Review: Hazelnut Macchiato (Starbucks)

May 30

Last week I talked about the caramel macchiato’s younger sibling, the vanilla macchiato. Today the drink in the spotlight is another younger sibling in Starbucks’s macchiato family — the Hazelnut Macchiato.

Like the vanilla macch and the caramel macch, this drink starts with vanilla syrup, steamed milk, foam, and espresso shots, in that order. What makes this one different is the sauce on top: not caramel, not vanilla, but hazelnut sauce. Which is apparently a thing now?

A grande Hazelnut Macchiato

A grande Hazelnut Macchiato

The result of replacing the caramel sauce with hazelnut sauce is a sweet, hazelnutty, delicious drink. What makes it different from a regular old hazelnut latte? Not only does the sauce give it a richer, slightly darker hazelnut flavor than the regular hazelnut syrup usually does, but the additional vanilla syrup bumps up the sweetness a notch and tones down the nuttiness a little. As with the caramel version of this drink, I recommend giving it a good stir before drinking, to make sure the hazelnut syrup has dissolved in the milk.

It’s a regular espresso drink, so the usual options apply — hot/iced, regular/decaf, choice of milk. It can also be ordered “upside-down”, meaning the sauce and the espresso go in the cup first instead of last so everything mixes together better.

Little personal anecdote here — when I first saw this drink appear on the menu, I thought it was an officialization of one of my favorite custom drinks. For several years now, I’ve frequently ordered a caramel macchiato with hazelnut syrup instead of vanilla. I spotted it on a “your barista recommends” board at some point, gave it a shot, and have been hooked ever since. In fact, the hazelnut macchiato is kind of the reverse of mine; instead of swapping out the vanilla for hazelnut and leaving the caramel, it swaps out the caramel and leaves the vanilla. Personally, I think hazelnut + caramel is a more interesting combo than hazelnut + vanilla. If you find yourself between ordering a caramel macchiato and a hazelnut macchiato, try this version instead and you’ll basically have both!

Bullet-pointed summary:

  • What: Hazelnut Macchiato
  • Where: Starbucks
  • Options: hot or iced, decaf or regular, your choice of milk
  • Verdict: A sweeter take on the hazelnut latte, or possibly a hazelnuttier take on the caramel macchiato
Read More

Recipe: Instant Dirty Chai

May 27

All right, recipe time ladies and gents! Today I’m gonna show you a little recipe I call “oops there’s no milk in the house and I let my wife take the last of the espresso”. Or, if you want a slightly more useful name, the Instant Dirty Chai. A dirty chai is chai with an espresso shot added. An instant dirty chai is laziness with ingenuity added.

This is a good emergency-caffeination drink because the ingredients are powders with a super long shelf life, you only need hot water to make it with, and you avoid that instant coffee taste you get with a regular “coffee from a powder” drink. Please pardon the photos on this post, I took them somewhat groggily with my cell phone camera with no caffeine (because that was my morning caffeine in the pictures).

Step 1: Boil some water. No photo here, use your favorite water-heating method.

Step 2: Place one serving of instant chai powder into your mug. I use Trader Joe’s chai mix, so one serving is one scoop.

Happy sun mug optional.

Happy sun mug optional.

Step 3: Mix in one spoonful of espresso powder. This is a little trickier to acquire, but specialty kitchen shops and grocery stores with a good baking aisle may have it. I use King Arthur brand, which is available on Amazon. Take a nice sniff of the jar when you open it, it’ll help you wake up enough to finish the drink.

Mix mix mix.

Mix mix mix.

Step 4: Add boiling water. You could measure out the correct amount of boiling water according to your instant chai package, but in my opinion the correct amount is always “one mugful”.

Happy sun mug approves.

Happy sun mug approves.

Step 5: Stir stir stir.

Smells like victory!

Smells like victory!

Step 6: Enjoy! Or be like me and drink it before it’s cooled off at all, so some of your tastebuds die a fiery death while you enjoy.

Between the strong flavor of the instant chai, and the fact that you’re using espresso powder instead of regular instant coffee, you get a delicious drink without that annoying taste of the coffee gods being disappointed in your laziness. You could even mix the powders together ahead of time, so when you’re sleepy and uncaffeinated all you have to do is pour powder and water, and stir. Great for camping or hotel rooms where you don’t trust the coffee machine!

Read More

How to make coffeeshop drinks: Putting it together

May 25

You’ve chugged through all those loooong posts on getting your equipment, your beans, your tea, your ingredients … finally you can put it all together and actually make your drink!

The first step is to have an idea of how your drink is made. My quick guide here will cover that. Most drinks will include some combination of brewed coffee, milk, and possibly flavors of some kind.

