It’s that time of year when we trade in our iced mocha for a steaming mug of holiday cheer. This winter season, our favorite area coffeehouses aim to entice you with these unique cold-weather drinks, recommended by our favorite — and most expert — connoisseurs.
Santa Barbara Roasting Company’s Corey Russell: RoCo Chai (Spicy Marsala)
A longtime tradition at S.B. Roasting Company, their spicy chai has been a holiday favorite for more than 20 years and a favorite memory for Corey Russell, who was introduced to chai back in the 1970s by a Santa Cruz chai maker. Cooked from scratch, Russell’s chai celebrates that tradition, while sweetening his store with spicy scents of black pepper, cardamom, star anise, and many more.
“What’s really unique about our chai is that we actually cook the chai from scratch … no prepackaged business!” said Russell. “I started the marsala chai over 20 years ago, just playing around and sampling along the way.”
Using more than 15 different ingredients, the concoction is cooked for five hours, getting the best flavor out of the spices, which include a mulling spice for extra flavor. Black tea is then brewed, and customers have the option of choosing soy, regular milk, or almond milk to finish off this tasty and spicy treat.
“Spice represents the holidays; it goes along with wintertime and the cold weather,” said Russell. “You cannot beat walking into the store and smelling fresh chai.”
S.B. Roasting Company, 321 Motor Way; 962-0320; sbcoffee.com.
Java Station’s David Bozzini: Java Nog
David Bozzini’s favorite cozy winter drink is none other than the store’s Java Nog, a delightful combination of espresso and their homemade eggnog steamed to perfection. A straightforward nod to the season, the homemade nog has been a customer favorite since its introduction at Java Station.
“If you have ever had homemade eggnog, you know that it bears no resemblance to what is sold on store shelves,” said Bozzini. “It truly is the shining star of the Java Nog.”
Made fresh three or four times a week, the nog part of the Java Nog stresses organic ingredients, from the milk and eggs to the cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and sugar. And for the java, Bozzini uses Klatch Coffee Company Espresso, one of the most highly regarded espressos in the country.
“It is imperative to pick great ingredients … it ultimately shows in the drink,” said Bozzini. “We chose a wonderful espresso and the best components to create our eggnog, then bring them together to create a flavor profile that has just one objective … to see our customer smile.”
Java Station, 4447 Hollister Avenue, Goleta; 681-0202; javastationcafe.com.
Handlebar Coffee Roasters’ Aaron Olson: Twenty-Four Blackbirds Hot Chocolate
It’s no surprise this is a popular holiday favorite. While not super sweet, the hot chocolate, which uses locally made Twenty-Four Blackbirds dark chocolate, is balanced in flavor, great with espresso and milk, or just milk … or with an added twist from fresh vanilla bean, supplied by Julienne restaurant, which is stripped down and cooked with organic sugar. Offered as an additional stand-alone flavor, the fresh vanilla is a real standout.
“We only serve our customers the best, highest-quality products,” said Aaron Olson. “Everything we serve we want to be great or we don’t serve it!”
The hot chocolate blends well with their wide range of beans, all roasted fresh on-site, while the chocolate used in the drink is left to age two to eight weeks to let the flavor settle, creating a product that is bold and inviting to the senses.
This holiday drink truly celebrates the talent of our area artisans. “Twenty-Four Blackbirds is a great local company. We have been working together with them from day one,” said Olson. “For us, supporting locally made products is important because without it, small business cannot survive.”
Handlebar Coffee Roasters, 128 East Canon Perdido Street; (719) 201-3931; handlebarcoffee.com.
French Press’s Nick Purvis: Hot Apple Cider
A classic favorite of seasoned barista (and U.S. Barista Championship national qualifier) Nick Purvis is the French Press’s hot apple cider, made with fresh juice from organic apples. The hot apple cider is steamed with lemon zest and then infused with a cinnamon stick, perfect for an evening stroll downtown.
“I think our customers love this drink because it is simple and delicious,” said Purvis. “It screams holiday cheer and is a perfect alternative if you are not looking for caffeine.”
The tartness of the apples and the steamed lemon zest pairs perfectly with the subtle cinnamon spice, adding just the right amount of holiday magic to the drink.
“What I like about our cider compared to other cider that I was raised on, and have tried at other cafes, is the light and refreshing structure of it,” said Purvis. “The apple juice we buy is relatively light compared to others I’ve tried … it’s great!”
The French Press, 1101 State Street, also 528 Anacapa Street; 963-2721.
Vices & Spices’ Cassey Booth: Coconut Pouchong Latte
Unique and exotic, this popular latte is derived from Pouchong tea, a lightly oxidized long-leaf green tea from the Yunnan Province of southern China. Combined with the sweet and fragrant essence of real coconut extract, this drink is excellent hot or cold.
“Many people come to our store for our Coconut Pouchong tea, rich in antioxidants and flavor,” said Booth. “Due to the immense popularity surrounding this tea, we created a latte to satisfy our customers’ desire for something sweet.”
Only the highest quality ingredients are used, with no artificial flavorings — Vices and Spices even sources its real coconut extract from the South Pacific. To make the drink, tea leaves are brewed through an espresso machine, making a strong concentrate. After the tea is brewed, warm milk and a touch of vanilla syrup is added to bring out the coconut flavor.
“This drink is a favorite of mine because when I am drinking it, I feel as if I am drinking coconut milk,” said Booth. “It is a very sumptuous, delightful drink.”
Vices & Spices, 3558 State Street; 687-7196; vicesnspices.com.