Archive for ‘Beverages Bars & Cafes’

July 12, 2012

Cold-Brewed Iced Tea

I love iced tea in summer. It has less caffeine than coffee, doesn’t need sweetener, and still tastes delicious and refreshing.  I never worry about drinking my calories, because it has hardly any.  It’s also incredibly versatile – one can turn pretty much anything into iced tea.  I used to make iced tea during my time as a barista in the coffee shop in Cambridge, but I’d never really made it at home.  Until this summer that is.



I first made a batch of cold-brewed iced tea from bags of Trader Joe’s pear and white tea.  I was trying to use up teas in Boston to reduce the amount of stuff I needed to move, and iced tea was a great way to do so in the hot weather we experienced while we packed up our home.

This week, in Oregon, it’s been pleasantly hot as well.  I’ve turned the shady back deck into my own personal office, camping out with my laptop and books to get work done in the great outdoors. What an incredible difference from a few short weeks ago! I get to enjoy the sounds of squirrels chasing each other, bluebirds calling to each other, and the occasional annoying crow.  The flowers are in full bloom around the yard, and it feels like it couldn’t be more beautiful.




The memories of my refreshing first attempts at cold-brewed iced tea came back earlier this week.  I discovered an old quart canning jar in the basement,  picked out some loose-leaf black tea, poured it into a coffee filter, closed it up with a wire twist, and threw in a sprig of mint from the garden.  No lemon on hand, but that would have been good too.  A few hours basking in the sunshine (where it was hard to photograph without getting a reflection of myself and my camera) and it was ready to go into a glass of ice to savor at my outdoor desk.



Cold-Brewed Iced Tea

1 quart jar (preferably see-through so you can watch the steeping progress)

4 tea bags OR 4 teaspoons loose-leaf tea (herbal, black, green, or white)

1 coffee filter (if using loose-leaf)

Optional: combination of mint sprigs, basil leaves, lemon slices, orange slices, or fruit (berries or peaches are delicious)

1. Fill the quart container with cold tap water (filter if you need to, but please don’t use bottled water).  Place the loose-leaf tea in a coffee filter and twist closed with a wire twist like the kind that come with bread or sandwich baggies.  Submerge the coffee filter package or tea bags into the tap water.  Add any flavorings you like or leave it plain.

2. Set out in a full-sun area (on a windowsill or outside if you have a space safe from roaming pets who might knock it over).  Let it steep for at least four hours, up to eight.  The longer it steeps, the more developed the flavors become.  Taste it the first time you make it so you can decide when you think it’s done to your liking.  Remove the tea bags and flavorings and chill it, or serve immediately over ice.


April 11, 2012

The Aesthetics of Coffee


When I was little, I would beg my dad to let me make his coffee after he got up from his afternoon nap. He’d always get up before dawn to get work done before my sisters and I arrived “on the scene,” as he’d say. So a coffee post afternoon nap was necessary (as was the pot of coffee in the morning pre-dawn).

I loved making coffee: filling up the carafe with water (two cups on the carafe equaled one of my dad’s mugs), taking out the old grinder, measuring out just the right number of beans, covering it and pressing the button, shaking and grinding for exactly 30 seconds (count them!). Then pulling out a fresh paper filter (always brown, never bleached) and folding the edges just so in order for it to fit in the basket. Scoop out the grinds – one for every cup, plus one “for the pot.” And then the clicks: the clicking down of the lid after filling the water reservoir, the click of the filter basket closing, and the last few clicks of the carafe sliding into place before the click of the “on” button and the glowing red light signifying magic was about to happen.

Slowly, the smell of coffee would permeate our kitchen as the water percolated through the machine and dripped into the carafe: what a delicious smell, so extraordinary, so luxurious, so different from any other smell! Pouring the cup, and just enough half and half.  Nowadays my dad drinks his coffee black, but back then it was hypnotizing to watch the colors swirl together, the dark liquid turning shades of tan as it swirled together, like a moving picture of the galaxies we’d study in school.

Once I took a sip of the coffee before giving it to him, and my magical coffee world came crashing down around me.

How could something so wonderful, so amazing, so satisfying to prepare taste SO VILE???

My dad smiled, and told me it was “an acquired taste.”

Over the years growing up, I decided it wasn’t worth my effort to acquire the taste for coffee. I was content with the process of preparing the coffee for my parents, and watching them sip the bitter brew.

In high school, my older sister started drinking coffee and would beg my mother for a few dollars to buy a latte before school at our student-run coffee shop (“Why on earth would you pay two dollars for something you can get at home?” was always my mother’s response).

But I, I just coveted those students who got to make the coffee (the job title “barista” had not made it to my hometown yet). I would look for summer jobs in coffee shops around town – the best cafe was fittingly called “The Coffee Shop,” where my friends and I would sit for hours playing ERS and sipping chai lattes (what I wished coffee tasted like). But none of the coffee shops would hire me – not because I didn’t like the taste of coffee (I never got far enough to tell them that), but because they needed someone who could work longer than a three-month-long summer.

