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National Coffee Day 2011 has come and gone (it was September 29), but, as Kismet and UPS Ground would have it, I was able to celebrate the occasion with my shipment of Zabar’s coffee.

I first discovered the wonders of Zabar’s miraculous brew on a trip to New York City several years ago. I was traveling for the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, where I worked, and my hotel was just down the block from the famed Upper West Side delicatessen. I dropped in to start my day with a cup of coffee and a bagel, and I was transported. The coffee I made at home didn’t taste like this: this was rich and smooth, with varying notes of flavor, and not at all bitter. I bought two pounds of the Number 7 grind to take back with me to Ohio—Zabar’s blend, the roast I had ordered—and hazelnut decaffeinated. To this day I order two pounds of each (shipping is free at these quantities), and I keep them in the freezer until my canister needs refilling.

My mornings have always seem rushed. (Of course they do! I can’t work up any traction until I’ve had my coffee!) And as much as I’d like to tell you that I grind my own beans for each pot, the process is much more streamlined. Nevertheless, the methodology I’ve devised is specific, never varies, and never fails to yield what I believe to be the perfect cup of coffee:

My canister is always filled with equal parts Zabar’s blend and Zabar’s hazelnut decaf, and I use two coffee scoops of this to ten cups of water in my automatic drip coffee maker. But before I push the filter drawer in and flip the switch on, I sprinkle cinnamon on top of the grounds.

I have served coffee this way every day for years, and every time that I have company. The results are always the same—delicious—and friends and family want to know my secret. So I go to my freezer, pull out the bags of Zabar’s, and tell them.

And now I’m telling you.

(Truth be told, I rarely make coffee anymore. Why? My husband, who is not a coffee drinker, typically wakes up before I do. He makes the coffee most mornings, and brings me a fresh cup with the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Sorry ladies. He’s taken.)

You know, now that I think about it, I have been drinking coffee for as long as I can remember. My first sense-memory is that of a comforting concoction prepared for me by my mother. I must have been around ten or so. Milk filled at least two-thirds of the mug, but the coffee taste was unmistakably there. It brought to mind chocolate that wasn’t chocolate. I was hooked, promptly began dunking my buttered toast, and never looked back.

Turns out my mother might have been on to something.

A “Healthy Living Brief” on the Huffington Post reported on a recent Harvard University study, the results of which are fascinating, and a shot of caffeine in the arm of women who might be admonished for drinking too much of the beverage:

Women who consumed two to three cups of caffeinated joe per day had a 15-percent lower risk of depression than non-coffee drinkers, while those who drank four-plus cups daily had a 20-percent lower risk. In general, women are more likely than men to be diagnosed with depression.

“Our results support a possible protective effect of caffeine, mainly from coffee consumption, on risk of depression,” the researchers wrote … in the Archives of Internal Medicine. The researchers followed more than 50,000 participants in the Nurses Health Study—one of the largest women’s health studies in the U.S.—for 10 years.

And guys, take heart. National Public Radio’s report on this study also noted earlier research, including a study among men, suggesting that caffeine could possibly have a protective effect against certain prostate cancers.

The Harvard study’s authors did caution that their results must be replicated before any firm  conclusions can be drawn about caffeine and depression risk. The Archives of Internal Medicine is a peer-reviewed medical journal published by the American Medical Association.

The AMA might not think too highly of the following recipe, given its quantities of luscious half-and-half, whipping cream, and ice cream, but all (good) things in moderation, right? I discovered this delicious coffee punch at a holiday open house hosted by a wonderful cooking school in Vermilion, Ohio—Laurel Run. Owner Marcia DePalma is not only a culinary genius, she is also a wonderful teacher. I attended some of her cooking classes when I lived in Ohio. With typical generosity, she graciously allowed me to share her recipe with you. I’ve made this twice, and it was a huge hit with my guests. If you’re hosting a party this holiday season and want your guests to mingle, you might think about having several smaller bowls of this stationed throughout your house; people will cluster around it, I promise you.

Laurel Run’s Creamy Coffee Punch
Makes 60 4-ounce servings

2 ounces instant coffee
2 quarts (8 cups) hot water
2-1/4 cups sugar
2 quarts half-and-half
1 tablespoon Nielsen-Massey vanilla
1 quart ginger ale, chilled
1 pint heavy cream, whipped
1/2 gallon French vanilla ice cream
freshly grated nutmeg

Dissolve instant coffee in hot water; cool. Add sugar and half-and-half, mixing well. Chill. When ready to serve, pour coffee mixture into a punch bowl. Add chilled ginger ale, whipped cream, and ice cream. (Let some of the ice cream chunks remain.) Grate a light dusting of fresh nutmeg on top before serving.