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Spanish Secrets: Damp Leaves And Coffee Grinds

...We’re now stocked up with our adult winter-warmer, a rich sweet treat on dark cold nights...

Craig Briggs and his wife Melanie have this year added a new delight to their wine cellar - home-made café liqueur. And who minds spending wet and windy autumn days in the garden clearing up a carpet of decaying leaves if there's such a treat in store when labour's done?

Wet and windy autumn days help litter the garden with a carpet of decaying leaves. In between the blustery showers I wrap up warm and brave the elements. There’s something quite satisfying about raking the lawns. Underfoot the ground is wet and spongy. An orderly mound of damp leaves rolls over the grass, increasing in size as I move along.

Like a playful kitten, a gust of wind whips the top of the pile into the air and scatters them back over the ground. Time and again this troublesome breeze tests my patience. Eventually the task is complete and for a brief moment the deep-green grass is free of Nature’s debris. For today at least, my work in the garden is done, but tomorrow is another day.

The prolific grape vines are now dormant. Summer’s thick leafy thatch has succumbed to the changing season and fallen to the ground. The garden walls are now surrounded by uniformly spaced vines. Last summer’s growth now resembles a scattered pile of kindling perched precariously at the top of them. Damp bark flays from the main trunk. This woody blanket provides them with a natural insulation against the icy frosts of winter.

Looking at these lifeless twigs and inanimate vine trunks it’s hard to believe what annual riches they provide. Later this evening I can enjoy the fruits of our earlier labours. There’s still another month to wait for the wine but this year we’ve added a new delight to our wine cellar - home-made café liqueur.

In just one week we’re able to convert the locally-distilled aguardiente, a crystal clear and highly alcoholic spirit, into a rich dark syrupy liqueur. The guidelines for its creation are fairly rigid but beyond that it’s simply a matter of taste.

We began by pouring a quantity of aguardiente into a sizeable saucepan. The spirit should have a specific gravity of between 45 and 55. To this is added a measure of ground coffee; the better the coffee, the more delicious the results. Freshly ground beans provide the richest flavour. Once added, a tight fitting lid is placed on the saucepan.

The modus operandi for the next seven days requires a strict daily routine. In order to assimilate the strong coffee flavours with the alcohol, it’s necessary to stir the mixture once a day with a wooden spoon. The heady fragrance of alcohol and strong aroma of coffee make this an enjoyable daily chore.

On the final day the liquid is separated from the grinds using a muslin filter. A sugar and water mixture is added, followed by a portion of caramelised sugar. After stirring vigorously leave to cool, then taste. For the best results, chill to within a degree of freezing and sip delicately.

We’re now stocked up with our adult winter-warmer, a rich sweet treat on dark cold nights.

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Copyright © 2006 Craig Briggs


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