Parting is such sweet sorrow that some guests can't manage it. The weary host volunteers to call a cab (knowing full well the guest drove), yawns, fidgets, murmurs of 6 a.m. risings, when all the while there is a much easier method.
Take away the wine and offer coffee and those guests smitten with good fellowship will once more be forced into a sober view of their fellowmen. This will cause them to leave.
This does not work when you offer Irish coffee, or coffee with cognac, but only when the coffee is served by itself, a period to the evening, a signal that the merrymaking is over.
Coffee was not always viewed as the path to sobriety. Its original discovery was supposedly made by an Arab shepherd who watched his flocks munch on the seeds of the coffee bush and then spend the night in wild cavorting. If it works for them, why not me? he reasoned, and soon Arabians were standing in line to acquire coffee jitters. From there the java jive made its way to Europe, spawning the coffee house where people on caffeine jags alternately plotted literature and revolution.
They may also have begun the argument on the best way to brew a cup of coffee.
Though the machines come in infinite guises, they almost all use one of four methods:
Boiling is beloved of people who assure you they throw the grounds in a pot with an eggshell, boil it a few minutes and produce the perfect cup. The only people who agree with them are devotees of Turkish coffee, which is ground to a fine powder, poured into a receptacle of boiling water and brought almost to the boil three times.
The steeping or infusion method favored by most connoisseurs is best exemplified by the Melior coffee maker. The water is poured over the grounds and left to steep for 3 or 4 minutes and then a metal filter is plunged slowly down, forcing the grounds to the bottom of the container while the coffee is poured off the top. This is also the method used by cold-water coffee makers with the difference that the grounds are steeped in cold water for 8 to 12 hours and the resulting, very strong infusion, is added in small amounts to a cup of boiling water.
In the drip or filter method, boiling water is poured through the grounds, which rest in a filter. Most espresso makers use a sort of reverse filter method, forcing the water upwards through the grounds so that the coffee lands in the upper chamber of the pot.
In percolating, the water boils up and over the grounds, producing coffee that is strong in proportion to the time the coffee perks.
Depending on your commitment to the habit, you can prepare coffee in a 25-cent, thrift-shop pan or spend $600 for a whiz-bang espresso machine that looks as if it were designed by NASA. The latest fad purchase for coffee lovers is the Toshiba coffee maker, which grinds the bean right before brewing the coffee, a plus since the closer to brewing time the bean is ground, the better the coffee tastes. The Toshiba comes in both a 4-cup and an 8-cup size ($79.99 and $119.99). Among stores carrying it are the China Closet, 6807 Wisconsin Ave. NW in Chevy Chase, White Flint in Maryland and Loehmann's Plaza in Virginia; and The Kitchen Bazaar, 4455 Connecticut Ave. NW, and Seven Corners Shopping Center.
You can put as much thought into the bean as into the brewing. Georgetown Coffee, Tea & Spice (1238 Wisconsin Ave. NW) recommends medium roast coffees for after-dinner -- Yemen's Hodeida Mocha or Ethiopia's Harrar, both $5.95 a lb. Or, instead of Grand Marnier, serve Cafe Marnier, an orange-flavored coffee. The store also carries coffees flavored with amaretto, cognac, cinnamon, or chocolate mint, all $5.59 a lb.