Food

High and Cold (brew): A Love Story

Anyone who says they cannot be bribed simply doesn’t understand what their price is.  Everyone has something important to them, and therefore would be willing to give up that which is less important in order to obtain the item of utmost importance.  I suppose perhaps a person’s integrity might be the most important thing, therefore rendering them physically unbribable, but that would make me question their lack of transcendently important things such as: family, children, coffee, and (of course) love.  Point being everyone has a price.

So with all that said, this post has nothing to do with any sort of bribery, (as much as it may sound like it at certain points.)

I discovered cold brew coffee in my hometown of Seattle.  Tully’s coffee is more prevalent up there than it is in Florida (where I reside now) and they offer it mixed with some kind of “Madagascar Vanilla” that makes for a really tasty combo.  I liked it better than my typical iced coffee at the time, but didn’t realize exactly how special it was.  Maybe because of the vanilla, maybe because I wasn’t paying attention.  Probably a little of both.

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Cold Brew – Looks like science!

For those not yet introduced to cold brew, it’s essentially what it sounds like.  It’s coffee, but it’s never introduced to heat.  So in essence, the ground coffee beans are steeped in water so that it can absorb the flavor and caffeine.  The upside to this is a FAR less acidic and smoother cold coffee.  The downside is that in this case heat is replaced with time.  So making your own “instant” cold brew is impossible (though it IS easy to buy it instantly…  we’ll get to that in a few.)  A typical batch of cold brew takes around 20-24 hours to brew, but it’s well worth it.  Added benefit to those of us who are caffeine junkies, is that the longer you steep the cold brew, the stronger the caffeine content (to the point where even the adventurous addicts find themselves cutting it with water or some kind of milk.)

Even a couple of years ago, cold brew was nowhere to be found in Florida (at least, not that I and the general population here was aware of.)  I figured it was a Northwest/Seattle thing since coffee is a cultural obsession there.  But then I heard that Starbucks was test-marketing cold brew in it’s stores and I became very, very excited.  Of all places, surely Florida, the only state that competes with Hell for total heat and humidity was deserving of this cold brew!  Naturally, I was wrong.  Of all places, primarily the northern territories (including New York, Boston, and Seattle) were the test markets.  Why?  Who knows?  Population maybe?  Regardless a friend of mine working for Starbucks told me there was no sign we would see it in Florida anytime soon, and every other barista I asked agreed or didn’t even know what cold brew was.  So my enthusiasm was curbed, but I kept asking from time to time.

Finally, I was in Miami for a job interview last year and I randomly decided to ask the barista in Starbucks about cold brew… the answer was pure hope: “Oh yeah, we’ve already got some of the materials in, we’re just waiting for the next shipment.  Probably have it next week.”  Wait.. WHAT?  I asked again and was assured it was true.  Cold Brew had finally made it to Florida.

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Starbucks Trenta Cold Brew: Sleep is not an option.

What followed was months of extreme caffeine and discovery.  I learned that I didn’t need
to mix anything with cold brew and it was far more potent than an equal amount of iced coffee.  Then another friend who manages Starbucks clued me in on the potency of cold brew.  It was so strong that Starbucks HQ gave them strict orders to cut it in half with water.  So what I had been drinking and buzzing off of was only half strength!  As a regular I eventually convinced the folks at my Starbucks to serve me full strength for my overnight Uber runs.  The taste obviously took some getting used to (it is VERY potent stuff) but it kept me buzzing all the way through an overnight Uber run with some to spare for the next night.  It was my go-to for many months until I returned to fulltime work and found my caffeine needs reduced.

Regular coffee has been so easy to come by now that I had only sought regular, cut cold brew on days I needed that extra pick me up.  That was, until, I found High Brew brand cold brewed coffee.   I randomly saw High Brew on sale at Target one day when I was searching for a companion to my lunch sandwich.  It was on sale, and I was intrigued by the idea of canned, single-serve cold brew, so I thought I would give it a try.  As is typical of me, I snapped a picture of this experience, and a member of the Highbrew marketing team commented on my photo.  My one lament was that the Mocha flavor I tried had dairy milk, and I prefer my coffee either black, or with an alternative milk such as coconut or almond milk.  Fortunately they responded that they did, in fact, have a “Black and Bold” version and would happily send me a sample if I dropped them a line via e-mail.  Of course I jumped on the opportunity.

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Social marketing at it’s best!

Weeks later my “sample” arrived, and let me tell you, the folks at Highbrew know their social marketing.  They sent me several cans of the “Black and Bold” version to try, along with several more certificates good for a free can, along with a personalized note from the girl who commented on my instagram (Thank You April!)  Also, High Brew gets a ton of points for originating in Austin, TX (the coolest city in Texas and one of the coolest in the country.)