Hot espresso drinks: The first rule of hot espresso drinks is to always heat the milk first. The second rule is to always heat the milk first. Or the water, if you’re making an Americano. Espresso shots have a very short “shelf life” — once they brew you want to throw them into a drink right away. So if you’re using an espresso machine, start by steaming your milk. (For Americanos, you just need to heat up some water. Throw the shots in and you’re good.)

Steaming milk with a steam wand takes some practice. Check online for helpful videos. As a quick rundown, you need to make sure your machine is warmed up and set to whatever turns on the steam wand. Measure out your milk using the cup you’re going to drink from, but keep in mind steamed milk expands somewhat, and some space will be taken up by foam and espresso. When I make a latte, I only fill my cup halfway with milk. Transfer this milk to a good steaming pitcher, stick the steam wand into it, and turn on the steam. You’ll want to dip the pitcher a little to bring the wand close to the surface of the milk — this will make some foam and also cut down on the noise. Make sure you have a thermometer in the pitcher — aim for 130F for kids’ drinks, 140F if you don’t want it too hot, or 160F-170F for a regular hot drink.

As a rule, the thicker the milk the louder the noise. You can observe this by sitting in a Starbucks during the holiday season, because whenever an eggnog latte is being steamed the noise is incredibly loud. In pretty much every case, though, steaming milk is not something you want to do if there’s any light sleepers trying to get some shuteye nearby.

Once the milk is steamed, brew your espresso. This gives your milk a little time for the foam to separate from the milk, and also a little time to add any flavorings you want to the bottom of your cup. Chocolate for a mocha, vanilla syrup for a vanilla latte, whatever.

The art of brewing a good espresso shot depends heavily on your brewing apparatus, the grind and tamp of your beans, the heat of your water, even the humidity can be a factor if you have a touchy machine. I’ll cover that in detail in some other post, but for now the most important part is that you’re aiming for a full shot (about an ounce) of espresso to pull in about 20 seconds. You can adjust this by packing the ground beans in tighter or more loosely. This is another area where trial and error can be your friend.

As soon as your espresso finishes brewing, put the drink together! As a general rule, unless you’re making a macchiato where the shots go in last, you’ll want this order:

  1. Flavorings, if any (chocolate, vanilla, etc)
  2. Espresso (if your flavoring is thick, like mocha syrup, swirl the hot shots around to help it dissolve)
  3. Milk
  4. Foam, if desired
  5. Toppings, if any (whipped cream, nutmeg, sprinkles, etc)

Bam! There’s your drink. There’s a lot of flexibility in how this is done (I’ll cover that in yet another post) but basically, that’s how a lot of national chain coffeeshops do it. Doing pretty stuff like designs in the foam takes more effort and practice — you’re better off hitting YouTube if you want to master that kind of coffee artistry. Personally, I just aim for a drink I can stuff in my face to wake me up.

Iced espresso drinks: If this is what you’re aiming for, you’ve got it a lot simpler. Instead of all that milk steaming nonsense, here’s what you do:

  1. Put flavorings in the cup, if any
  2. Fill the cup with ice
  3. Brew shots and pour them over the ice
  4. Fill cup with milk (or water, for an Americano) and stir
  5. Top with toppings

And that’s it. Now, a lot of thicker flavor syrups and whatnot don’t dissolve as well in cold liquids as they do in hot liquids. You may have to stir quite a bit to get it to mix together properly. Another option is to put the shots in second, swirl the cup to mix everything, then add the ice and the milk.

Tea drinks: These vary more widely. If you’re making a tea latte, you’ll want to brew some tea, steam some milk, and put them together in a cup. What ratio really depends on your taste. If you get a tea latte at a coffeeshop that you like, ask them how they make it. There will probably be some sweeteners involved.

For chai lattes, it depends on where you’re getting your flavor from. There are premade chai mixes where you just mix the syrup with milk and you have your chai. Other mixes are made to be mixed with brewed tea. There are also some powdered chai mixes made to be mixed with hot or cold water. And if you want a chai without the latte, there’s tea/spice mixes designed for you to brew the spices together with the tea.

That’s the basics! Hopefully you’ve learned how to recreate your favorite drink at home. In the future I’ll write some posts covering some drinks in more detail. If there’s something you’d like me to cover, leave a comment or @reply me on Twitter!

Read More

Drink Comparison: Latte vs Macchiato

May 23

Looking at the search terms people use to find my side gives me a pretty good idea about the puzzlements that puzzle the great wide coffee-drinking internet. Today I’ll elucidate what appears to be a common quandry among the search engine-using populace: Latte vs. Macchiato.

The latte, as I’ve said elsewhere, is the “baseline” espresso drink. It consists of espresso, steamed milk, and foam. If you order it “on the rocks”, that’s espresso, cold milk, and ice. If you want it sweet, you have to add something to make it sweet. Nice and simple.

