One of the things I love about this season is the plethora of delicious winter-/Christmas-themed hot beverages that make their way into our favorite (or not so favorite) overpriced coffee chains. I’m not a big S***b****s addict, but I definitely manage to work in a few trips between Thanksgiving and New Years to indulge in a gingerbread or eggnog latte, salted caramel hot chocolate, or peppermint mocha.
Funny story about the eggnog latte (stop me if you’ve heard this one before)… a long time ago in a prior career my company had a coffee shop that served Mermaid coffee (I know she’s a siren, but mermaid sounds better). Which included — in the Christmas season — eggnog lattes. One day I walked in to the little shop and the barista behind the counter asked, “Eggnog latte?” and started to prepare it before the door swung shut behind me. Oh, noes! I had become That Girl! The one who orders the same thing every day! Cut off! Or perhaps I just scoped out maps of all the Mermaid coffee locations within easy walking distance of my office so I could go to a different one each day to get my fix. If there’s anything I detest, it’s being predictable!
I eventually broke my habit, but not my love for the stuff, and you can guarantee that at least once during the season I’ll indulge in one of these.
But we all know that these delicious drinks are not only calorie bombs, but — at nearly $5 for a small (or, ahem, a “tall”) — your money will be hemorrhaging out of your wallet faster than you can stop the bleed. I’d like to say that the calorie count is what stops me from buying more of these, but ultimately it’s the money. I can get around the calories by saying, well, if I ONLY have a latte for lunch, then it’s okay, Consuming 400 calories worth of sugar, caffeine, and milkfat might not be the BEST use of my lunch allotment, but whatevs. Dropping that kind of cash, though… ouch. So I’m always excited to find ways around expensive coffee with equally tasty results.
So without further ado, here are some of my favorite seasonal indulgences.
Flavored coffee. Yes, I can hear you now saying, “Really, Rori, that’s the best you can come up with, flavored coffee?” But hear me out. (And if you’re one of those coffee purists who has told me that flavored coffees use the lowest quality beans and whatnot, fine, all the more for me, and you may ignore the rest of this section!) I’m a Keurig girl myself. I may or may not have assorted K-cups crammed in every spare nook and cranny of my kitchen/pantry. If it’s variety you’re looking for, you’ll not want in my house! It’s slightly obscene. I’ve acquired a nice selection of holiday flavors within that impending avalanche. Green Mountain Coffee makes gingerbread and spicy eggnog and of course I still have plenty of pumpkin spice left from autumn. They also make a “Winter” (as opposed to “Holiday”) flavor called Golden French Toast… aka, amazingness in a cup. Totally drool-worthy. Timothy’s makes a Winter Carnival (which is described as having the flavors of vanilla, caramel, and custard… mmmm, custard) as well as Sugar Bush Maple (okay, that’s a spring flavor, not winter, but we’ll let it slide). A couple weeks ago I discovered another holiday coffee, this one from Van Houtte: White Chocolate Mint. Much as I love peppermint mochas and the like I had some reservations about this one, but needn’t have bothered. Yum-mie. And when I’m looking for a seasonal hot beverage not of the coffee variety, Green Mountain also makes a hot apple cider K-cup which is quite tasty.
Lattes. Now, admittedly a regular old cup of joe, no matter the flavor, can never quite convey the richness of a latte. I mean, I can get a little heavy-handed on the half-and-half at times, but even so… So what do I do when the spicy eggnog coffee isn’t scratching those eggnog latte cravings? Well, first one must get some ‘nog! I prefer the light variety myself… love the flavor of eggnog, but I tend to cut even the light stuff with plain milk (or, uh, rum) to make it a bit less cloying. I brew a cup of medium or dark roast coffee in a large mug so there’s plenty of headroom, then fill it up with maybe a quarter-cup of eggnog. This gives more of the eggnog latte flavor and richness, but again, way cheaper, and healthier. Even with full-test eggnog, you’ll still come out ahead on the calories and fat since you’re not ingesting, you know, a full 8 ounces of the stuff. Now, I don’t know if this is a regional thing or what, but there have also been a number of odd eggnog flavors popping up in recent years around here. Vanilla’s been around for a while (a personal fave), but I’ve also seen cinnamon, gingerbread, pumpkin, and sugar cookie. The sugar cookie one is vile. Seriously. Steer clear. I don’t think I’ve actually tried the others, but I would imagine that you could use them in your coffee as well for that gingerbread or pumpkin latte flavor.
Hot Chocolate. Don’t know if you’ve read the news, but apparently chocolate milk in the new post-workout recovery drink of choice. Yum! Works for me! I figure that hot chocolate is just a heated up version of the same. Totally have to go for the hot milk variety, though. The instant, just add hot water stuff is okay in a pinch, but the hot milk variety is where it’s at. I just pour milk in a mug, toss it in the microwave (which conveniently has an idiot-proof “Beverage” button) and add the good stuff once it’s heated. Lots of tasty choices out there. Ghirardelli Ground Chocolate (in the baking aisle) is a good option. I’m also a fan of Penzeys, which makes both regular and mint hot chocolate mix. There are other drinking chocolates out there and you can even use regular cocoa powder and sugar in a pinch. I like to spice my HC up with a little ground cinnamon and a teensy dash of chili powder. A dash of almond or vanilla extract is also quite nice, as is hunting around the liquor cabinet for some cherry brandy, Irish cream, Kahlua or whatever your favorite poison to pair with chocolate. Now THAT’S something you won’t find at your chain coffee shop!
I realize we have not discussed tea… or for that matter marzipan! Or candy canes! 😉 Hey, you didn’t think I’d get out of here without a Nut reference did you?! But hopefully this will be enough to keep you warm through these darkest days of the year (on this half of the world, anyway!).