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Which pumpkin-spice latte should I choose?

21 Nov

Just in case you were wondering:

Whole Foods

Whole Foods’ version was a little modest on the coffee flavor and lacked anything remotely pumpkiny, but was very nutmeg-forward and had a sweet, caramel-like coating on the tongue. The aftertaste was superlong and somewhat cloying, but the flavor overall was really aided by the nutmeg. A little more cinnamon would probably balance out the cup pretty nicely, though the drink overall was pretty enjoyable and very autumnal.

In the meantime, am I the only person who always forgets that most Whole Foods have a cafe in the bulk-coffee section? All this time I could be warming my paws on an Americano while perusing the frozen vegetables. Sigh.

Dunkin’ Donuts

Surprisingly, Dunkin’ Donuts’ offering had a much more recognizably “coffee” taste to it, though whatever else in there that’s supposedly making it a pumpkin-flavored drink is hard to discern. Sweet like butterscotch, it has more of a vanilla or hazelnut sort of warmth to it, and almost no detectable spice at all—it almost tastes like the kind of push-button “French vanilla cappuccino” I grew up on haunting the aisles of Wawa as a New Jersey teenager.

Starbucks

“It’s seriously awesome,” the barista at Starbucks assured me. “It’s totally the thing that turned me on to espresso.” Well, that’s really nice and everything, but it’s hard to see how that’s possible, as the Green Mermaid’s pumpkin-spice latte has the least coffee flavor of any coffee drink I’ve ever had in my entire life. (Including the Wawa special mentioned above.)

know there’s espresso in there, because I saw our man put it in the cup. But underneath a cap of (actually pretty decently textured and generously “spiced” from a handy shaker from the baristas’ arsenal) white foam, there lurked an orange (yes, actually orange) drink that tasted almost exactly like taking a sip of Libby’s canned pumpkin mixed with sweetened-condensed milk and not much else. Basically it’s a drinkable version of not-yet-cooked pumpkin pie filling.

So who won this battle? Find out here.

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Unexpected Elegance: Spiked Coffee Creations

17 Nov

flickr/StuartWebster

The phrase “coffee cocktail” usually conjures images of milky drinks such as the White Russian. Personally, I am a fan of drinks that pair coffee and alcohol and will disregard the fact that it is a dangerous marriage of a stimulant and depressant. But the only thing that keeps me from ordering these drinks at the bar is the fact that most of these drinks contain dairy. And I’m not the only one.

Frank Bruni, a writer for the New York Times, feels the same way. But his opinion is changing thanks to Troy Sidle, creator of the coffee cocktail menus at Randolph at Broome and Fort Defiance. After tasting several of Sidle’s creations, realized that a successful coffee cocktail didn’t need to be a milky mess in order for the coffee and liquor to shine without being overpowering. One key factor in making these dairy-less coffee cocktails is a deeper understanding of coffee’s many nuances:

“It’s an extreme challenge to balance coffee as an element, because it’s so incredibly complex,” explained Mr. Sidle, a consultant who helped develop these drinks specifically for the Randolph. “It has acids, sugars, waxes, oils.”

“A great cup of black coffee is inherently balanced,” he added. Monkey with it, he said, and you risk throwing everything out of whack. Across five fastidiously composed coffee cocktails, he took that chance with Bulleit bourbon, Sailor Jerry rum, Laird’s apple brandy, Landy cognac and Ramazzotti, an Italian amaro, among other spirits. For sweetener he used house-made syrups and to round those out he used house-made salt solutions. He shook and strained and added orange, lemon or grapefruit peels.

Makes sense right? Each coffee variety has its own unique nuances in terms of flavor and once these are understood, it can become a very versatile ingredient to work with. Hopefully some restaurants/bars in the Los Angeles area have jumped on this bandwagon because I am ready to experience this new, exciting drink experience.