The (espresso) macchiato is simpler ingredient-wise but a little more complicated to make: it consists of a cup full of milk foam with espresso poured in afterward, leaving a brown “mark” on top of the foam where the shots came through. I say it’s more complicated because not only do you put the ingredients in “backwards” from most drinks, but making good milk foam can take practice. Making a whole cup of good foam definitely takes practice. As with the latte, there’s no sweeteners here. It’s usually ordered by the number of shots (single, double, triple, etc) rather than the cup size.

You can order an espresso macchiato iced, but it’s not very common. Usually that’s a cup of ice, with warm milk foam on top, and espresso shots poured over the top. The combination of the warm foam and the ice will get you some weird looks, but if that’s what strikes your fancy then rock your drink however you like.

There’s a third member to this comparison, however, and it’s the much more commonly-ordered macchiato at Starbucks: the caramel macchiato. This is closer to a vanilla/caramel latte than to an espresso macchiato. It’s vanilla flavoring syrup, steamed milk, milk foam, espresso shots poured through the foam, and then a drizzle of caramel sauce poured on top. It’s a macchiato because you’re still “marking” the foam with the espresso (or vice versa), but it’s mostly milk rather than foam. Unlike both the latte and the espresso macchiato, it’s quite sweet. It can also be made “on the rocks”. If you order a caramel macchiato, I highly recommend you stir it well before drinking it so more of the caramel dissolves in the milk.

Which one should you pick? The latte is a solid standby for those who don’t want their drink too sweet but aren’t keen on the taste of nearly-full-strength espresso. The espresso macchiato gives you much more of the full taste of the espresso, with much less milk to water it down (this also makes it the lowest-calorie of the three). The caramel macchiato is a favorite of people who prefer sweet drinks and love the taste of caramel.

Read More

Review: Oprah Chai Loose Leaf Tea (Starbucks)

May 20

In my review of the Oprah Chai Tea Latte, I mentioned that the Oprah chai is also available as loose leaf tea. Since every Starbucks seems to have a big shiny display of the tea for sale, I figured I should grab a box and give it a shot. Here’s my review of the loose-leaf variety of the Oprah Chai.

The tin and the box it came in.

The tin and the box it came in.

Now, I don’t normally include “unboxing” photos with my reviews, but something needs to be said about the packaging here. You get a sizeable, pretty, sturdily-manufactured box, with the logo and the color scheme and blurbs about the charities and a description of the tea. Inside that box is a tin — you’ve probably seen tea tins like this before, it’s pretty standard packaging for tea. The tin is also pretty and well-made. So far, so good.

That's a lot of air.

That’s a lot of air.

When you open the tin, there’s a plastic bag inside with the tea. This helps keep the tea fresh, and helps contain the tea’s aroma (more on that later). But when you open the plastic bag and empty the tea into the tin, you’re faced with a little over an inch of tea in the bottom of that big tin. Depending on whether you’re more eco-conscious or cost-conscious, your first thought will be either “that’s a lot of wasteful packaging for such a small amount of tea” or “that’s all I got for fifteen bucks?!”

Setting aside the question of the packaging, let’s move on to the tea itself. The smell is very strong and quite nice, although it only seems to smell of one or two of the ingredients, instead of the whole balanced blend as the tea latte does. Well, when you’re dealing with the actual plant material rather than a premade syrup, these things happen. I advise you, if you buy this tea, to keep the tin tightly shut and inside the box if you don’t want your whole kitchen to smell like it.

The next step is to brew it. The instructions say 2-3 minutes so I gave it just under three, to get as much flavor as possible. The strong scent is still there after brewing, so your drink will have the pleasant-but-somewhat-overpowering aroma of … chicory, I think. And rooibos.

The brewed tea, as only the Happy Sun Mug can model it.

The brewed tea, as only the Happy Sun Mug can model it.

After all this powerful, delicious smell, I was ready for a tea full of flavor. What I got was … well, kind of medium-to-weak tea to be honest. The spices are not very strong at all in the brewed tea. It tastes okay, and quite smooth, but in a word: underwhelming. All of that beautiful marketing and packaging and spiced aroma led up to a decidedly unimpressive cup of so-so tea.

I’ll brew a few more cups over the next week or so — gotta get my fifteen bucks’ worth, I guess — but all in all I just can’t recommend this tea. It’s too much money for too little tea with too little flavor. If you want to taste this chai in a far superior form, go for the Oprah Chai Tea Latte at your local Starbucks.

For each 2 oz package of this tea purchased, a dollar goes to Oprah’s charities. You would be far better served to find a different loose-leaf chai you like, buy two ounces of that, and send the money you saved directly to the charity of your choice. Less waste, less disappointment.

  • What: Oprah Chai loose leaf tea
  • Where: Starbucks stores (and possibly Teavana stores?)
  • Verdict: Overpriced, wastefully packaged, and completely underwhelming when brewed.
Read More