Most people who brew coffee at home pick up a pound or two at their local market, rather than at a specialty coffee shop or by mail-order. Just like picking out wine, it can be difficult to pick out a coffee that will turn out a solid cup of coffee when all you have to go on is the packaging. Medium roast coffees fall in the middle of the coffee roasting spectrum and are likely to appeal to the broadest range of coffee-drinking consumers, and Cook’s Illustrated set out to put them to a taste test in a recent issue (March/Apr 2013).
This taste test sounds like a great idea, because it is always nice to know what a good all-purpose coffee is. Your average consumer (which could be you or me) will see the words “medium roast” on a package and assume that coffee is a medium roast – with a few degrees of variation from brand to brand. Cook’s Illustrated, however, decided to color-test the coffee beans and decide what an acceptable range of color was for coffees to be designated as “medium roast” and use that as the standard. The problem with this is that (1) you can’t tell what color the beans are until you open the package, which means that if you’re not choosing a coffee from their list, you are back to square one and (2) more than one coffee in the test was labeled a “light roast.”
Just about every commuter knows that you can get a decent cup of coffee by swinging by McDonalds, and their other McCafe drinks have been becoming increasingly popular, as well. Other fast food places have upped their coffee ante, but there are few places that you can drive through and get a coffee that is as appealing as what you’ll find at McDonalds (Note: as a West Coaster, I’ve never seen a drive through Dunkin’ Donuts, but I know that DD has lots of coffee fans). Burger King, however, is making a move to compete with McCafe and get a bigger piece of the breakfast market in the process.
The company has been working in partnership with Seattle’s Best Coffee to put together a new coffee menu that will feature better tasting regular and decaf coffees, as well as a variety of slightly more upmarket coffee drinks to give consumers more options. The new drinks include four new iced coffees – plain, vanilla, mocha and caramel – and four lattes in those same flavors, all of which will be introduced to stores during the next few weeks.
Seattle’s Best has some pretty good coffee (and lots of lighter options that seem to appeal to a wide range of coffee drinkers), so BK could end up with a good alternative to McDonalds when you need a quick coffee fix. But since the golden arches have a multi-year head start on advertising, BK is going to come up with some strong marketing to get the word out there and have people choose their drive through over McDonalds’ just for the coffee.
If you want to make your sweetheart something that is a little sweet and a little spicy for Valentine’s Day this year, try making a Salt and Pepper Mocha. This drink has a little kick to it – courtesy of Trader Joe’s Organic Stone Ground Salt and Pepper Dark Chocolate. This is a coarsely ground, Mexican-style chocolate that TJ’s has been selling recently and it is perfect for making a grown up mocha or hot chocolate.
The chocolate comes in discs and it is easy to break up into pieces by hand. The chocolate has a very crumbly texture and, while you definitely get a sweet and fruity dark chocolate with your first taste, the salt and pepper flavors are very distinct. This gives the chocolate a savory, spicy quality that is a nice change of pace from other chocolates – and from other mocha drinks. I melted half a disc of the chocolate into a mug of hot coffee, then topped it off with hot, steamed milk to make my mocha. The coffee goes extremely well with the salt and pepper flavors in the chocolate, so the drink only needed a touch of milk to round it out. If you’re not a big dark chocolate fan, or simply prefer your mochas a little bit sweeter, feel free to stir in a bit more sugar than I used.
If you want to try this but don’t have access to the Salt and Pepper Chocolate, don’t worry. Simply substitute the same amount of dark chocolate and add a generous pinch of salt, along with a slightly smaller pinch of pepper, until the chocolate has a little kick to it.
There are all kinds of mocha and dark chocolate drinks out there. They’re delicious – no doubt about it – but sometimes I think that white chocolate is slightly underrepresented. I like white chocolate and there are plenty of coffee drinks that you can make using it, as well, but you might have to look a little bit harder to find inspiration than you do with regular mocha recipes. In this case, I found inspiration in a box of chocolates.
The first time I made this drink, I had a bunch of white chocolate truffles in my kitchen and simply popped them into my coffee. The white chocolate added a really nice sweetness to the drink, and the truffles melted smoothly. It is a must-try if you already have white chocolate truffles around, but a very quick and easy chocolate ganache lets me make this drink over and over again even if I don’t have some in the house already.
You can make this with strong coffee, or you can make it with espresso. I think that espresso is the way to go, since you get a slightly more intense coffee flavor, but more milk that will pick up on the richness of the truffles. If you are going for the coffee option and using whole truffles, you might find that you want to add one extra to sweeten it up a bit.