Happy Camper

Only once in my life have I attempted any form of overnight camping. At five or six years old, eyes full of stars and head full of dreams, my parents pitched a tent right in the backyard, no more than a few feet from our back door. Safe from the true elements but still firmly planted in the “great” outdoors, it was an ideal way of testing the waters.

It was all perfect. My sister and I made shadow puppets after the sun fell, giggling long into the night. We rolled around in sleeping bags, despite the balmy summer air. As soon as the flashlights switched off, however, I was inconsolable. The ground was too hard, there were ants and mosquitoes and (maybe!) spiders, it was too dark, too cramped, too breezy, too… Outdoors. After about 15 minutes, I hightailed it back inside to my bed.

To this day, my idea of “roughing it” still involves WIFI and running water, but no matter. I would gladly build a campfire to roast marshmallows and make s’mores any day. After all, that’s really the only reason anyone would bother with camping, right?

Starbucks knows this and capitalizes on the concept. Their seasonal S’mores Crème Frappuccino makes all the glory of camping accessible without pulling out of the drive-through line. It is, sadly, one of the few concoctions that can’t be veganized.

Save yourself the trouble, heartache, and money by just making your own at home. Instead of marshmallow-infused whipped cream, my copycat recipe is crowned by a plume of aquafaba marshmallow fluff, homemade chocolate syrup, and a crunchy sprinkle of crushed graham crackers. The base is a simple blended iced mocha, made from frozen coffee cubes, so the mixture isn’t watered down by plain ice.

Raise a glass to the goodness of summer, without having to hike into the woods and set up camp.

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Pumpkin Spice and Everything Nice

One week into autumn, and I already feel like I’ve overdosed on pumpkin spice lattes. Granted, my tolerance for the intensely sweet, largely over-hyped drink is far lower than the average enthusiast, but it doesn’t help that it’s already been perking up coffee shop menus while summer was still in full swing. Is it just me, or has the #PSL craze died down a bit this time around? Fewer rants, fewer raves; love it or hate it, I fear we may have collectively reached peak pumpkin spice.

I tease about the fervor every year, but I do still enjoy a strong cuppa myself. The trouble comes when it transforms into other foods and products that should never bear the orange hue. Please, just keep it out of my lip balm, cough drops, and… pet shampoo, at least! Is that really so much to ask?

Still, the overall attraction is undeniable. It’s hard to beat the comfortingly familiar, creamy espresso eye-opener adored worldwide to begin with. Add in an extra dose of sweetness, a touch of nostalgic spice, and the health halo associated with pumpkin itself, to say nothing of the beautiful latte art possibilities, and you’ve got yourself a viral social media hit. When the hype starts to wear a bit thin, though, I have a small tweak that will revive your enthusiasm over the usual brew.

Chai spice, bearing a brighter, bolder palate emphasizing ginger, cardamom, and a pinch of black pepper, makes a strong argument for skipping the one-note cinnamon seasoning typically on standard order. While the most popular (and some would argue original) purveyor of pumpkin spice lattes doesn’t even offer a dairy free option, it’s effortless to whip up a big batch of this spicy pumpkin sauce to flavor not only coffee, but drizzle over ice cream, swirl into cheesecake, and dip into with crisp apples all season long.

Happily, you’ll have plenty to play with, as this recipe does make a big batch indeed. Halve quantities if you must, but once you take your first sweet, invigorating sip, you’ll end up just going back in the kitchen to make more later.

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You Brew You

Bleary-eyed and sleep-deprived, I stumble into the kitchen and blindly rummage around for sustenance. Sheer muscle memory propels me forward before my brain has fully activated, recharged and ready to begin processing a new day. Coffee is the switch that flips it on, that starts the cycle anew, for me and so many millions, if not billions of other sleepyheads across the globe. How you choose to brew says a lot of about culture, economics, habits, and personal taste, but more attention is paid to the beans than the actual mechanics of making a cuppa. Respectably so, for all their natural nuances, slick brands and designer packages notwithstanding; the bean alone is a weighty decision to contemplate when the need for caffeine overrules all other sensible demands.