So naturally I did three things with my samples: 1. I searched for places I could use my free coupons (target doesn’t carry the black and bold I like!)  2. I tried the other flavors (all are good, but the milk kills it for me.)  and 3. I did a taste test between a can of Highbrew black and bold and fresh Starbucks cold brew with a comparable amount of sweetener (Three pumps of classic, to be fair.)  Here’s how it went:

Taste: High Brew

At first High Brew seems almost a little watered down, but that’s a part of it’s consistent drinkability and flavor.   Starbucks suffers from an inconsistency depending on the brew, and often has a funky sort of aftertaste (as this one did.)  Lately I’ve been ordering my Starbucks with coconut milk, which would give them a boost, but to keep it fair I’m comparing the same style.  High Brew would benefit from a dairy alternative flavor I think.

Smoothness: High Brew

As I mentioned above, High brew is SO easy to drink.  It’s best chilled, but it doesn’t have to be.  On ice as served, Starbucks is sometimes pretty close, but it tends to have more bite along with an occasional aftertaste.

Caffeine Content: Starbucks

In roughly 6 oz of Starbucks I feel more energetic than I do from the 8 oz can of High Brew.  There’s a good possibility that Starbucks is steeped longer resulting in both the stronger taste and higher caffeine content.  It certainly gets you through the day on it’s own while it (happily) takes at least two High Brew to get me through a long day (when I need this sort of intake.)

Price: Starbucks

High Brew ranges from $2.00 – $2.99 / can. (8 oz) A similar amount of Starbucks will run you about $1.62. (based on $3.25 for a 16 oz Grande)  The $2.00 price point I found for High Brew is the four-pack from my local Fresh Market where it’s been on special.  But even with that close race, you get more caffeine for your money via Starbucks.

Convenience: Tie 

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SO. MUCH. COFFEE.

Starbucks is everywhere, and High Brew is mostly in Whole Foods and similar stores.
(Target appears to be phasing some of it out, and doesn’t have Black and Bold.) However, if you can find a local distributor on their website like I did, you can get and STORE the cold brew in your fridge for first thing in the morning, backpacking, etc. So more portable and convenient form factor, which is why lately it’s been my go-to for the office. (It just so happens my boss sends me to shop for him at the Fresh Market that sells these.)

(And… After this review.. having drank both… I can see sound.)

What’s awesome about all this is that cold brew is catching on to the point that Starbucks and High Brew are only two of many options showing up on the market (including a tasty one made with almond milk!)  But even more awesome was the personalized effort by High Brew to demonstrate to a potential customer and share their brand.  I can easily say I’m sold as I buy a minimum of two four-packs a week and show no signs of slowing down.

If you’re an iced coffee drinker, I strongly recommend you try cold brew.  And if you haven’t checked out High Brew, give it a shot.  Besides the Black and Bold that I prefer, they also offer Vanilla, Mocha, Espresso and Caramel flavors with milk that are quite good.  If you decide to try it out, drop me a line and let me know what you think!

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I’m shameless, I know.

 

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Of Food and Wine (and other wonderful consumables.)

Epcot Food and WIne

One of my favorite times of year here in Florida is the fall season.  The weather is damn near perfect, the holidays are upon us and most importantly, Epcot holds it’s annual Food and Wine Festival.  As an annual pass holder this is by far my favorite Disney event of the year in what is (arguably with Animal Kingdom) my favorite of the parks.  I figured this was a great opportunity to elaborate on my love of food and drink!  I am unapologetically the guy who takes pictures of his food and posts #FoodPorn.  I’ve come to terms with the fact I may lose followers as a result of that admission.  This will probably make you hungry…

 

Soda

Though not specifically part of the festival, I wanted to highlight the “Cool Zone” as it’s one of the very rare places to get FREE unlimited soda in the parks.  (The other being the “Chase Lounge” but it’s only during Food and Wine and only for Chase card members.)  Long ago I drank soda like water, but frankly it was making me fat and causing me stomach issues, so I gave it up, dropped about 60 lbs and now only rarely partake.  I do have a bit of a weakness for Ginger Ale, and it is one of the very few things I will mix Scotch with (very rarely!!)  This Cool Zone features various Coca-Cola products from around the world.  Unfortunately they introduced a number of new flavors about a year ago (which took out the Ginger Ale!!!) leaving only Brazil’s “Kuat Guarana” worth drinking.  I remember a version of this soda from my Capoeira days!   The others are worth trying, but not regularly in my opinion.

