Years ago I stayed at Steve Albini’s Electric audio studios to Chicago, where in the morning its interns would brew a magic drink called “Fluffy Coffee” – it’s a legend that even comes up in this conversation between Thurston Moore and Ron Asheton. Haunted to this day by this delicious drink, I finally asked for the recipe, and here it is from Albini himself:
Named for the inch of firm marshmallow-like foam that the method produces at the top of the drink, fluffy coffee is the house drink at Electrical Audio, and every trainee learns how to brew it on their first day. I am convinced that a certain proportion of our clientele come here just to drink them. The Warm Ones group recorded a jingle * in their honor, which appears on our outgoing voicemail message. Essentially a large double dose latte with cinnamon and maple syrup, certain procedural details make the mellow coffee special.
Use exceptional coffee first. We use Metropolis Redline Espresso, locally roasted and delivered frequently. We grind it in a Rancillio Rocky burr mill to a fine grind of espresso, then mix it with ground cinnamon. We use plain inexpensive cassia cinnamon which we buy wholesale from Costco. The proportion is approximately 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon dispensed in enough coffee to fill the portafilter of our espresso machine, which makes it possible to prepare two typical doses of espresso.
Before pulling the shot, you need to steam the milk. At the bottom of an imperial quart (20 oz) glass, pour enough maple syrup to cover the bottom, about a tbsp. Maple syrup should be real maple syrup distilled from tree blood, not pancake syrup or anything. Maple syrup, the darker the better. Office bear Stephen Sowley makes it with agave syrup for what he calls “health reasons,” but the rest of the staff agreed that’s because it reminds him of tequila.
Add about 12 ounces of whole milk, then steam until hot and froth using the steam nozzle. The maple syrup mixes evenly with the milk and helps stabilize the fluffy foam, of which there should be a good centimeter at the top of the glass. When the milk is ready, take a double shot and pour it through the froth in one motion. The coffee will make a sort of strange pattern in the foam, and it is customary when presenting the mellow to describe it and tell your guest that you made the pattern especially for them. “Here, I made some sort of abstract rastafarian Tweety Bird on top of it for you,” or “I decorated it with a rendering of Popeye the sailor red-handed with a tentacled sea witch.”
The cinnamon mixed with the espresso grounds allows the flavor of the cinnamon to permeate the drink without the particulate schmutz that comes from sprinkling cinnamon on regular espresso. Along with the cinnamon, I sometimes add a crushed dried Thai chili to the coffee for extra spice, but it’s a peccadillo that I don’t expect other people to be into.
There is an iced version for the summer months, and to make it you dissolve the maple syrup in the cinnamon espresso in an empty glass, then add lots of ice, fill with milk, and stir.
They’re delicious, but no one remembers who invented the Fluffy.
* Note: You may hear the Fluffy Coffee jingle at the end of this video.