Savor the rich flavors—and surprising health benefits—with recipes using one of the world's most popular beverages.

Savor the rich flavors-and surprising health benefits-with recipes using one of the world's most popular beverages.

Bzzzzzzzz. It starts with the high-pitched sound of my favorite blend of dark- and medium-roast coffee beans whirling in the grinder. Soon the air is saturated with that deeply toasty scent of freshly ground beans. In a few minutes I'm cupping a warm mug in my hands, inhaling the fragrant steam and sipping a wonderfully strong brew with hints of darkest chocolate and fresh citrus. Ahhhhh.

My morning cup of coffee doesn't just wake me up; it alerts all my senses to pleasure. It's a ritual I never skip, no matter where I am or what my finances look like.

And I'm not alone. Despite shifting demographics and economic ups and downs, we Americans haven't budged much from our ongoing coffee habit. More than half of us drink it daily, averaging just over 3 cups apiece. That adds up to about 400 million cups of java every day-and, according to Mintel, a trade research group, about $7.2 billion in coffee sales last year. Even as the recession began to hit us a few years ago, we didn't trim our coffee consumption-we just brewed more cups at home.

What makes coffee such a nonnegotiable passion? Yes, caffeine is a powerful lure (more about that later), but just as important are the rich, nuanced flavors that coffee brings to our palates. Just like wine, coffee can contribute an amazing array of subtle flavors to food. When it comes to cooking, think of coffee as a versatile spice that can season a whole range of recipes, sweet and savory. Taste how it deepens the earthiness of a rich black-bean soup or adds subtle smoke to a fruity glazed pork loin or redeye gravy. And what's better than a moist Bundt cake with a coffee-crumb center and coffee glaze drizzled on top? With the recipes that follow, the idea of a "daily brew" takes on a whole new meaning.

Contributing editor Joyce Hendley is an award-winning science writer. She wrote about chocolate in the January/February 2011 issue and about probiotics in November/December 2010.

March/April 2011