While Americans are going crazy over single serve coffee brewing, such as Keurig, most of the world, including Peru, favors instant coffee such as Nescafe. Although table after table in this diverse country offers instant coffee, nevertheless Peru has a traditional method of brewing coffee that is worth preserving.
Traditionally, tables come with a little pitcher of what is called coffee essence, esencia de cafe. You add the quantity you wish to hot water or milk to make a brew as dark and thick as you wish or as light as you wish.
When done well, with some of the fine Peruvian coffees roasted appropriately in a medium or light roast, you obtain a wonderful cup of coffee.
The idea is not unlike that of preparing an espresso and then making an americano, although the water is not run through the grounds under pressure. Instead you have a double pitcher, the top part of which has fine holes. You place grounds in the upper part and place a tamper on it before pouring very hot water over the coffee. You then wait for the coffee to finish filtering through the grounds.
Once dripping has finished, you remove the upper portion and use the rich liquid essence that has entered the lower chamber.
The method is simple, although it can be hard to find the simple coffee essence maker outside of Peru. Indeed it is similar to the Indian method of making coffee, although chicory is not generally added here.
Nevertheless, the fineness of the holes in the upper portion cause the water to back up and the drip to be slow. As a result, the essence is quite rich, charged with the qualities of the coffee you have chosen.
As many Peruvians modernize they have left behind some of the finest traditions of their country, even if they celebrate Peruvian food. This is the case with the esencia de cafe. One can only hope that with the growth of what in Peru is simply called cultural de cafe, the culture of coffee, that they become aware of the quality of their indigenous technology and traditions for making a fine cup of brew.
In this they will be helped by a consciousness of the importance of toasting coffee. While in Versalles, near Yanatile we tried different cups made from different coffees. One of the main variables was the roast.
Around the table coffee producers spoke that they had no idea that the roast should be less than was traditional. In Peru people were used to a dark roast which negated the specific qualities of local coffees.
The traditional filtering pitcher of esencia de cafe is one important method when using a lighter roast that allows those characteristics to come through. A light to medium roast produces a very fragrant, floral coffee, that still has a good balance of acid and sugars. The notes are allowed to blossom on the palate.