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Cooking with Coffee and Tea

Shelby L. Bell/flickr

Most of us can't start our day without a cup of coffee or tea.  As beverages go, these two are must-haves.  But there's more you can do with that cuppa joe and pot of tea. Chef Jerry Pellegrino knows a number of ideas for using coffee and tea in cooking.

One way to look at it is this:  coffee is very bitter and can be used to balance against sweetness and acidity; tea can be thought of as an herb, whose infusion carries both tannin and aromatics.

Here are Jerry's thoughts.

Coffee – the shrub of the bedstraw family that yields the coffee seeds, two of which are contained in each red berry. The fruit, called the coffee cherry, turns a bright, deep red when it is ripe and ready to be harvested.  Native to the Old World tropics, most coffee is grown in tropical America. Roasting transforms green coffee into the aromatic brown beans that we purchase in our favorite stores or cafés. Most roasting machines maintain a temperature of about 550 degrees Fahrenheit. The beans are kept moving throughout the entire process to keep them from burning. When they reach an internal temperature of about 400 degrees Fahrenheit, they begin to turn brown and the caffeol, a fragrant oil locked inside the beans, begins to emerge. This process called pyrolysis is at the heart of roasting — it produces the flavor and aroma of the coffee we drink.  

Culinary Advantages

  • Coffee Flavor
  • Bitter Component to Dishes
  • Acidity

Tea - cured leaves of the Camellia sinensis, an evergreen shrub (bush) native to Asia. The term herbal tea refers to drinks not made from Camellia sinensis: infusions of fruit, leaves, or other parts of the plant, such as steeps of rosehipchamomile, or rooibos. These are sometimes called tisanes or herbal infusions to prevent confusion with tea made from the tea plant.

Culinary Advantages

  • A variety of flavors, depending on the tea used
  • Tannin

Here are several recipes Jerry has come up with
Coffee Brown Sugar Rub

Ingredients – makes enough to marinate 4 lbs. of beef

2 cups finely ground coffee

2 cups dark brown sugar

¼ cup dried thyme

¼ cup ground black pepper

Mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl. Gently pat the rub onto the meat and allow to sit, covered in the refrigerator for up to one hour. Scrape most of rub from the meat and season with salt before roasting or grilling.

Coffee Red Currant Sauce


2 cups strong brewed black coffee

8 oz red currant jelly

4 cups veal stock

Mix all the ingredients together in a large sauce pan.  Bring to a boil then reduce the heat and simmer the sauce for 20 minutes or until reduced by half.

Earl Grey Tea and Cranberry Wild Rice


4 cups water

3/4 cup uncooked wild rice

3 Earl Grey Tea Bags

1 small red onion chopped

½ cup chopped dried cranberries

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 tablespoon olive oil

3 garlic cloves minced

2 tablespoons pine nuts toasted

In a large saucepan, sauté the onion, cranberries and thyme in oil until onion is tender. Add garlic; cook 1 minute longer. Add the water, tea bags and rice and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, for 50-60 minutes or until rice is tender. Remove the tea bags, stir in the pine nuts and season with salt and pepper, pine nuts.

11-Spice Tea Rub


Makes 3/4 cup

5 tbs finely ground full-bodied black tea leaves (such as Chinese congou, low-grown Ceylon or Nilgiri)

¼ cup (packed) light brown sugar

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp curry powder

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground red pepper flakes or ground Szechuan peppercorns

½ tsp cayenne pepper

1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

½ tsp ground star anise or anise seed

1/2 tsp ground cloves

1/2 tsp ground fennel seed

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp ground mace

Al Spoler, well known to WYPR listeners as the wine-loving co-host of "Cellar Notes" has had a long-standing parallel interest in cooking as well. Al has said, the moment he started getting serious about Sunday night dinners was the same moment he started getting serious about wine. Over the years, he has benefited greatly from being a member of the Cork and Fork Society of Baltimore, a gentlemen's dining club that serves black tie meals cooked by the members themselves who are some of Baltimore's most accomplished amateur cooks.
Executive Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Corks restaurant is fascinated by food and wine, and the way they work in harmony on the palate. His understanding of the two goes all the way to the molecular level, drawing on his advanced education in molecular biology. His cuisine is simple and surprising, pairing unexpected ingredients together to work with Corks' extensive wine offerings.