Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Another Year

It's 2012!  Yes, that's right. It's the year the 'world ends' according to a bunch of people who have opinions about these sort of things. I'm not one of them, or so I would like to think. However, the permeating message that the end of times is nigh does subconsciously give me the heebie-jeebies, and I can't deny that a portion of my internal self is thinking "oh fuck" at the prospect of this potentially being my last year in this life as I know it.

Sounds like the apocalypse might be a lot of fun, actually.

Or then again, maybe that's just my stupid brain being stupid and I shouldn't listen to the doom sayers and just keep on truckin' through the futility of all things like every other person on the planet.

Man, I'm really depressed lately.

I'm done talking about that before I even start. It's dark and dank in that cavernous region of my mind and I'm tired of being there, and even that little paragraph is too much of a reminder of not good feelings for me right now. I'm starting this post over, and I'm not talking about things that you don't need to know.

I love coffee, but a fancy ass Starbucks latte is way too expensive, especially when you want such a lovely sugary coffee substance daily or even more than one a day. I'm not going to deny it, I love me my fancy ass Starbucks, it takes the coffee to a level of euphoric yumminess beyond it's natural state of yumminess. Not only do I get the invigorating effects of caffeine coursing through my veins, but the added sugary goodness gives a person that instant zip zap zoom that makes me want to actually accomplish things.

Sugar makes me manic.

Last January Mr. C bought for me an espresso maker. We searched all over town until I found one I liked. The steamer doesn't get to a high enough temperature to make perfect lattes, but I found if you microwave your milk first for about 30seconds it heats it enough to get a good healthy foam on top.  Then I began searching for the best espresso beans. I had already graduated to grinding my own coffee before owning the espresso maker, so continuing on with this trend I searched high and low for the perfect bean. At first I thought Starbucks would be the obvious choice, but I learned that wasn't so. The Starbucks blends they sell just seem to come out different when made at home. After much searching I finally found Kicking Horse's Grizzly Claw dark roast whole beans. I can find it in any of the local grocery stores as its a semi-local company here in BC, and it's a really good dark roast, and makes excellent espresso albeit it's not a traditional espresso bean. So, after some trials and errors leading to less errors, I figured out how to get my espresso maker to work in top form and make coffee I love.

I also began purchasing different flavours of syrups (toffee and vanilla mostly) and experimenting with different flavours of latte. I found it strange how difficult it was to find syrups in town here, coming to the conclusion that only 2 places in town sell it, outside of Starbucks where occasionally I could purchase the caramel drizzle there as well if I was willing to spend more money on it than I wanted to. Because of the lack of supply, sometimes I wouldn't be able to find the flavours I wanted, and would wind up buying something different because I really prefer my lattes to have a sugary sweetness to them. This, I realised, was kind of a problem. The lack of flavours I wanted, combined with the seasonal deliciousness known as the pumpkin spice latte, I found myself back at Starbucks at least once a week.

Then I came to the realisation that I wasn't really saving as much money as I wanted to be saving by having my own means of making lattes. And I was still frequenting Starbucks to get the gourmet flavours I wanted, probably at least once a week. So not only was I still purchasing coffee at coffee shops, I was also buying syrups at approximately $15-$25 a bottle (depending on volume of bottle, of course) and honestly, the beans I buy are not on the cheap side, because I don't like cheap tasting coffee.

It hit me like something that hits really hard and makes you see things a little skewed for a few minutes, and I remembered: I have made simple syrups before. Syrups are fucking easy! Like STUPID easy to make! AND CHEAP.

Okay, so to make a simple syrup all you need is sugar and water in equal parts. Dump it into a pan. Bring the water to a boil while whisking. Wait for it to go clear, reduce the heat and simmer stirring occasionally until half of the liquid evaporates. It takes less than 5 minutes to accomplish all of this. There, sugar syrup, good for so many different things that need added liquid sweetness. So if a 4kg bag of sugar costs me approximately $5, I only spend about $0.10 on the sugar used in each 250mL bottle of syrup if I am using 1 cup of sugar per bottle of home made syrup, which I am.

Then flavouring? The first attempt was good ol' trusty vanilla. Because who doesn't have vanilla extract kicking around somewhere? And if you don't have vanilla, don't fret. It's still ridiculously inexpensive if you shop around for the best prices on baking extracts and spices. Spices are inexpensive these days, if you know where to look. I spent just under $9 at my local Bulk Barn on 5 whole nutmegs, a bunch of whole cloves, a honey bear squeezy bottle (for the dulce de leche I intend to make soon) and two 100mL bottles of baking extracts: Pure Almond, and Pure Anise @2.99 each.

