What I’m Drinking: Cold Brew

Sep 05

One of the downsides to brewing your own hot coffee in the morning is that it requires measuring, filling, and operating equipment before you’ve had your coffee. This leads to all kinds of bleary-eyed brewing mishaps, like forgetting to put the espresso in the machine before brewing a shot (guilty), forgetting to put water in the machine (guilty), forgetting to put something under the spout to catch the coffee (oh so guilty) … it’s a recipe for disaster.

Well, have no fear because there is a delicious solution to this problem, and it’s called cold brew.

The deliciousness just radiates through your screen. Stainless steel press optional.

The deliciousness just radiates through your screen. Cat bed on the table is optional. (photo courtesy of my wife)

Now, this is not the same thing as iced coffee, which is generally brewed hot like regular coffee and then cooled down. Cold-brewed coffee doesn’t involve heat at all! And in fact, in some ways it’s easier to make than traditional coffee.

Here’s the basics: you mix ground coffee and room-temperature or cold water, you let it sit overnight in your fridge (or on your counter, depending on the temperature), and in the morning you just need to filter out the coffee grounds and your coffee is ready to drink! It’s the sun tea of the coffee world. It comes out just as strong, and even a little less bitter because the interaction between the coffee and the ground beans is different when no heat is involved.

If you Google up some instructions on cold brewing, you’ll find there’s a bunch of different ways to get the ground coffee out of your cold brew. But to me, this is a no-brainer. There’s already a piece of equipment perfectly suited for brewing and filtering coffee: a French press!

Here’s how I brew my coffee every day now. It’s adapted from this recipe on The Cooking of Joy — Joy deserves the credit for all the inspirational deliciousness.

 

You need:

  • a 32-ish ounce French press
  • 3/4 cup coarse-ground coffee beans (get decent stuff, and if someone else is grinding it for you tell them it’s for a French press)
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar (optional)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon (optional)
  • 3 cups water

Instructions:

  1. Put the coffee beans, brown sugar and cinnamon (if you’re adding them) in your French press and stir to combine.
  2. Add 3 cups water and stir well.
  3. Give it a minute or two — a lot of the coffee will float to the surface — then stir well again.
  4. If the shelves on your fridge are tall enough, place the lid on the French press with the plunger juuuust resting against the top of the coffee. Otherwise, cover the press with plastic wrap or something.
  5. Put it in the fridge and leave it overnight. 8 hours minimum, 12 may be better, try not to let it go 24.
  6. In the morning take the press out, put the lid on if you haven’t already, and slowly push the plunger down as far as it will go.
  7. Pour your coffee, add ice and/or some kind of cream if you want, and drink! Makes enough for 2 or 3 glasses.

Not only is this straight-up delicious, but the bulk of the work is done the night before, when you’re not groggy and caffeine-deprived. All you have to do to get your fix in the morning is push the plunger and pour!

If it’s too much for you to drink in one morning, no worries — you can keep the brewed coffee in your fridge for a couple of days. Just make sure to pour it out of the French press so the brewing process stops. And for heaven’s sake empty the grounds out of your press and rinse it right away. Coffee grounds grow mold like whoa if you let them.

So go ahead and give this a try. If you’re anything like me, it’ll soon become a daily part of your morning routine.

 

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What I’m Drinking: Clover-Brewed Verona

May 17

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 a Clover coffee you don’t want to add too much or the delicious brewing process is wasted and you might as well get regular drip. So like most drinks I order, I made it a little more complicated.

Normally I don't include the cup markings, but this barista had such nice handwriting!

Normally I don’t include the cup markings, but this barista had such nice handwriting!

First off, I order a grande Clover-brewed Verona in a venti cup. This leaves plenty of room for me to add half-and-half, without needing to pour out any of this delicious goodness.

Secondly, I ask for two pumps of classic syrup. This is basically flavorless sugar water, which sweetens the drink a little without adding any extra flavors. I find it blends in better than just adding a sugar packet, and it’s half the number of pumps a grande drink would normally get so it’s not oversweetened.

The end result is a grande Clover-brewed Verona in a venti cup with two pumps of classic. A nice, smooth coffee with a little cream and sweetness but not so much it overpowers the coffee itself.

Not all Starbuckses have a Clover machine, because they take up a bunch of space and usually require a renovation to the espresso bar area. But if you find yourself in a store that’s got one, give it a shot. You can even use the Starbucks website or app to search for the nearest store with a Clover!

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Review: Vanilla Spice Latte (Starbucks)

Jan 05

The holidays have come to an end — and with them, the season of Starbucks’s well-loved holiday drinks. But as the Gingerbread Latte, Eggnog Latte, and Peppermint Mocha ride off into the sunset to vanish until next November, new drinks arrive to take their place. We can’t have people getting bored with the regular menu, can we?

This year, the post-holiday theme is Vanilla — complete with an all-new drink, the Vanilla Spice Latte.

