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.
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.
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.
Dashing through the snow,
In a 200 horsepower hybrid fuel vehicle,
Over the hills we go,
Screaming all the way.
Oh Ho, No!
Wait, that’s not how the song goes? Then why is my head throbbing with Christmas carols and an endless to-do list of shopping, cooking, cleaning, and decorating to accomplish before the holidays hit? Pressure is mounting to make this short window of time as magical as a fairy tale, which inevitably turns it into quite the opposite experience. I know I’m not alone here based on the crazed, deranged looks staring back at me during many errand runs. Plans for a low-key celebration can quickly snowball out of control into a grand fete and before you know it, a dizzying array of demands await. Coordinating parties and managing difficult house guests, leave little space for anything but dread.
Let’s all take a moment to breathe, shall we? Peace and harmony aren’t just platitudes to espouse on seasonal greeting cards, and they certainly won’t manifest in such a state of extreme anxiety. While you can’t wrap it up with a shiny bow or have it shipped straight to your door in two days or less, taking care of your emotional well-being is really the greatest gift you can give this season. It may not seem like the most effective approach would start with a shot of espresso, but when you add a dose of CBD into the brew, the restorative results are unmistakable.
CBD oil has made a world of difference for me personally, especially at times of utmost stress. Extracted from the leaves, stem, and flowers of the hemp plant, it has no psychoactive properties, is legal in all 50 states, and readily found online. Consistently relieving anxiety, depression, inflammation, and nausea in early studies, it’s not just a Christmas miracle, but an everyday life preserver. Getting a therapeutic dose is easier than ever now, since you can find it bundled up in supplements, edibles, topical creams, and CBD vape oil, beyond just a straight tincture. That said, plain, unflavored oil is the most versatile for incorporating into recipes if pills simply don’t hold any appeal.
When it comes to culinary applications, a good rule of thumb is to substitute 3/4 to 1 teaspoon CBD oil for every serving of whatever oil is called for. That means if you were making a vinaigrette that yields four servings, remove 3 – 4 teaspoons of olive oil and replace it with CBD infusion. Take into consideration the strength of the oil when calibrating your formula as well, since quality can vary wildly between brands. In recipes meant for one, it’s much simpler; just give yourself one dose, as in the case for this balancing, calming, and simultaneously invigorating peppermint mocha latte.
Velvety frothed dairy-free milk meets the bracing bitterness of bold espresso, all tempered by a subtle undertone of chocolate indulgence. A light touch of peppermint evokes nostalgic memories of candy canes pulled off tinsel-topped presents, cool and refreshing, soothing and sweet. This unbeatable flavor sensation would be every bit as delicious without the added medicinal benefits, but not quite as effective for balancing out unreasonable mood instability.
It’s not hard to make the holidays a bit more merry and a little less scary.
*For best results, seek out a "barista blend" that's formulated specifically to make a richer micro-foam. Otherwise, soy generally works best due to the protein content, but nut milks are a good choice for a lighter option. Avoid rice milk unless there's no other option, as it tends to be watery and bland.