I did the maths. I like doing maths for no reason sometimes. If I am only paying ten cents in sugar per 250mL bottle of syrup, and I'm only paying approximately 15 cents in spicing per bottle of syrup (depending on how fancy I feel like being), then each bottle of syrup costs me only ... twenty five cents. Seriously? That means I'm only paying three cents for each sugary shot added to my latte!

If I break it down even further, cost of milk and coffee beans, I pay roughly $1.50 for each fancy gourmet latte I make at home, as opposed to the $6 per grande size coffee at Starbucks I will spend. Totally worth it.

LATTE SYRUP RECIPES (ones I've tried so far)

Vanilla Syrup
1 cup of sugar
1 cup of water
2 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
(I used artificial vanilla for this one, and it was fine. I'm kind of sensitive to flavours, so I noticed the artificial vanilla seemed to bring out a metallic kind of after taste to the syrup. Probably a result of the propylene glycol in the extract, or perhaps using a little too much vanilla. I would suggest using real vanilla extract and only 2tsp at most, but if you don't have it and aren't as picky as me use artificial it's cheaper and almost as good)

Cinnamon Vanilla
1 cup of sugar
1 cup of water
2 sticks of cinnamon (2" long)
1 tsp vanilla extract (the vanilla extract I use is not the clear kind, it's the amber kind. I really like the amber colour it makes the syrups)

Anise Spice
1 cup of sugar
1 cup of water
5 whole cloves
1 tsp anise extract
1 pinch of ginger OR coarsely grate some ginger root into it if you don't want "floaties" in your syrup, but use a scant amount
1 cinnamon stick 2" long
1/4 of a very small nutmeg, crushed. Would have been equal to about 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg if you aren't worried about "floaties" in the syrup.
I strained out the cloves and stuff before bottling it.

Almond Rocha
1 cup of sugar
1 cup of water
1 tsp almond extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp butter -- this was a mistake. I should have purchased some butter flavour to use (found in most grocery stores baking section for flavouring icing), as the real butter made the syrup go kind of milky instead of clear and ambery pretty. Now it's separating the fat from the added butter and it's floating on top of the syrup, all yellow and butter fat looking. It tastes great, but looks weird.

All the recipes methods were the same.
1) Dump sugar and water unceremoniously into a pan. I used my 1 quart pot.
2) Add whatever spice and flavours you want. And, if you want, food colouring. I totally would.
3) Turn heat to MAX and bring it up to a boil while whisking occasionally and inconsiderately. A whisk is not necessary, but I just like them they are more fun than spoons.
3) When it starts to boil (in about 2-3 minutes) reduce the heat down to like 7, or somewhere between middle and high heat so it simmers.
4) Walk the fuck away and go on twitter and forget you are making stuff. But don't forget for longer than a couple of minutes, or you might evaporate it all the way down into a thick goo or burn it.
5) In about 2 minutes, when you remember you are cooking something, go stir it really well with your whisk. If it's reduced to half it's original volume it's done. You should have about 1 cup or so of liquid, a little more or a little less is fine.
6) Let it cool and for gods sake, don't try any right away! You WILL burn your mouth. And hot sugar burns are the worst. Especially in your mouth. Trust me.
7) Strain out any floaties from your spices with a mesh wire strainer or, if you want to make sure even the finest of particles don't make it into the final bottle, use cheesecloth.
8) Let it sit for awhile. I know, you want to try it NOW but seriously, this stuff is up tight and hot and needs a few minutes left alone to chill out and cool down.
9) Then pour it into a bottle. I went to a dollar store and bought some cute vinegar bottles, the kind with the rubbery corks with the pour spouty things, not the kinds with the little triangle tops that are for shaking on your fries. I guess they are called cruets. They all say "vinegar" in very fancy script on them. I like it, it's deceptive.
10) Label it, and store it. It doesn't need to be refrigerated, as it's syrup and it'll keep for awhile on the counter. You can refrigerate it if you are worried about it I guess. The worst that's going to happen is the water content will evaporate out and you'll be left with super concentrated syrup, or if it's left open for a really long time like a few weeks, you'll have lovely flavoured sugar crystals inside a glass bottle.


  1. I have noticed that metallic aftertaste with art. Vanilla too! YAY I'm not nuts!
    Go YOU! I am copying these syrups. But first I need to find a machine. :( I used to have one and used to pre-heat my milk in microwave as well!
    Happy New Year!

  2. Well! If you go to any camping supplies store, or Canadian Tire, you can get a stove top percolator, which makes Italian coffee. It's very strong and similar espresso. Then all you need is a milk frother! (I have a stove top percolator for camping)

  3. When I come visit will you show me the ropes? :D
    I think a crafting/coffee date should be in order!