Vanilla Spice Latte

As a flavored latte, this concoction starts with espresso and steamed milk. The usual options apply: decaf, iced, nonfat, soy, etc. The flavor is created with “vanilla spice” syrup, which is kind of a French vanilla-y flavor mixed with cardamom and a few hints of other spices. Since this is a sweet froufrou drink, it comes with whipped cream and a sprinkling of vanilla bean sugar on top.

I love vanilla-flavored things, and this one does not disappoint. It’s not as overwhelmingly spice-flavored as the Pumpkin Spice latte; the cardamom is nicely balanced with the vanilla so you can still taste both. It is quite sweet, so if supersugar isn’t your thing you might want to get fewer pumps of the syrup, and leave the whipped cream off.

As a seasonal drink, the Vanilla Spice Latte will probably only be available for a limited time, and may or may not come back next year depending on sales. So if you want to give it a try, now’s the time. Also being advertised right now are the vanilla [no-spice] latte and vanilla coffee, but these are available year-round — they use the regular vanilla syrup that every Starbucks has on hand all the time.

As for me, I’m swapping this in as my daily latte (half-caf or decaf, no whip, only two pumps of syrup) to replace the soon-out-of-stock gingerbread latte I’m so addicted to.

(Edited to take the Peppermint Mocha off the list of vanishing seasonal drinks — you can buy it any time of the year, it’s just a little less fancy without the holiday chocolate sprinkles)

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Operation Stop Being A Blob update

Nov 13

So not too long ago, I stepped on the scale and discovered that I’d hit 200 lbs. Everyone has a different ideal weight, but for me at 5’7″, knowing what I used to weigh, that was the last straw.

I’ve struggled with my weight since I moved away to college and immediately slid into the soda-and-chips diet. I’ve done Weight Watchers a couple of times with great results (lost 25 lbs each time) but inevitably fell back into my old eating patterns. I like chips and fries and white rice and soda, and I drink sugary caffeinated drinks the way a lot of people drink alcohol. I work a desk job at home, in an area full of coffee shops and restaurants. I’m a decent cook but often lazy as hell and I get bored with things if I eat them too often. Pretty much a recipe for blobularity.

To make matters worse, 90% of my extra fat goes straight to my gut, pretty much the least healthy place to be carrying it. Add in a family history of diabetes and hypertension, and you get a lot of reasons to lose weight.

After seeing the scale hit two bills I decided to start on Operation Stop Being A Blob. I started it gradually by attempting to make better food choices and starting on the Couch to 5K running program. I lost an ittybit of weight but wasn’t gaining much traction. Then I started personal training sessions at a nearby gym. The trainer recommended a strict high-protein, low-carb diet and I figured what the hell, why not give it a try.

So far I’m down to 165, a weight I haven’t been in a long time. I have three sizes of jeans in my dresser due to weight fluctuations and right now the smallest size is starting to fall off my butt a little. I’m cheating a little by lapsing into sugary lattes instead of plain drip coffee, and I’ve lost momentum on the running program, but damn if I don’t feel a hell of a lot better than I did.

Things that have helped the most:

  • Going high-protein/low-carb. I’m not sure how much to believe the “carbs are evil” story but the simple fact is that protein keeps me full longer. I have a chicken breast with a little bacon on top for breakfast/lunch and I’m not hungry again till late evening.
  • Having appointments with a trainer. This is expensive, but ensures that I will get in those intense 1-hour workouts twice a week.
  • Having those appointments at a gym I can walk to. Seriously this thing is half a block from my house, I have no excuse for not making it there and it doesn’t eat up much time in transit.
  • Paying attention to my progress via how my clothes fit. Making it down to my small jean size, and seeing my shirts no longer sausage-tight, is a huge boost. It gives me a reward for getting this far and a reason to keep going.
  • Finding stress foods that are not as disastrous for my waistline. Sugary lattes and bunless cheeseburgers may not be good for me, but they’re a lot better for me than cheese fries and 96 oz. sodas.

The Operation will continue (with a few “cheat days” for the holidays) but overall I’m pretty happy with the progress I’ve made. I’ve got better muscle tone, better endurance, and my back hurts less. I’d love to see 140 again someday but you know what, if I don’t make it there I’m okay with that. I don’t want to be thin, I just want to be healthy.

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What I’m drinking: Venti two-pump no-whip Gingerbread Latte

Nov 09

For most people, the big drink of the holiday season is the Eggnog latte. Not me.

No, after all the time I spent listening to eggnog steaming (it’s way louder than milk) and making these drinks, and fielding questions about nonfat or soy eggnog lattes, I’m pretty much done with eggnog forever. That doesn’t mean I have to Scrooge my way through the season, though, because the return of the Eggnog Latte means the return of my true holiday drink obsession: the Gingerbread Latte.

 A normal GL is topped with whipped cream. Since I’m trying not to expand to spherical proportions over the next few months, I order it without whipped cream. And since I prefer my drinks less sweet these days, I get it with two pumps of syrup rather than four (grande) or five (venti). They still shake the nutmeg on top, though, so it retains most of its festiveness.

For an extra treat, try a gingerbread latte with one pump of Chai. The verdict on that from everyone who tries it is, “It tastes like Christmas!”

Because it does.

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