I’d never heard of cracking an egg into coffee before I read the restaurant critic Joy Summers’ lovely Eater essay on the subject. According to Summers, this odd combination is a Minnesota culinary tradition, invented by Scandinavian immigrants. Summers grew up drinking egg coffee prepared by her grandmother, whose method was endearingly specific: beat an egg, mix it into dry coffee grounds, boil the mixture in a stovetop coffee pot, let it steep, pour in a cup of cold water, let it settle, and serve. “Despite its light color,” Summers writers, “the texture in the mouth was luscious, giving the coffee a round richness. Cups were drank in quick succession.”
There are other ways to experiment with egg coffee, which isn’t so common anymore, even in the Midwest—though I think it should be. Summers takes us on a mini-tour of those who are doing innovative things with eggs and coffee—a niche within a niche, it seems—like Erick Harcey, of the Scandinavian restaurant Upton 43 in Minneapolis, who actually crushes egg shells into his mixture. John Steinbeck, in Travels With Charley, extolled the practice, though his recipe was a bit different still. “I cracked an egg and cupped out the yolk and dropped white and shells into the pot,” Steinbeck wrote, in what may be one of the most mouthwatering coffee passages in American literature, “for I know nothing that polishes coffee and makes it shine like that.”
Eggs aren’t the only odd things humans like to add to coffee—reindeer bone, anyone?—but I was drawn to this Scandinavian mixture because it seems like such an economical combination of breakfast ingredients. So, this morning, I did a little experimenting of my own. After watching a quick YouTube tutorial—I was a little hazy on Summers’ grandmother’s method—I decided improvisation was the key to this drink. I coarsely ground some beans from Variety—my favorite coffee shop in Bushwick—and poured them into a cast iron pan coated with a dash of olive oil. (Coffee purists: Please don’t judge me for using a blade grinder.) Then I cracked in two eggs, yolk included, but threw away the shells because that just seems unsanitary—though far be it from me to judge John Steinbeck.
I lit the flame and stirred the ingredients together with a wooden spoon until, combined, the eggs and grounds looked, deceivingly, like thick brownie mix. I scooped the globs of egg and coffee into a pot of water and brought it to just before boiling, stirring occasionally along the way. Finally I poured the sludge, which was starting to look like some miniature Mesozoic swamp, into my French press, let it settle for five minutes, pushed down the filter, and poured a cup.
The verdict? I have to say that, though my method was slightly different than the ones I'd read about, I agree with Summers. The drink is smooth, with an oily richness, and goes down easy. (I drank it “black,” though the drink is more burnt orange-brown, and recommend you do too—milk is unnecessary when eggs are involved.) The egg whites emulsify the mixture, like mustard in salad dressing, creating a thicker texture than usual coffee prepared with just grounds and water. Though the coffee looked thinner than what I am used to, it still tasted full-bodied. What’s most surprising about the beverage, though—aside from the eggy sediment floating around in it—is its aftertaste. There’s practically no bitter kick, which, depending on your preference, is good or bad news. For me, on this bleak day in Brooklyn, it was just what I needed.