Jul 17, 2011

Starbucks Refreshers, reviewed

Starbucks Very Berry Hibiscus Refresher

Starbucks Refreshers are new summer drinks hitting the menu boards at Starbucks this summer. The drinks were test marketed in several areas last year, and must have been quite the hit to get the push to a larger market! The drinks are slightly sweet, fruity drinks that are designed to be – as the name suggests – refreshing in the warm weather. They’re made with frozen fruit and a flavor-neutral extract made with green coffee beans. The green beans are ground into a powder that is incorporated into the drinks. It doesn’t add a coffee flavor, but it does add a small amount of caffeine (less than a regular cup of brewed coffee) and green coffee beans are said to help lower blood pressure and promote weight loss. The drinks are low in calories, too.

The Refreshers come in two flavors: Cool Lime and Very Berry Hibiscus (pictured above). I felt like the lime tasted a bit like watered down limemade, and while it wasn’t bad at all, it also wasn’t terribly exciting. The hibiscus was much better. It had a very light berry flavor, floral notes and was very refreshing. It was just barely sweetened, just enough to highlight the fruits without leaving a sticky taste in your mouth. I like their tea-lemonade, but I think I would definitely choose the hibiscus refresher over that on a hot day. I didn’t notice a caffeine kick – but then again, I had already had a bit of coffee in the morning before I tried the drinks.

I also want to mention that this is the first drink in my area offered in the extra large Trente size, and having had the drink, I can actually see it working in that much larger size (remember, a lot of the volume is offset by ice ) on a hot day when you want more than just a few ounces of refreshment from a very lightly sweetened drink like this one.

Starbucks Refreshers Menu

Jul 12, 2011

How is flavored coffee made?

Dunkin' Strawberry Shortcake Coffee

French vanilla, hazelnut and other types of flavored coffee usually to consumers looking for something a little sweeter and a little milder than other types of beans. Flavored coffees don’t allow you to taste all the complexity of black coffee, but at the same time, they usually deliver more of an aroma of their “flavor” rather than a strong dose of hazelnut or, in the case of the Dunkin’ Donuts coffee pictured above, strawberry shortcake. This begs the question: how is flavored coffee made?

Flavored coffee can be made in a variety of ways. The simplest way to flavor coffee will add spices alongside the beans, and the spices are soaked into the water along with the coffee as it brews. Most flavored coffees, however, are flavored by mixing flavoring – either a natural or artificial flavoring, usually mixed with water or some other liquid – into freshly roasted coffee beans. The flavoring gently coats the beans and is essentially steeped into the brewed coffee. Often, flavored coffee is ground before flavoring is added to increase the surface area that the flavoring can cover. Powdered flavorings can also be added, although that generally works best with already ground coffee.

Coffee aficionados will tell you than many manufacturers use less expensive beans (or simply a whole variety of beans mixed together rather than a specifically formulated blend) to make flavored coffee because the flavors will cover up any imbalances in the beans. This may be true in some cases – though there are plenty of companies that use high quality beans for all of their products – but it is definitely true that you will not be able to taste the nuances of a perfectly roasted coffee bean after flavoring has been added, so it isn’t worth putting your very best or most expensive beans in a batch that is going to be flavored.

So, with the exception of the occasional batch of spiced coffee, the flavoring comes from natural or artificial flavoring liquids that are added to the coffee beans. Actual ingredients like hazelnuts and chocolate are not added to coffee to produced flavored coffee and this is why flavored coffee usually has a stronger aroma of the “flavor” rather than the distinct taste of it.

Jul 6, 2011

A Mocha Bundt Cake for Chocolate Lovers

Mocha Bundt Cake with Coffee Glaze

Most of the time I serve my cakes with coffee, I don’t necessarily put coffee into the cakes. Coffee can be a difficult flavor to work with when it comes to dessert because it can be fairly aggressive with the other flavors. When I was putting together this Mocha Bundt Cake, however, I was set on creating a coffee cake that actually tastes like coffee. My solution was to use chocolate to balance the coffee flavor and give it a nice, rich base to sit on. I used a lot of instant espresso powder (as well as some strong, brewed coffee) to infuse the cake with coffee. In the end, it turned out to be exactly the cake I had in mind: moist, intense and with a great coffee flavor. Get the recipe at Baking Bites.

Jun 29, 2011

Capresso Froth Pro

Capresso Froth Pro

Hot, steamed milk is always a nice addition to a cup of coffee even if you’re not setting out to make a specialty drink with it. But when you’re brewing drip coffee, or any other type of coffee that doesn’t come straight from a high powered espresso machine, steamed milk is usually not an option because the machine doesn’t come with any kind of attachment to make it easy to make! Fortunately, there are all kinds of neat gadgets out there that will make it easy and convenient to get steamed milk at the drop of a hat – and your coffee drinking experiences will probably be the better for it.

The Capresso Froth Pro is a good example of this. This machine delivers enough steamed milk for a couple of drinks in a small pitcher that actually looks a lot like a coffee mug itself. It will froth or steam and it works for both hot and cold milk (or soy/other nondairy milks, per the manufacturer). Perhaps the best part is that the gadget has a very small footprint and a nice, tight lid on it. This means that you can park it on your desk at work and be enjoying your own lattes without treking down the street to a more expensive coffee shop when you want one. You’re not going to be able to make latte art with this, but you’ll still get a creamier cup of coffee.

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