Let’s take a step back for a moment to appreciate the method of making coffee itself. Do you use an electric, automatic drip coffee maker like most Americans? One of those ubiquitous plastic models always found in attendance at moving sales year round? Maybe you have more than one, because it never hurts to have a backup. Cheap, easy, accessible, reliable; I’m there with you, friends. There’s nothing wrong with the effortless instant gratification of push-button service, delivering a hot cup of coffee on demand, no questions asked.

When it comes to manual brewing methods, you take control back into your hands, quite literally.

Pour Over (Chemex, Hario V60, Kalita Wave, Clever): Functioning almost exactly like a standard drip machine without the buttons or whistles, there are a number of popular variations on the concept but it all boils down to pouring hot water over grounds, slowly allowing the brewed liquid to run down into a waiting glass below. It takes patience and a steady hand, but no real skill since gravity does all the hard work. Use a medium grind to extract the brighter, lighter, more floral flavor notes without any hint of bitterness. Different models have their own uniquely patterned ridges built in, which will each affect the rate of drainage differently and produce surprisingly distinctive results. Which is “best” is just a matter of preference, so experiment a bit to find what tastes just right to your palate.

Plunger (French Press, AeroPress): Most people are familiar with the French press due to it’s accessibility and wide availability. Simply add grounds, water, steep, and plunge. There are no disposable filters to trifle with and no waste as a result. Detractors grouse about gritty brews or long steeping times, but a properly sealed, well-built device shouldn’t give you any trouble. Because the beans have full contact with the hot water for the entire time, this approach extracts the full gamut of flavors locked within, as well as the most antioxidants and caffeine. Use a coarse ground to enjoy the most robust results in a traditional French press, but fine for an AeroPress, which does use filters to catch any residual sediment.

Cupping Brewer (Rattleware): Uncommon outside of serious barista circles, it doesn’t get much simpler in concept, or more complex in flavor. Grounds and water combine for extended brew times, 10 minutes and beyond, to get every element of the bean to come forward. Grounds float toward the surface, to be skimmed off with a spoon before sipping. Though impractical for multiple servings, it’s an ideal way to truly appreciate a fresh brew with zero waste. Use a very coarse grind and be prepared to stop drinking before you reach the bottom, since most will settle and remain there. It’s impossible to avoid consuming at least some of the sediment, so this stuff is like rocket fuel.

There’s also the stove top moka pot, although I’d argue that this begins to skew into a more hands-off realm where the device does most of the heavy lifting. In fact, there are electric versions available, which always pull in top recommendations from experts, so I don’t trifle with the low tech toys. Siphons, using vacuum pressure to force hot water through coffee grounds, could also fall under this distinction, but they’re more of a novelty than realistic appliance for the average home brewer. Plus, the cost for entry is rather steep- No pun intended.

Across the board, general guidelines for success start with using 60 grams of coffee for every 1 quart of water (yes, you really should weigh it!) and water heated to 195 – 205 degrees Fahrenheit, ideally in a goose neck kettle for easy maneuvering.

How do you do your brew? Go outside your comfort zone and try something new. You may just discover a whole new world of flavors locked within the same beans you already love, and only thought you knew.

 

 

 

Head in the Clouds

Foam is just one important feature that sets espresso drinks apart from one another, but Starbucks has turned it into the feature, filling half of each plastic cup with the stuff for their new Cloud Macchiato. Literally translated as “stained coffee,” a standard caffè macchiato is much like a latte in basic composition, but wholly unique in assembly. Starting with a base of steamed milk, a shot of espresso marks the spot, and a layer of foam seals the deal. Since more is always better by the American Standard, we simply took that finale to all new heights, turning it into a veritable meringue island on a thimbleful of brown liquid.

Maddeningly, while a regular macchiato can be made vegan with any non-dairy milk, the cloud cannot. Whether served hot or over ice, with cinnamon or caramel, egg whites are the secret ingredient that give this frothy crown its loft.

Here’s the silver lining to this cloud: It’s really a snap to make at home.

Fluffy, ethereal spoonfuls of fine bubbles cloud chilled glasses thanks to everyone’s favorite bean brine. That’s right: Aquafaba strikes again! Lightly beaten before reaching soft peaks, it holds its shape admirably without casting an overtly beany fog over the beverage. Luxuriously velvety yet far lighter in texture than the more typical whipped cream, the results are arguably more satisfying than a slushy old frappuccino and considerably healthier, too.

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