Are we done with pumpkin spice lattes yet?
Because some of us are. And there are still plenty of cold days ahead for which a happy little PSL may seem sorely lacking in empathy. Should you find yourself in need of a bit of warmth and consolation concerning the upcoming winter months, consider the following hot beverage alternatives:
Chai is PSLs older, more mature cousin. Yes, you can enjoy this spiced tea latte out of a carton or powdered drink mix, but dont rule out making your own. I learned an easy method from a friend that, yes, offends all of the British rules of tea-making -- which is all the more reason to do it, right?
To make African-style chai, put equal parts water and milk into a sauce pan. Add loose-leaf black tea -- or the contents of a tea bag -- using approximately one teaspoon of tea leaves for each cup of water.
Then rummage through your spice rack and start throwing stuff in. I like the traditional cinnamon-ginger-clove combination, but nutmeg, allspice and cardamom are also good additions. The spices can be whole or ground; sometimes I even use chopped fresh ginger root. Experiment until you get the combo and potency you like.
Allow your blend to warm on the stove at a medium-low temperature for 10-20 minutes, but dont let it boil. A skin will typically form on top as it heats; this can be discarded. When the chai has steeped for at least 10 minutes and is warm, pour it into cups through a strainer. Sweeten with sugar or honey to taste.
If chai is PSLs older cousin, a London fog would be its sophisticated peer with a British heritage. This tea latte is made with Earl Grey tea and vanilla; resulting in a simple, elegant cup compared to the feisty chai.
Start by brewing one cup (the 8 oz. kind -- you want a 1:1 tea-to-milk ratio) of Earl Grey tea. While the tea is steeping, warm and froth a cup of milk in a saucepan over medium heat. Whole milk is most delicious, of course, but use what you've got. Use a whisk to froth the milk as it heats; pull it off the heat when it's hot but not boiling.
Combine the tea and frothed milk, add a splash of vanilla extract and sugar or honey to taste. You can vary the flavor by using different teas or extracts -- almond extract is also especially good. You can also use flavored syrups, which dont require the extra sweetener, but avoid fruity or tart syrups as they often contain milk-curdling citric acid.
Dark hot cocoa
There are days when a cup of liquid chocolate is in order. Those who have outgrown the super-rich hot chocolate of childhood might consider customizing their drink.
You can further customize the flavor: Add more sugar or the smallest pinch of salt if you like, or use a splash of vanilla extract or a spoonful of espresso powder to punch up the chocolate flavor. You can also add other spices or flavorings like cinnamon or chili powder. I like to turn up the heat with a pinch of red pepper flakes or, even better, a few drops of Akabanga, a hot chili oil from Rwanda.