It wasn’t until college, when I got a position as a barista in the college coffee shop, that my world changed. I discovered the art of making espresso, tasting the deliciously nutty shots, making the perfect steamed milk. I spent several years working in coffee shops, and over that time developed a taste for the deliciousness of coffee in addition to the added pleasures of preparing (and drinking) espresso drinks. I never let myself get too addicted to caffeine though: it is a powerful addiction that sneaks up on you. I’d switch to decaf early on in my shifts when no one was looking, and I’d often take “weeks off” from drinking coffee entirely. My coworkers thought I was crazy, and I probably was. It only takes a week for coffee’s addiction to leave your system, but it’s one of the hardest weeks ever.

Now, I look back at my relationship with coffee and I realize that for me, drinking the coffee has always been an afterthought. More important was the preparation: the ritual of measuring beans, grinding them, foaming milk, pouring the mug, and serving it to others (or later wrapping my hands around my own mug to smell the steam). It’s the ritual of coffee.

The ritual was always more important, that is, until this past week. I’ve woken up every morning with a foggy head and pressure that has lead me to cup my head in my hands at the kitchen table while David fixed his breakfast and cry out “Why does my head HURT so much??” as the hot water kettle rattled away heating my water for my French-press coffee.

This morning it hit me: I think it’s time to de-caffeinate and start over. I’ve never done this without still getting to experience the ritual of making coffee for others. Next week is going to be a long week. I think I’ll miss the ritual the most.


The above photo is of my friend A’s coffee that she made me one morning while I was visiting her on vacation. It was one of the best homemade espressos I’ve ever had!

December 14, 2011

You Can’t Get There from Here


I have a great travel story to share with you, but it would probably sound like every other travel nightmare.  A last-minute realization that my passport had expired three days before my flight, and a series of delayed flights and trains, left me with a very stressful and unusual route to Tübingen.  After I squared away the passport fiasco, I first flew to Dublin, then to Paris Charles-de-Gaulle.  A not-quick-enough transfer from the airport to the Paris-Est train station left me with an hour and a half wait in Paris (despite the help of an incredibly nice traveling companion and a French stranger who walked me a block in the right direction and spoke to me in French even though it was obvious I was a foreigner – yay!).  As I was running through Paris I had two thoughts: “I’m late, I’m late!” and “I’m in PARIS and it looks like PARIS!!  It’s so beautiful!”

The train trip was just as eventful: a forced transfer due to “technical difficulties” left me on the German/French border in Saarbrücken for another forty-five minutes.  This is where I decided the theme of my trip was that at almost every transfer I was essentially told “You can’t get there from here.”  But I could move forward darnit.  And so it was off to Mannheim, then Stuttgart, and finally Tübingen and a late-night cab ride home.



Okay so I cheated and actually took this photo this evening, not last night, but that’s pretty much what it looked like.  And I have to say: I’m so happy to be here! After a good night’s sleep, I ran around town this afternoon and Christmas shopped, and window shopped.  The streets are so familiar, and yet they still take my breath away.  This evening my sister Sarah and I made a batch of cookies and drank homemade Glühwein.  Even though it’s far too warm for Glühwein, it tasted mighty fine.




1 bottle cheap red wine (quality is not important)
1 Tbsp whole cloves
1 slice lemon (or orange)
1 stick cinnamon
ca. 1 cup sugar

Put all the ingredients in a pot and stir to combine the sugar.  Taste to make sure there is enough sugar – it should taste quite sweet, but not cloyingly so.  The amount will depend on how dry your wine is.  Set heat to medium low and steep for ten minutes.  Serve hot.

November 1, 2011

A Menu for Thanksgiving

I’m going to squeak in just barely with my promised post today.  But here it is folks (drumroll, please):

Over the next few weeks, up until Thanksgiving, I’m going to be sharing with you recipes that I think are delicious, and put all together will make an amazing Thanksgiving meal.  I’ll not only provide the individual recipes, I will also give you in the week before Thanksgiving a shopping list (that you can edit, so that you can take our things like “salt” or “tomato paste” if you already own those things) and a detailed timeline of what to make when, so you’re not frantically finishing up as your guests are milling about hungry.

The idea is, that with these recipes you will not only be able to enjoy the cooking, but you’ll also enjoy the actual holiday.  I’ve done everything from undercook the turkey to burning the pecans for pecan pie to oblivion and in between, so I know that Thanksgiving preparations can be stressful. Hopefully with these recipes, tips, and schedules you’ll be able to cook your Thanksgiving with a bit more confidence (and success) than some of my past Thanksgivings.  And remember the mantra I have with my sisters: something always has to go wrong with the food on Thanksgiving, otherwise it’s just not Thanksgiving.  It’s how you roll with it that counts.

So, here is the menu we’ll be talking about around here for the next few weeks (look familiar?):

Butternut Squash Soup
Roast Turkey with Herbed Stuffing
Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Green Bean Casserole
Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Dinner Rolls
Pumpkin Pie

To kick it off, grab a martini glass (or any glass, for that matter, we’re not standing on ceremony here) and whip up an Apple Martini – not that you need an excuse, but if you’re going to be serving this along with your Thanksgiving you have to test it out first, right?

March 31, 2008

A Coffeehouse Culture: Revisited

I’ve been working on a list of my favorite coffeehouses, and here it is. Note that there is no ranking, it’s ordered more or less by geographical location (west to east), and I’ve tried to explain as best I could how these meet the criteria. Like I mentioned in the comments section of the original post, no coffeehouse has been perfect (perfection as we all know is nearly impossible). Hopefully this will give you a start though, and please feel free to add your own favorites in the comments section below!