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illy and Josean Alija show new ways of using coffee in Haute Cuisine

Josean Alija

BILBAO, Spain – We all know that coffee is a stimulant and the poster-child drink for creativity. But what happens when we use coffee in the kitchen, in combination with other ingredients?

illycaffè and Josean Alija, chef at Nerua in Bilbao, found out together in the “Using Coffee in Haute Cuisine” project.

After three busy years of joint research, the results are out: used in cooking, coffee turns into a flavour and aroma enhancer.

illy was keen to invest in and research the groundbreaking project of using coffee in cooking to explore and discover its hidden properties. Alija proved to be an excellent partner, capable of maximizing the characteristics of coffee in exciting new recipes that, we hope, will open the door to new coffee consumption habits, thanks to a product that offers a unique, multisensory experience,” says Andrea Illy, illycaffè’s Chairman and CEO.

illy and Alija worked on decontextualizing coffee from its “most common and natural” environment and method of consumption, bringing it into the kitchen as a new ingredient to be used in a highly original way for gourmet cooking.

Coffee proved itself to be a magical and versatile product,” says Alija, “capable of exalting other ingredients, generating harmony and elegance, and reawakening our senses. Its character and individuality mean it can be turned into stocks or subtle flavours, and act as a vehicle for aromas and recollections.

The first part of the project focused on research into green coffee (coffee before roasting) as an edible food. The result of heating up green coffee in water was surprising, ushering in a true revolution in cooking by yielding a stock and an aromatic sauce redolent of vegetables.

After working with green coffee, Alija and illy went on to define the six different degrees of roasting that produce the different aromas of roasted coffee. These can be applied creatively to the culinary arts.

Toasting the coffee enables us to taste more aromas of hazelnut, cinnamon, vanilla… This is because the oils in the coffee bean are released during the toasting process, creating a product that has a more complex palette. One of the oils in toasted coffee, for instance, can help us complete the flavour of dishes made with mushrooms, meat and fish,” explains Alija.

Sample recipes using coffee in gourmet cooking:

Artichoke, green coffee and jamón ibérico stock with herbs

Marinate an artichoke with crushed green coffee beans previously frozen in nitrogen, at a controlled temperature of 83ºC for 3 hours.
The green coffee helps restore the natural aroma of the artichoke before it is picked, making it possible to enjoy the fragrance it emits when harvested, all in a creamy and compact dish.

Pear, Garmillas whey and elderflower

1st degree toasting

Candy the pear with coffee grains toasted to the first degree to enhance the floral aroma of the elderflower and the milky, acidic whey from the fresh cheese.
This refined and delicate dish makes for an excellent sugar-free dessert, one with a disarming sweetness.

Carrots, enoki mushrooms and white bean purée

4th degree toasting

Take some small carrots, clean them and place them in an oven pan, along with 20% of their weight in green coffee. Bake in the oven at 220°C for six minutes and twenty seconds, then allow to cool covered with a sheet of aluminium foil. Check the contrasting flavours.

The aroma of the bean purée conjures up memories of forgotten scents. Spoonful after spoonful, it seduces the eater as it reveals its tastes and flavours.