[O]ne of the easiest ways to assert your creativity over a simple latte, cappuccino, or quite frankly any other coffee drink is to mix up a batch of simple syrup. An ingredient used widely in the cocktail world, from the French 75 to the Margarita, simple syrup is like a blank slate: sugar and water, integrated together. It’ll keep for at least a month in the fridge, too, an asset when you’re experimenting or batching coffee drinks.
An ingredient used widely in the cocktail world, from the French 75 to the Margarita, simple syrup is like a blank slate.
The creativity enters when you ponder the endless possibilities for infusion. Fruits, berries, herbs, roots, spices, and other syrups/spirits/liqueurs can all be added in any combination. One of my all-time favorite coffee drinks is the Rosemary Iced Breve from Benetti’s Coffee Experience in Raytown, Missouri. I’m not giving away any secrets here because it’s Benetti’s unique espresso preparation that marries the drink’s elements, but it’s just an iced breve latte with rosemary simple syrup integrated.
Infused simple syrup is also one of the easiest ways to cater to seasonal palates. For fall and winter, a simple latte can become a festive and warming drink offering comfort akin to a hot toddy. In “Creating the Winter Café,” Fresh Cup explores such recipes, noting that many seasonal specialty drinks use creatively infused syrups as a backbone. What spices and herbs do you associate with the cold-weather months? Ginger root and black peppercorn? Cinnamon bark, tamarind, nutmeg? Go wild with your imagination and incorporate some less obvious combinations, or snatch inspiration from other seasons—fresh mint, marionberry, lime zest, tarragon, cucumber—knock yourself out! Try local botanicals, fruit from your backyard, baby ginger from faraway lands. Here’s a basic recipe you can modify any way you choose:
Basic Simple Syrup
1 part water
1 part sugar (And kind: super fine, regular white, brown, demerara, coconut palm sugar.)
Any flavor additions. Proportions for these vary—for an herb like rosemary, try four sprigs to one cup water and one cup sugar, then alter in subsequent versions based on strength. For the same amounts of water and sugar, try three sticks of cinnamon, three plump apricots, three cracked green cardamom pods, or half a lemon plus zest. Obviously these are simply to give you a springboard to experimentation. (Note: For a richer simple syrup, use two parts sugar to one part water, or experiment with other proportions.)
Do this one of two ways: Either put the sugar and water in a jar together and shake it until the sugar dissolves, or put both in a saucepan and heat slowly until the sugar dissolves completely.
Keep in mind that infusion will happen more quickly if you use the stovetop method. Steep your additions until the flavor is as strong as you like, then remove. That’s all! If you use the cold-steeping method, you’ll need to macerate the add-ins and prepare to be patient.
—Emily McIntyre is a regular contributor to Fresh Cup. Photos by Cory Eldridge.