Eccentric, Eclectic California Culinary

Cowboy-style Calabasa Cappuccino

Thirst to imbibe a velvety mug of October?  After that Halloween cookout, you surely want to stay awake and fully digest that slab of sirloin.  With a little creativity, you can lay down some al fresco barista skills and capture a cup of fall with some gourmet pumpkin-infused perk.

This time every year, The Man (in this instance, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz) starts rolling out his holiday drink line up.  Eggnog and gingerbread lattes.  Peppermint Mochas. And at Seattle’s Best (which the man also owns), Pumpkin Crème Lattes. All the marvelous tongue  titillating tastes of fall and winter infused into your daily demitasse, warming you up when you need it most. As a perk purist, I’m far from a fan of flavored coffees, aforementioned caffeine delivery service serving bean-soaked silt in siren-emblazoned Venti cups—and as an equally fusspot foodie and kitchen minimalism-monger who always prefers letting flavors speak for themselves, I honestly equate the idea to drowning a really rank meatloaf in a bottle of Heinz.  Yet the sound of sweet, savory holiday cheer-filled caffeinated excellence seemed hard not to love.  What I didn’t love, however: the sugary syrups used to give them those flavors.  No thanks.

But last winter, I stumbled upon my solution completely by chance: the Fall Harvest Pumpkin Spice Roast at Stew Leonard’s (which also seems to be Connecticut’s only place to score tri-tip).  I’m not going to lie; my pretentious palate almost got the best of me when I paused to ponder whether this farm fresh labyrinth chock full of cheeseball animatronic animals and ambient aromas of actual cheese could possibly purvey palatable perk.  Should I really buy coffee from the Disneyland of dairy stores?  Given it was cheap enough and I still had stockpiles of Lavazza sitting at home in case it didn’t work out, I figured it was worth a shot—so upon arriving home, I immediately dropped two of them, steamed some milk and free-poured a wet cappuccino.

Words cannot describe that pure sensory-orgasmic bliss in that cup.

Ground on Setting 6 in my Baratza burr grinder, this blend yielded bodied, smoky espresso with a rich crema and smooth acidity—a harmonious cornucopia of infused, intrinsic flavors rather than the sugar-coated mask which follows flavor syrups. Suddenly, flavored coffees didn’t seem so bad.

From feathery lattes to Americanos to cappuccinos garnished with nutmeg or graham cracker dust, the possibilities are ethereal and endless.  For an added boost, I recommend a hint of vanilla essence.  (A pump of Monin and Torani sugar free vanilla syrup will suffice.  For those on the Left Coast, I reccomend The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf’s no sugar added French Vanilla Deluxe powder).  To take your calabasa capp a little more hardcore, Torani offers a Pumpkin Pie syrup in sugar free and filled varieties. And if you really like to live dangerously, dump some shots over milk into your morning breakfast  cereal.  Whole grain, granola or quinoa-based bowls are probably best  for tolerating the tangy flavor (i.e., pairing with Lucky Charms probably isn’t a good idea).

Stew’s isn’t the only place selling pumpkin spice roast, but I can’t imagine there being one much better.  Despite the bag being emblazoned with a straw hat-sporting man-boy milking a smiling cow, their roasters are as serious as quadruple bypass you’d need from some of the store’s other offerings—even if they are clad in red crew neck sweatshirts straight out of a bad ’80s flick. They have three locations in the New York metropolitan area (South Norwalk, Danbury and Yonkers) and a fourth further into Connecticut.  Slave to the Grind in Bronxville and Coffee Labs in Tarrytown, a stone’s throw from Halloween’s hometown of Sleepy Hollow, are also rumored to stock a similar blend to get in spooky spirits.

My only complaint?  It’s only offered three months out of the year,  leaving me craving it for the rest!

Take a shot for yourself:

You will need:
Espresso-ground coffee
Milk of your choice
Bottled water (Purified water like Aquafina or Dasani has less mineral content and blends better than spring water)
Vanilla flavor essence (optional)
Portable espresso maker (like this one, sold at REI) or Moka pot
Battery-operated milk frother (Bodum’s Schiuma Turbo runs about $10)
Frothing pitcher (a stoneware cup can suffice)
Frothing thermometer
Cup or mug (8 or 12 oz. best)
Spoon (for foam)

Start by heating the milk. Place half-full pitcher on grill (raised to provide medium heat) and warm to 135-40ºF, pulsing at regular intervals with the frothing wand.  As milk nears proper temperature, prepare the espresso to allow for minimal sitting time. To serve, pour 1-2 shots into cup and top half with milk, using spoon to hold back foam, then fill remaining space with foam.

If you don’t want to invest in the necessary doodads, the Pumpkin Spice blend makes a mean cup of cowboy coffee which could be the base for a much easier-to-prepare caffe au lait.

Backhead compatible? Indeed, my java juggernauts!  On oil-fired locomotives equipped with damper-typed firedoors, place espresso-producing apparatus on ledge of door for fastest results.  Tallow trays and hydrostatic lubriactors work equally well—and double as great cupwarmers.

-E.J. KELLEY

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