12 Oct 2009

Hot Shots!

Hot beverages needn't be restricted to coffee, tea, or that late-night mug of cocoa. There are various other ways to quench your thirst, or simply treat yourself. Here I will share with you my most unusual hot drink sensations, in no preferential order:

Hot Spiced Apple Juice:

The first time I had it was at the Manchester Craft & Design Centre’s café about 10 years ago. It was a crisp autumn afternoon and I’d met up with a friend. A quick glance at the menu convinced us to try the drink, served in tall latte glasses, and it couldn’t be easier to recreate at home. It was refreshing yet warming at the same time.

For 2 people: pour half a carton of good quality apple juice into a saucepan, add a teaspoon of ground cinnamon and gently warm up on the stove (do not boil). For added effect, omit the ground cinnamon, gently warm up the apple juice on its own, then pour into individual tall glasses and add a cinnamon quill per glass. Leave to infuse. Enjoy!

Masala Chai with Cardamom Seeds:

A Pakistani friend of mine, Mrs Anwar, gave me the recipe for this deliciously sweet milky tea years ago at her dinner party. I was surprised at how sweet and aromatic the tea was, the combination of milk and cardamom seeds lending it a caramel-like flavour and colour, while taking any of the tea bitterness away.

Steep one English breakfast tea bag (or Assam or black tea) per person into a saucepan of whole milk and water (a ratio of roughly two thirds milk for one third water). Add a good tablespoon of cardamom seeds per 2 drinkers, and bring to the boil. Allow the concoction to boil for a good couple of minutes before straining directly into mugs with a tea strainer. Sweeten to taste with Demerara sugar.

Fresh Mint Tea (Verse Muntthee):

The best mint tea I have ever tasted was last June in the heart of Amsterdam, at the Café de Jaren. The one and only ingredient (bar the hot water) couldn’t be simpler, I agree, but its quality, freshness, concentrated flavours and the overall presentation made it perfect. The clear glass tea cup held a handful of bushy mint twigs (not the paltry one or two that might have been expected) whose flavour gradually developed as I gently pressed my teaspoon against their leaves. The tea was incredibly tasty and crisp and was a pleasure for the senses. The commercially-available dry-powdered peppermint bags will definitely taste bland and vulgar after such an experience!

The mint from my herb garden!

I have tried to recreate the flavour at home with my organic home-grown mint, unfortunately the aphids and other garden pests which I found drowned in my cuppa were a bit of a turn-off, despite the twigs having been washed… Also it appears that my mint is just not as aromatic as the one from the café.

Café de Jaren, Nieuwe Doelenstraat 20, 1012 CP Amsterdam.

Hot Chocolate:

Travelling back in time again, a good decade ago to be precise, I experienced not just hot chocolate from the high street, but Café Thorntons’ hot chocolate, according to a method which they have since unfortunately streamlined. Back in the day, indulgence was the secret ingredient for this particular drink (I think it used to be called Continental Hot Chocolate, but don’t take my word for it!)

The hot chocolate was made pretty much like it is today, except that at the end of the process the café assistant would take a thimble-size chocolate cup out of the fridge, fill it up with double cream and then drop it gently into the hot chocolate, for that final oomph! And like today, the drink was accompanied by one of Thorntons' individual chocolate creations, boosting the total chocolate intake to chocolate heaven levels! I used to enjoy this as part of a weekly lunchtime treat, and would float on a chocolate high for the rest of the afternoon! Bring it (back) on, Mr Thornton!

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