The German Version of Irish Coffee Does Not Mess Around
Rüdesheimer coffee in the Rhine Valley
I am at the end of my dinner at the restaurant Gasthaus Winzerkeller, in the fairytale wine village of Rüdesheim, in Germany’s Rhine Valley. I have feasted on the German version of pizza, called Flammkuchen, and fruity Reisling wine from the region. I am just debating whether to have a dessert or coffee to lift myself out of the wine haze, when the waiter comes up to me and insists that I try the special Rüdesheimer coffee, a local brew with a kick. I succumb to the temptation and a little later, he comes up to the table with a tray laden with a special handleless cup and saucer, whipped cream, brandy, coffee, and sugar.
With great fanfare, he pours the Asbach Uralt brandy (40 percent ABV) into the cup, which holds three cubes of sugar, and sets it aflame, stirs the mixture together to caramelize it, then adds coffee (decaf, as I had wanted), a large dollop of whipped cream, and tops it up with dark chocolate shavings. He asks me to drink it through a straw.
At the first sip of the warm brandy/coffee concoction I am hooked. The fiery taste of the brandy and the bitterness of the coffee and dark chocolate is counter-balanced by the sweetness of the cream and sugar. As I sip the coffee, the chocolate dissolves in the cream into a delicious froth.
It all started in 1892, when Hugo Asbach came to the village from France, and wanted to make a brandy here that would compete with French cognacs. The Asbach brandy he created became one of Germany’s most popular spirits, and soon had a cult following. In 1957, a German TV host named Hans Karl Adam created the recipe for the Rudesheimer coffee on one of his shows, using Asbach brandy, cream, and coffee, which became a hit with coffee houses across the country. My waiter says that it was also created at a time when women did not drink in public, so the coffee was a discrete way for them to have a tipple.
Many call it the German version of Irish coffee. It also has its own cups, made by Villeroy and Boch, with red and white motifs of the Rhine Valley and a wide brim and tapering base.
“It’s important to have the Rüdesheimer coffee in these special cups, because they are sturdy enough to withstand the flaming brandy,” says the waiter.
As I sip on the potent coffee and look at the timbered buildings and the shining fairy lights, with a live band playing, it feels like all is right with the world. I am also glad that my hotel is just around the corner, because I don’t trust myself to navigate a street longer than that, feeling this high.