by Jean Redstone
Saving money is a popular New Year’s resolution, right? Just in time, here’s a kitchen hack that will surely help.
Only a couple of years ago on our Christmas visit to my family in New England, my sister insisted she would buy me a Starbuck’s (or Dunkin’ Donuts or Wawa — I have forgotten the site) cup of coffee. As a matter of principal, I had resisted coffee house chains, preferring the coffee shops in Elmer and Mullica Hill if the occasion arose for a store-bought cuppa. I thought no good can come from mass-produced brews.
Inspiring, in fact. That very year my husband and I bought a Keurig-type coffee brewer and I found pumpkin spice coffee in the offerings of K-cup coffee sellers. When I discovered the flavor was a seasonal coffee, I stocked up and then bought other flavors of single-cup coffees. Turns out I like flavored coffees and it was fun to have on hand for guests.
But very quickly we learned how much more expensive this style of coffee is compared to the percolator we were using. Even on sale, the single cups cost about 50 cents a serving, and usually closer to 80 cents. (Still much cheaper than buying one from a coffee seller at $2 to $5 or more!)
So we invested in a couple of those reusable plastic K-cup alternatives and learned to f ill them ourselves with regular old ground coffee bought on sale. It’s a little bit more labor than just throwing a pre-filled cup in the brewer, but the coffee that comes out is just as good and about 15 to 20 cents a cup.
And for even more savings, it is actually very easy to flavor the coffee you make at home. No more expensive coffee house drinks. Brew your own and carry a thermos. Most people already know the added flavor you get by stirring your coffee cup with a cinnamon or peppermint stick, but there are so many more ways to add coffee-house flavors.
Slip a few drops of flavor extract or syrup into the hot cup or, better yet, into the ground coffee before you place it in the percolator or single-cup brewer. The flavors seem to blend better with brewing.
Don’t go overboard. Try a pinch or two for individual cups (brewed or the ground coffee to be brewed) and get a feel for how strong you want the flavor.
You can add dry flavorings (ground hazelnut or vanilla beans, ground cinnamon or ginger, for example) to your coffee grind ahead of time and store it as usual. With a little time, the flavors will infuse the coffee. Start with spices, extracts or syrups at small amounts added gradually as you learn your taste preferences. Don’t overdo.
You can also add flavor with a creamer that you’ve flavored. For flavored creamers, first make a base.
For a sweet base, mix 1/2 can (or 7 oz.) sweetened condensed milk with 1 1/2 cups whole milk or half-and-half.
For a creamier but not sweet base combine 1 cup heavy whipping cream with 1 cup of whole milk or half and half. You can then flavor the base with extracts, ground spices or syrups, as you would with coffee. The base will last in the fridge about as long as milk does.
SUGGESTED COFFEE FLAVORINGS
Vanilla beans, ground, or vanilla extract: If you have access to vanilla beans, open one up to expose the beans inside the pod and grind, then add to your ground coffee, about ½ teaspoon per cup or to taste. You can also reduce labor by adding vanilla extract, a drop or two per cup, to taste.
Peppermint or mint: Mint is a strong flavor so proceed carefully. You can mince fresh mint or use extracts – a festive taste addition.
Cinnamon: Another strong flavor, this is a popular taste and adds depth to brewed coffee.
Ginger: Slice and mince ginger root and mix with coffee grind or, an easier alternative, add ground/powdered ginger before or after brewing.
Brown sugar: Besides adding sweetness, brown sugar brings an earthiness to your coffee. If you find it a favorite addition, also try mixing in Maple syrup to the brew as an alternative.
Hazelnut, walnut or almond,, either ground nuts or extract are other popular tastes. Try mixing with vanilla for even more flavor.
Cocoa powder is a lovely addition for gourmet coffee lovers – it gives a mocha taste that lingers pleasantly. Cayenne or red pepper flakes: A little pinch is all you need to please the Mexican food lovers in your circle. Add a surprising bit of heat to hot coffee for a great wake-up cup.
But the best taste additive to my mind is the one that sparked my interest in flavored coffees in the first place:
PUMPKIN SPICE MIX
3 Tbls ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
3/4 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp ground cloves
Add all ingredients to a bowl and mix. Store in a closed spice jar, preferably in the refrigerator, to keep fresh.