An easy, elegant dessert that celebrates coffee

When I was a teenager, coffee was reserved for adults. My parents, like many others, drank it only in the morning. I never tasted it because it smelled so bitter. I remember drinking coffee for the first time and liking it when I was 22 years old and it was iced with lots of cream and sugar.

Today, the coffeehouse down the block from me is always bustling with activity, and I’m surprised by how young a good portion of the patrons are. However, recent studies indicate that youth as young as 14 and nearly half of the population between the ages of 18 and 24 now consume coffee.

I always assumed coffee beans originated in South America (perhaps due to television commercials featuring Juan Valdez), but as I recently discovered, coffee beans were not grown in the Americas until the early 18th century.

Coffee consumption, at least in the form we consume it today (roasted and then brewed), dates all the way back to the 1400s, when Sufis from Yemen drank it to stay awake during religious ceremonies. Coffee was grown in Ethiopia and Somalia at the time.

It was then traded throughout the Middle East, eventually gaining popularity in Eastern Europe, Northern Africa, and finally Western Europe by the 17th century. The Dutch were major exporters of coffee from Indonesia, followed by the British East India Company, which exported it to England and eventually the Americas. The BEIC were the men who became enraged when their tea was dumped into Boston Harbor, but they also sold coffee — who knew?

Almonds, peanuts, or pistachios can be used in place of hazelnuts in a coffee semifreddo.
As coffee’s popularity continues to grow in the United States, there are concerns about its supply. The majority of coffee is grown in full sun to maximise yield, but this method consumes more water and fertiliser, and clearing land removes habitat for birds, animals, and insects. There is a push to reintroduce shaded coffee production — the flavour is said to be superior, but the yield is smaller, making the switch less appealing to growers. Indeed, many of the countries heavily reliant on coffee exports are among the poorest, and climate change is already wreaking havoc on their crops.

Coffee’s price increase appears inevitable. Hopefully, a greater portion of our money will go to the farmers and harvesters. Meanwhile, it is prudent to support fair trade and organic coffee farmers whenever possible.

The following recipe is from Claudia Roden’s cookbook “Claudia Roden’s Mediterranean.” It’s a semifreddo with coffee and hazelnut cream. I used a small loaf pan (8-inch by 3-1/2-inch), but you could also use a glass bowl or another similar-sized mould. This dessert is simple to prepare, but plan ahead because it must set overnight in the freezer.

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