Starbucks is celebrating their 40th anniversary this year, and has rolled out a whole variety of new products this spring in celebration of that milestone. I was fortunate enough to attend the launch for the whole new lineup – both drinks and pastries – and got to try everything out just as they were released. The launch of these products actually marks the first time that Starbucks has done a global launch of new items, releasing everything to all of their stores world wide at the same time (although different areas/countries may have slightly different pastries according to local tastes).
The headliner is the Starbucks Tribute Blend, a bold coffee that is a post-roast blend of four different beans and is one of Starbucks best coffees to date. The blend includes aged Sumatra (my favorite), sun-dried Ethiopia, Papua New Guinea and Colombia beans. The coffees in the mix were chosen primarily for the way the combined into one well-balanced brew, but were also chosen because they represent the diversity of Starbucks coffee beans from different parts of the world.
I can’t remember where I was at the time, but a few years ago I went to a coffee shop that offered a s’mores latte. This drink was inspired by classic campfire s’mores, with their layers of crisp graham crackers, toasted marshmallows and melting chocolate. Unfortunately, the coffee shop in question used a s’mores flavored syrup and it didn’t quite live up to my expectations in the flavor department. I still thought it was a good idea, however, and decided to play around with the concept at home. Adding the chocolate to hot coffee and milk was easy, and marshmallows on top added plenty of marshmallowy sweetness. I used milk chocolate, as that is the quintessential s’mores chocolate (although you can use dark if you prefer).
The graham cracker element was slightly trickier, as the crackers lost their crunch – and just about all of their appeal – when they got wet in the mug. I solved the problem by simply crushing the grahams and sprinkling them on top of the marshmallows, where you can still get a taste of them in every sip, but where they are protected from the coffee and milk by a layer of sugar.
Instant coffee has had a bad reputation of late, largely because the one-dimensional flavor is nothing compared to what you can get from a coffee shop. Fortunately, products like Starbucks Via are raising the bar for instant coffee and letting us take advantage of the convenience of a product like that without throwing flavor out the window. Still, there is nothing like a big cup of freshly brewed coffee, so it never hurts to have a few tricks up your sleeve that will make that instant coffee seem gourmet when you’re using it and Sugar Savvy put together a list to get you started:
- Add cocoa - cocoa will introduce some complexity to a one-note coffee, and it will turn inexpensive instant coffee into an easy and inexpensive mocha with a little sugar and milk.
- Add spice – cinnamon, nutmeg and other spices will also add some complexity to instant coffee, and peppermint will really perk it up on a cold morning.
- Add ice – you can very easily control the strength of your coffee with instant, so making it extra strong and pouring it over ice will give you a very refreshing drink.
- Add milk – milk rounds out the sometimes papery flavors of instant coffee, especially if you don’t mind splurging on a little half and half instead of skim milk
- Add sweeteners – sugar might be the sweetener you reach for most, but brown sugar and maple syrup can make a cup of instant seem a lot more interesting.
And two more tips that I’ll add to the list:
- Add vanilla – if you drink your coffee with milk, add a small amount of vanilla extract to the milk. Vanilla extract doesn’t blend that well with coffee on its own, but the mellow notes of vanilla work really well when you’re already adding a splash of cream. Vanilla sugar and vanilla syrup are other great additions.
- Steam that milk – heat up your milk in a microwave and whisk it well with a small whisk (or stir very vigorously) to froth it up and give your drink a latte feel.
I use instant (Via) over ice all the time in the summer, making a very concentrated brew and pouring over a big cup of ice, then adding syrup and milk. What are your favorite ways to fix up instant coffee, or other coffees that are less-than-great to start out with?
A tea latte is not just tea with milk in it. It’s a strongly brewed tea with hot, steamed milk added and they’re usually served lightly sweetened. Unlike regular coffee lattes, tea lattes open up dozens of flavor possibilities because you can make them with just about any type of tea. A London Fog tea latte, made with earl grey tea, is a great choice, but when the weather is cold I like to make my tea lattes with something a little spicier as the base.
This Orange Chai Tea Latte is made with chai tea and a little bit of orange zest to give it a bright, fruity note. You can use any type of chai tea that you have – I used Zhena’s Gypsy Coconut Chai in this batch because just about any kind will work well. I simply poured the hot tea over some freshly grated orange zest and let it steep for about a minute. This released some of the oils of the orange and added some extra flavor to the tea. A little orange extract will work if you don’t have a fresh orange on hand, but orange juice isn’t a good option as it might curdle your milk. Strain the orange zest out before topping the latte with steamed milk. I sweetened my tea latte with a little vanilla syrup, but there is so much flavor in here that you almost don’t need it at all. The orange goes perfectly with the spicy chai flavors without overwhelming them. A twist on top gives the whole drink a nice orange scent before serving.