Jessica B. Harris organized and moderated an all-day coffee seminar on Saturday at The Historic New Orleans Collection.

She probably doesn’t realize it, but she taught the seminar’s attendees a more valuable lesson than the history and business of coffee.

The lesson? Honoring your commitments.

Harris — author, food historian, scholar, consultant to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, professor at Queens College/City University of New York, former scholar in residence at Dillard University and all-around lovely person — was a close friend of Maya Angelou, the poet, actress, author and civil rights activist who died last week at age 86.

Harris was torn. She wanted to be in Winston-Salem, N.C., on Saturday for Angelou’s memorial service. But, she also knew she had made a commitment to The Historic New Orleans Collection and its seminar. What would Angelou expect her to do? she asked. The answer? Be in New Orleans to honor her commitment.

So, before she introduced the day’s first speaker, she asked us to raise our coffee cups in a toast to Angelou and to friendship.

Cheramie Sonnier is The Advocate’s food editor. Her email address is

Coffee With Spices

Serves 4. Published in the Morning Advocate on Sept. 12, 1985; origin not listed.

21/2 cups strong hot coffee

2 cinnamon sticks

4 cloves

1?3 cup heavy cream

Ice cubes as desired


1. Pour hot coffee over spices and let stand for one hour.

2. Strain the coffee and pour over ice cubes into 4 glasses.

3. Sugar to taste and serve.


Café au Lait

2Serves 6. Recipe is adapted from “River Road Recipes IV: Warm Welcomes” cookbook published by the Junior League of Baton Rouge.

24½ cups milk

4½ cups freshly brewed very strong coffee

21. Heat milk in a saucepan over low heat just until barely boiling and whisk until foamy.

2. Pour the warm foamed milk and hot freshly brewed coffee into a heated carafe. If possible, warm each person’s cup before pouring in the coffee.