Pros: Great flavors; lots of recipes
Cons: You’ll need to shell out for all the flavor syrups required
Rating: 4 out of 5
First published 7/26/2001
I’m a coffee wimp. I like my coffee to masquerade as dessert – lots of dairy and lots of sweetening. I also get bored easily, so I want plenty of options when it comes to coffee. My ultimate goal is to have a different coffee drink for each day of the year.
#1: A good coffee drinks book should not spend half of the book relating the history of coffee
I don’t want to pay good money to read this section over and over in every single coffee book out there. You have no idea how many coffee drink books I passed over in my search because I didn’t want to pay for this section again. This book restricts itself to precisely three small pages of history – perfectly acceptable.
#2: A good coffee drinks book should not spend half of the book explaining how to make the perfect cup of coffee
Once again – I don’t want to keep paying to read the same information over and over again. I also tossed aside a number of other potential purchases for spending too much space on this topic. This book spends two pages explaining what espresso is and how it’s being sold, two pages on the basic espresso drinks, a page on typical sizes and strengths of espresso, two pages on making espresso at home, two pages on brewing essentials (nothing new here), four pages on milk (frothed, steamed, etc.), two pages on flavor syrups (including addresses of manufacturers), and two pages on garnishes.
This may sound like a lot, until you realize that the pages are about 8 x 5.25″ with a reasonably large typeface. So, no big deal.
#3. A good coffee drinks book should acknowledge that sugar and cream are very individual tastes
Hmm. This book uses pretty standard recipes for cappuccinos, lattes, etc., as far as I can tell. It would be nice if it had more suggestions for adjusting things to your own tastes; it could be better in this area. On the other hand, at least flavor syrups dissolve easily in cold liquid, so it’s easier to adjust the sweetening than with plain sugar.
#4. A good coffee drinks book should also be a good cookbook
This one measures up pretty well. It gives concise directions and clear amounts. The layout is clean and easy to read. On the other hand, it requires some very specific ingredients – flavor syrups – which aren’t always easy to find, which are expensive if you want more than a few, and for which there are no good substitutes.
#5. A good coffee drinks book should have endless possibilities
This is the first coffee drinks book in my series that has come close to fulfilling this requirement. Although it’s a pain to find all the flavor syrups, once you have them you can mix them in nigh-endless variety.
This is the thing that kept this book from being a 5-star book instead of a 4-star book. I know that the authors could not have achieved such variety without the inclusion of flavor syrups and alcohols in the recipes. However, it also makes this cookbook fairly inaccessible to the casual coffee-drink-experimenter. The number of recipes you can make use of is directly limited by the number of syrups and alcohols you’re willing to purchase. Since most of them have to be bought in large bottles, you’ll find yourself spending a lot of money for something that you might well not use up unless you’re a real flavored coffee fiend.
If you don’t have a store that sells these things near you, try Da Vinci Gourmet (this is one of the companies listed in the book – they sell their product on line). I was able to find most of the flavors there, and some of them are also available in smaller bottles in case you want to experiment a bit. I would guesstimate that in order to get a decent collection going you’ll need to outlay about $100. If you’re willing to do this you can have an awful lot of fun. But if you don’t make many coffee drinks, this may seem like a real waste.
Of course a little creativity can help this if you enjoy experimentation. For example, a half tablespoon of apple syrup goes wonderfully in iced green tea. A tablespoon of caramel syrup mixed with fresh blueberries and some half-and-half makes a fantastic dessert. Two tablespoons of peppermint or creme de menthe syrup stirred into cold milk is a wonderful cooling summer drink, and of course the syrups are delicious over pancakes or waffles.
A note on espresso machines
Yes, these recipes use espresso shots and steamed milk in them. If you don’t want to buy an espresso machine just use strong coffee and either half-and-half or milk.
The book claims that the machines range from $100 to $700. It’s woefully out of date. They now go up to at least $2400. Unless you have money to throw away or plan to serve your entire neighborhood, there’s no need to buy one that expensive.
What, you actually want to know what this stuff tastes like? Sheesh, you want everything, don’t you?
I’ll go over three of the recipes I like in detail, and then list a few others for you to give an idea of what else is here. Oh, you want to know about the recipes I didn’t like, as well? Sorry. There aren’t any!
White Chocolate-Macadamia Cappuccino: Yumm! I’ve found that about 2.5 ounces of flavor syrup is perfect for a large mug of coffee, and that’s the amount most of these recipes call for, incidentally. This one calls for white chocolate (the real stuff, but Da Vinci does carry white chocolate syrup instead), macadamia nut syrup, espresso, steamed milk, whipped cream (although I often omit this), and vanilla powder for garnish. Wonderful stuff! The flavors are subtle but delicious.
Macadamia nut, by the way, is one of the flavors that show up a lot in this cookbook, so it’s a good one to purchase. Same with chocolate and chocolate fudge.
Caramel Apple Cappuccino: What else can I say? Apple syrup, caramel syrup, vanilla syrup, espresso, steamed milk… It’s absolutely heavenly!
As a note, 1 fluid oz = 2 tablespoons. This is a useful conversion to know when using this cookbook!
Caramel Nut Latte: Another fairly subtle drink with a deep chocolate flavor. Not all of these recipes rely exclusively on flavor syrups, by the way: this one makes use of ice cream toppings as well.
The recipes also start off with a brief introduction that expresses anything from a brief historical tidbit (“Beethoven was said to be so fussy about his coffee that he counted the individual beans – 60 per cup!”) to a recipe note (“Honey makes a wonderful sweetener for lattes”) to odd descriptions of weird T-shirts the authors have seen.
All in all this is a wonderful cookbook. If you’re not willing to lay out the money for the flavor syrups, however, it just isn’t worth it. If you are, you can experience such wonderful treats as: Almond Butterscotch Latte, Peanut Butter & Banana Latte, Apple Pie Latte, Anniversary Cappuccino, Holiday Eggnog Latte, Cafe Bavarian, Rocky Road Mocha, Sunrise Smoothie, and Espresso Chocolate Chip Mint Float.