|Your best friend is as much a coffee fanatic as you are, so when she invites you over for a late afternoon klatch, you can't help but agree. You envision mugs filled with steaming Tanzania Peaberry or Sumatra Mandeling sweetened with a teaspoon of sugar and some half-and-half, coupled with fantastic conversation. You arrive on that fateful Sunday afternoon and sit with your friend across two cups of black brew. You're scanning the table for the sugar when she says, "Here, try one of these." She hands you a spoon, pre-dipped in white chocolate. Obligingly (it's her party) you drop it into your cup and stir. "Irish-mint-flavored creamer?" she smiles demurely, as though she just offered you milk with your afternoon tea. "Would you care for a dollop of whipped cream? How 'bout a sprinkle of cocoa and cinnamon on top?" You begin to think your friend has lost her coffee-loving mind.
There are so many coffee-related items in the marketplace that if you tried using every accessory, your klatch could easily become kitsch. However, by using only a few interesting staples you can effectively enliven and personalize your coffee service.
One of the easiest additions to coffee, whether black (espresso) or brown (American), is alcohol. "The tastes just work together," spouts Eddie Marotta, owner of Caffe Biondo in New York's Little Italy. For espresso, the two most popular additions at his café are Sambuca and Anisette, which happen to be traditional add-ins to coffees served in Europe. If cappuccino is your cup of choice, Marotta suggests accessorizing with hazelnut-tinged Frangelico. For an even more unusual taste, try embellishing a cappuccino with dark Crème de Cacao.
The best way to serve alcohol with coffee is to simply set the items on the table and allow your guests to serve themselves. The various liqueurs you might want to try are those mentioned above as well as Grappa. Be sure to have a small pitcher of half-and-half and/or milk, a container filled with sugar and plenty of spoons on the table. (If you're serving espresso, use the small demitasse spoons if you can.) You'll also want to remind your friends that in some cases these liqueurs can replace the sugar they'd normally add, so it's best to taste the coffee-liqueur combination before adding sweetener.
Another simple coffee accessory to remember, especially when it's too early to start tipping 'em back or if your guests don't drink alcohol, is flavored syrups. Or when the time is right, offering a combination of liqueurs and syrups would be a nice touch. The idea is exactly the same: choose flavored syrups -- like hazelnut, Irish cream, anise -- that mimic the tastes of specific alcoholic beverages and allow your guests to experiment. Flavored syrups come in many varieties, so you may want to stick with the above-mentioned and perhaps vanilla to ensure you don't drive everyone mad. It's true that some people enjoy boysenberry-flavored coffee, but … you may not want to encourage such a blatant perversion of the brew. It's your house, after all. And besides, some purists would argue that introducing vanilla into the mix has already crossed the allowable flavor line.
If you want to go out on a limb a bit, try wooden coffee stir sticks dipped in crystallized white or amber sugar. Most everyone adds a little sweetener to coffee or espresso, and this is a pretty snazzy, inventive way to do it. You'd be treading right on that thin line of coffee-accessory insanity, but hey, it's okay to lose your coffee-loving mind every once in a while.