Keep in mind that we are not talking about ordinary ingredients. Yes, chocolate tastes great, but there is more to it than what meets the lips: it’s full of chemicals that are associated with mood and emotion (phenylethylamine, theobromine, anandamide and tryptophan, since you are asking), to the point that a shocking percentage of women report to prefer chocolate to sex (sorry, guys!). Daniele Piomelli, from the University of California, compares its effects to those of marijuana.

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And don’t get me started about coffee. How many of us would have graduated from college had it not been for those midnight Americanos, and could we still call New York “the city that never sleeps” without the omnipresent to-go cups of joe?

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Obviously, the pairing of the two is a marriage made in heaven – as long as if you don’t suffer from gastric ulcers.

Do not ask me how many calories are in a cup of this concoction. I have no idea. And besides, thinking about the calories may just make you crave it more. Go ahead and  enjoy it, just try to stop after the first two cups!

CAFFE’ VIENNESE

Serves 4

  • 4 small cups of espresso “ristretto” (strong and concentrated)
  • 4 ounces really good bittersweet chocolate
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tbsp sugar, or to taste
  • Whipped cream to decorate, if you like (I prefer it without)
  • Ground cinnamon, if liked

Bring some water to a boil in a saucepan and place a second saucepan or heat-proof bowl on top to create a bain-marie. Add the chocolate pieces or shavings to the top saucepan or bowl, and allow them to melt, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. Add the heavy cream and sugar and keep stirring. Add the espresso and keep heating until some bubbles form and it thickens. Remove from the heat, and add cinnamon or chocolate liqueur if liked. You can also decorate with whipped cream and chocolate shavings.                                                                                   I probably don’t need to tell you this, but… serve immediately!

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Italian Hot Chocolate (Cioccolata Calda)

Cioccolata Calda (Italian Hot Chocolate)

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Most of us know that the Mayas and their ancestors were already gobbling unsweetened hot cocoa 2000 years ago. Some historians believe that we also have to thank the Jews – for introducing sweet, hot chocolate drinks to Europe. In fact, many Conversos fleeing the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisition ended up in South America in the early 1500s, where they learned how to grow and process the cocoa beans, which they started exporting to the Old Continent, together with cane sugar. Hot chocolate and coffee were both such a hit In many parts of Europe, that they put many wine bars out of business. In Venice alone, where the first coffee house in Europe was opened around 1645, some 400 (!) more sprouted in the next 150 years. However, while most could afford coffee, because it was imported directly from Arabia, chocolate (which came from the Americas and had to pass through many intermediaries) was expensive, and for a while it remained an exclusive habit enjoyed by the aristocracy, the wealthy merchants and the high clergy.   I hope I’ll make you feel just as fancy as you slowly sip a cup of this thick Italian-style cioccolata!

  • 4 oz bitterweet chocolate (or 4-5 tsps unsweetened cocoa powder)
  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons sugar, or to taste
  • a small pinch of sea salt
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoon potato starch

With Cocoa: Place the cocoa, potato starch, salt  and sugar in a small and heavy or non-stick saucepan. Add the milk very slowly, whisking continuously (use a whisk, not a spoon to avoid clumps). Move the saucepan to the stovetop, and bring to a boil on low heat, stirring continuously; allow to simmer for about one minute or until it thickens and serve accompanied by small cookies.
With Chocolate: use only  high -quality dark chocolate (at least 60 percent cocoa – the more, the merrier!); place  a saucepan with the chocolate  in a large pan of shallow warm water, and bring the water to a gentle simmer on top of a range until the chocolate has melted. Add the milk, sugar, salt and potato starch to the chocolate very slowly, stirring continuously; discard the pan of water and place the saucepan with the chocolate on the flame; on low heat, bring to a boil and allow to simmer until it has thickened to perfect creaminess.