Instant coffee doesn't have to suck!

Jongleur and I had this revelation in Tunisia during the summer of 2002, thanks to our friend Moncef (hence the drink's name). 'Cef says this cappuccino-like concoction,which piqued our curiosity after seeing him drink it at breakfast for several days in a row, is something all Tunisian college students know how to make. After tasting a sample cup, we were so impressed that we asked for the recipe, which turned out to be almost embarrassingly simple. Turns out the secret to making a decent drink using instant coffee is: use hot milk instead of water. To get a little more fancy, try the following recipe:

What you need:

  • instant coffee
  • sugar
  • milk and something to heat it in
  • a cup
  • a spoon

What you do:

Heat exactly as much milk as you want coffee (using your coffee cup to measure is an easy way to get the right amount). Next, combine a spoonful or two of instant coffee with three to five spoonfuls of sugar and one or two of hot milk, in your coffee cup. The measurements are anything but exact, since they all depend on the size of your coffee cup, and how strong and/or sweet you like your coffee. Experiment a little until you get the ratios right; worst case scenario, you'll have to drink a few cups that aren't quite perfect. I like to use a little less than twice as much sugar as coffee, but that's just me.

The next step is to mix the coffee and sugar and milk into a paste with your spoon. The mixture should expand and get lighter in color as you blend in air. This will take a few minutes,and gets easier with practice. You want your coffee-sugar paste about the color of coffee ice cream, maybe even a little lighter. If the mixture doesn't start to lighten after a minute of stirring, add more sugar. If it's really grainy after a minute, add a LITTLE more milk (this goes the proverbial long way). Again, this is all very touchy-feely.

When your coffee-sugar mixture is a satisfactory color, stop stirring, fill your cup the rest of the way with hot milk, and let it sit for awhile. If everything's going right, the coffee-sugar paste should rise to the top because all the air you stirred in made it light and fluffy and less dense than the milk. This step serves the dual function of looking really cool and percolating the coffee through the milk (you'll also stir everything all together when you drink it). Your cafe au Moncef is ready when all or most of the coffee-sugar fluff has risen to the top; for added presentation points you can dust it with cinnamon, cocoa powder, instant hot chocolate mix, or even chocolate sprinkles. Enjoy!

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