Create a Coffeehouse Taste Test and Cost Challenge
Sometimes ordering our favorite coffeehouse beverage is more habit than happiness. We can recite the intricate ins and outs of ingredients by heart without realizing that a better and less expensive alternative may be around the corner -- or in our own kitchen.
This realization hit me when a helpful barista advised how to order a similar drink to one of the chain's snazzy new ones but minus the caffeine and the sugar. I loved it and promptly began ordering it a lot.
It was only months later when I was in another chain and recited the order to them that I experienced a much better rendition at almost half the cost. Later, I found the best tasting of all at yet another chain at about a halfway price point between the other two. One day when the barista there asked me if I wanted to pour in the coconut milk (instructions for my drink are below) or have him add it and he pulled out the container from the refrigerator I realized it was an inexpensive brand (not some special in-house preparation I had imagined). I could purchase it myself at the supermarket and pour it into my own concoction at home for pennies on the dollar.
This tour around town and through my own kitchen clued me in to holding my own coffeehouse taste test -- and cost -- challenges. Never again will I just accept the first pleasant tasting beverage and robotically reorder. I will repeat the same order at a number of chains as well as at home, multiple times at each locale, to determine the real favorite.
Here are a few of my go-to quenchers that mimic some more expensive fancier drinks and can be ordered at coffeehouses or prepared at home:
Decaf iced coffee with coconut milk and sugar-free vanilla syrup. Stir in some stevia or an artificial sweetener if like it even sweeter.
Place in a blender cup, ground decaf coffee beans with soymilk, plain yogurt, sugar-free chocolate syrup, stevia and ice. Blend until smooth.
HEALTHY HOT CHOCOLATE
Hot water atop unsweetened cocoa powder and stevia. Mix well. Add a drizzle of coconut milk.
WORTHY PUMPKIN IMPOSTER
Stir pumpkin pie spice and almond milk into hot apple cider -- and possibly save money all season long rather than buying fancy pumpkin drink blends.
AFTER-WORK GOURMET COOKBOOK SHELF
Noshing can take on global dimensions if you do your traveling with some innovative authors. "Chai, Chaat & Chutney: A Street Food Journey Through India" is by Chetna Makan, an Indian cook who was a British Bake-Off TV semifinalist. Her favorite foods are Indian snacks and choices like onion samosas, cardamom and pistachio kulfi and chickpea curry just might make them yours too. Later in the fall, look for "POK POK: The Drinking Food of Thailand" by Andy Ricker with JJ Goode. Your bar snack menu will expand to include spicy renditions like fried peanuts with kaffir lime, garlic and chilies.
Lisa Messinger is a first-place winner in food writing from the Association of Food Journalists and the author of seven food books, including "Mrs. Cubbison's Best Stuffing Cookbook" and "The Sourdough Bread Bowl Cookbook." To find out more about Lisa Messinger and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.