Author: Blinkie

Strange things afoot at Starbucks

While I was ordering my Clover-brewed Verona at my local Starbucks today, I noticed a mysterious new machine behind the counter. It was mostly covered by a sign saying only “Coming 6/24”. There was a gauge at the top I guessed might be a temperature gauge, but otherwise I was baffled. It was sitting by the blenders, so it seemed likely to be related to cold drinks. Didn't seem like some kind of fancy new blender, because what kind of drink would take a special blender? All I could figure out was that it had something to do with a mysterious new summer drink line. So I did what I always advise people to do when confused or puzzled about something at a coffeeshop: I asked the barista. And she said it's a carbonation machine. So that “temperature gauge” is more likely a pressure gauge. I seem to recall hearing that Starbucks was test-marketing “handcrafted sodas” somewhere, and it looks like the test was successful, because this sounds a lot like carbonated soda drinks are coming to a Starbucks near you. I haven't done any internet digging, but my guess is they're going the Italian soda route. There will undoubtedly be an advertising blitz when the drinks are rolled out, so keep an eye on the Starbucks social media accounts and your local stores. Can't wait to see what...

Read More

How to make coffeeshop drinks: Cutting corners

Okay, so. I’ve written several blog entries so far describing how, in general, to make your favorite drinks at home. And through the power of the internets I can feel some of you looking at all these words words words and thinking “Are you crazy? That is way too much effort.” You know what? It may very well be. Hear me out here. A quick Google search will turn up page after page and video after video explaining to you how to make the perfect coffee/tea/latte/hot chocolate or whatever your drink preference is. Roast your own coffee beans, grind them with an expensive grinder and then brew them in a Chemex! Buy a specific brand of chocolate and carefully shave it into milk that’s been steamed to an exact temperature! Put your tea into water that is precisely 180 degrees and not boiling! I’ve seen everything down to instructions on precisely regulating the water temperature in your espresso machine and the grind in your grinder. Will all of that painstaking attention to detail make a better-tasting beverage? Probably, yes. Will it make a difference that matters to you? It might not. That’s something that varies from person to person. I look at it this way. I make myself a latte every morning with my espresso machine. And I know a couple of things — I usually put flavored sweetener...

Read More

Review: Hazelnut Macchiato (Starbucks)

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? 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...

Read More

Recipe: Instant Dirty Chai

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. 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...

Read More

How to make coffeeshop drinks: Putting it together

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...

Read More

Drink Comparison: Latte vs Macchiato

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...

Read More

Review: Oprah Chai Loose Leaf Tea (Starbucks)

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. 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. 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...

Read More

How to make coffeeshop drinks: Other ingredients

Okay, so you’ve got your coffee (or tea), now what? If you just want to make a regular cup of joe, or a regular cup of tea, you’re set! But if you’re looking to make some of the other drinks from the menu of your favorite caffeinated beverage retailer, you’ve got a few more things to acquire. Namely: Milk: If you want to make lattes, cappuccinos, mochas, macchiatos, or cafe au lait, you’re gonna need some milk. What kind is up to you. I use whole milk because I try to stick with minimally-processed ingredients when I can. You may prefer lowfat or nonfat, or you may go in the opposite direction and use half-and-half or heavy cream. There’s also lots of non-dairy options available. Soy milk, almond milk, rice milk, any of these can be used to make espresso drinks. There’s a caveat here, though. If you’re using a steam wand to make foam for your drink, likeĀ if you want to make a nice big cappuccino, some of these foam better than others. Soy milk, for example, is very hard to get good lasting foam out of. Whole milk is pretty good for making nice thick foam. So if you’re dairy-free but really dig your cappuccinos and macchiatos, you may need some practice to get the kind of drink you want. Flavorings: These are for flavored lattes (vanilla...

Read More

What I’m Drinking: Clover-Brewed Verona

I’ve mentioned a number of times that I’m a latte junkie. They’re not the only thing I drink, though. And the first “real drink” I ordered a few months ago when I no longer had to restrict caffeine for baby-related reasons wasn’t a latte at all — it was a return to my favorite Starbucks beans, brewed in their most delicious form. I haven’t done a full writeup on the Clover brewing machine yet, but let me give a quick summary: it’s the tastiest way to get a plain coffee at Starbucks. It’s a special machine that uses some kind of complex process to produce coffee with the extra flavor-packed deliciousness of a French press. Even better, they brew each coffee individually, so regardless of what they’re brewing on the regular machine when you come in (usually Pike Place Blend) you can get whatever beans you want brewed on the Clover. They’re usually advertising rarer, more premium beans to brew on the Clover, and I’ve tried those and enjoyed them, but my all-time favorite Starbucks coffee remains Caffe Verona. This is a blend that nicely balances a dark roast with a smooth taste. It’s not as dark and charry as Italian Roast or French Roast, and the smoothness keeps it from straying into “Charbucks” territory. Despite my years of coffee addiction, I don’t generally drink black coffee. But with...

Read More

Review: Vanilla Macchiato (Starbucks)

The caramel macchiato has long been a popular drink on Starbucks’s menu. It’s sweet, it’s caramelly, it’s foamy, it’s hard to pronounce. Most people don’t make any changes to it other than ordering it “upside-down”. So it’s a little surprising that it took so long for them to create some new drinks along the same line. All right, so I’m several months behind the curve on reviewing these, but the caramel macch was an only child for over a decade. Today I’m talking about the Vanilla Macchiato, the younger sibling of the CM. In many ways, this drink is identical to its older sibling — it has vanilla flavoring syrup, steamed milk, foam, and espresso shots dropped through the foam near the end instead of going in the cup first (this is what makes it a “macchiato”). The key difference is that instead of caramel sauce drizzled on top of the foam, the Vanilla Macchiato has vanilla sauce. So if it’s basically espresso, milk, and vanilla, what makes this different from a plain ol’ vanilla latte? The secret’s in the sauce. It gives the drink a deeper, sweeter, “realler” vanilla taste that’s a little more complex than the basic vanilla flavoring syrup. According to the Starbucks website, there’s brown sugar and butter in the sauce — and you can taste this difference. It’s definitely a bigger and more interesting...

Read More