ShopSmart is a magazine put out by Consumer Reports that presents an easy-to-reference guide to your favorite products. They always have great content, but when they set out to identify the best mocha iced coffee drinks in a recent issue (Aug/Sept 2014), I skipped everything else in the magazine and went straight for that page. The tasters at the magazine reviewed 8 different options and picked out the top five. Their top pick was Starbucks Discoveries Caffe Mocha. I really enjoyed the caramel macchiato version of the Starbucks Discoveries line, so I’m not surprised that it took top billing. The tasters said that it was the closest to homemade (or cafe-made) iced mocah, with a “nice blend of coffee, milk and cocoa flavors, with a touch of sweetness.” Compared to individually bottled drinks, the Starbucks Discoveries drink was very reasonably priced (less than half of some of the bottled drinks, per serving), but the International Delight Iced Coffee Sweet & Creamy Mocha was a little bit less expensive and was awarded the best “Bargain Buy,” for price-conscious shoppers that are looking for a milder coffee drink.
The other top drinks included the classic bottled Starbucks Mocha, Frappuccino, which had a good balance of coffee and sweetness, with a mild chocolate flavor, and Illy Issimo Mochaccino, which has a stronger coffee note than some of the other options. Across the board, the tasters did not care for any of the “light” or nondairy coffee drinks (the nondairy drinks really should have their own taste test!), though the Starbucks Mocha Frappuccino Light was their top choice from that grouping.
Comic-Con just ended for this year, and I’ve been watching some of my friends on Facebook posting pictures of themselves, friends-of-friends and their favorite characters all weekend long. I couldn’t help but think of them when I first saw this Strong Brew Sword Tea Infuser, because it definitely wouldn’t be out of place at an event like Comic-Con even though that isn’t exactly a tea-centric event. This nifty infuser is shaped like a broadsword and looks like it popped right out of a video game. The sword pops apart so that you can easily fill it with your favorite loose-leaf tea. The blade of the sword is hollow and contains many small holes that let water flow in and out easily as your tea steeps, while the hilt fits snugly into the blade to keep the tea in place. The whole gadget is made of food-grade silicone, so it is easy to handle and won’t get too hot to handle – even after a long steep in a mug of very hot water. You probably will want to buy at least two of these, not just one, since the temptation to engage in a little swordfighting (albeit on a small scale) is irresistible after you’ve used one. Just be sure that all of the hot water is drained out of the sword before you take your first swing!
There are few things more refreshing than an iced coffee on a hot day. Unlike popsicles or ice cream, you can really slow down and savor an iced coffee without worrying about making a sticky mess. Flavored iced coffees in particular can really hit the spot during the summer, and my latest love has been homemade Salted Caramel Iced Coffee. This coffee drink is just sweet enough to satisfy a craving for something indulgent without being overly sweet, and it is easy to customize it to suit your own tastes. For me, I like to make it with strong coffee as a base and serve it up with a generous swirl of whipped cream.
If you have iced coffee at home, then just make your drink with iced coffee to start out with. If you don’t have iced coffee at home, you’re going to have to start off hot. This gives you some advantages, since it is very easy to dissolve sugar, caramel and other ingredients into hot coffee. The disadvantage is that you might have to wait for the coffee to cool before you can enjoy your refreshing beverage. When I am making iced coffee, I brew double strength coffee. This not only cuts the sweetness of whatever syrups I’m adding, but it dilutes itself when you pour it over ice, bringing it down to a perfect consistency and temperature.
I used a storebought salted caramel sauce to make this drink (from Trader Joe’s), which make the drink-making process quick and easy. If you don’t have a salted caramel sauce, you can simply add a pinch to your favorite unsalted caramel sauce. Don’t forget to drizzle the drink on top with caramel and add a few grains of salt to really enhance that salty-sweetness before serving!
In the news, I’ve seen the headline boldly proclaiming that half the world prefers instant coffee to regular coffee. Eastern and Western Europe combined drink 40% of the world’s instant coffee, with Eastern Europe consuming more than twice as much as Western. Australia and Asia account for most of the rest of instant coffee consumption. That sure sounds like the headlines are correct and that people are clammoring for instant coffee!
But what these headlines are omitting is that instant coffee has an almost indefinite shelf life and is significantly less expensive to buy than fresh coffee. Most of the places where instant coffee is “preferred” are places where there is not a huge, developed coffee culture and/or places where the cost of freshly brewed coffee puts it out of reach as a daily drink for those who are not affluent. American coffee drinkers are the least likely to opt for instant coffee, with an almost total (up to 90%) preference for fresh brewed. We have a strong coffee culture and as a result we have a basic expectation for how tasty and fresh our coffee should be (though even “fresh” coffee isn’t necessarily delicious coffee). It is likely that as coffee becomes even more popular globally, consumers in other areas will start to seek out more flavorful options than instant, too.