 
Pork

So, you’ve probably already gathered I’m a carnivore.  But this grilled lamb chop from the Australia section is amazing.  The pork is cooked perfectly and slides off the bone effortlessly (impressive considering how many of these they mass produce throughout the day.)  The meat is tender and juicy, but even better is that it retains spectacular flavor while not being too gamey.  The mint pesto balances the flavor perfectly and even the “potato crunchies” (read: glorified crushed potato chips) added a nice texture in the absence of (undesirable) char.   I go back for this every year and feel it’s one of the more underrated offerings.

 
 

MahiMahi
Singapore is also an annual favorite, but not for what I got this year.  A new offering was the seared mahimahi with jasmine rice and “Singa” sauce.  Normally I’m not huge on fish that’s not in a sushi roll, however a good friend of mine demanded I try this and she was absolutely right.  The fish was good: tender, boneless and flavorful, but WOW that sauce did it.  I’m a sucker for a good sauce (I’m addicted to Ponzu…) and it really made this for me.  Add that to the cheapest (and surprisingly well paired) wine offering in the park, the Marqués de Cáceres Satinela, and you have a fantastic and flavorful snack!  I tend to prefer sweet white wines, this one was a little dry, but it balanced the fish / sauce out really well.

 

Sling

Also from Singapore is the “Singapore Sling”.  This gets it’s own section as it is in fact the reason I go back to Singapore every year.  For $8.00 you get this cup of what is essentially a combination of two alcohols: gin and “Cherry Heering”. Traditionally a “sling” was an American term for any spirit and water that was sometimes sweetened or flavored.  It seems a bartender from Singapore initially mixed some sort of cherry brandy (may or may not have been Heering) with gin and the Singapore Sling was born.  The exact recipe changes from bar to bar, but almost always involves gin and some sort of cherry flavor.  The important thing about this particular incarnation is that on Disney property you’re getting essentially 3.5 – 4 shots of liquor for roughly $2.00 a shot.  Good deal.  In past years the gin ratio was really high resulting in a really potent drink that smelled and tasted like rubbing alcohol.  This year they evened it out making it a bit weaker but much more palatable.

 

Marsala

Normally the Italy pavilion is all about the stuffed ravioli (offered every year,) but this year they had a chicken marsala that was new to the menu.  I’m a sucker for mushrooms and a good wine sauce and this did not disappoint.  Even more surprising was how tender the chicken was.  I have to hand it to Disney, not only do they have natives from each country serving the food, but they manage to perfect the cooking process enough to mass-produce really well cooked food.  I wouldn’t call it “gourmet”, but regardless really tasty!  Well about the average you could find in your average chain restaurant!

 

Cheese Platter

Cheese.  If there is any reason in the world I would hate to go vegan, it would not be giving up meat, it would be giving up cheese.  I love cheese.  I often joke that one of two things in this world will be the death of me: women, or cheese (or some freaky combination of the two.  This offering was at the “Hops and Barley” pavilion (read: USA.)  This actually had the one cheese I’m not terribly fond of: bleu cheese.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ll eat it, it’s just my least favorite in my favorite category.   However, the other two made up for it.  In the middle of the tray was a fantastic cloth-wrapped cheddar, and on the left was (my favorite of the three) soft, creamy goat cheese called “Purple Haze”.  It was so good that I think I understand why then made it’s name sound like a designer drug.

 

Frozen Martini

Next up was the France pavilion.  It is very difficult to choose here as they offer arguably the best assortment of food and drink that is, while pricey, generous and well-made.  While not the deal the sling was, this “La Passion Martini Slush” gives you more than enough to cool off in the Florida heat while a combination of (presumably mid-level) vodka and Grey Goose Le Citron helps you feel it.  It’s tasty, cold and easy to drink, so basically an expensive slurpee for adults, which is pretty fitting for this sort of event.

 
 

French Food

France has an equally wonderful selection of foods.  Most people go for the escargot, an annual favorite.  I’ve had it before, and I love the garlic, but it didn’t win me over enough to ignore other offerings (and my wallet can only handle so much!)  New this year was the “Gratin De Crozet De Savoie”  Since I have no idea what the name means, it was the description that sold me: “Wheat pasta gratin with mushrooms and Gruyere cheese.”  Carbs..?  Mushrooms? CHEESE???  SOLD!  Let me tell you, it was probably the highlight of my festival this year.  It was a pretty good serving but it was just not enough.  By now I was already quite full and I considered getting another.  Very, very good.  I hope it makes it back next year.

 
Canada is probably the winner for my kind of diet.  I’ve had the pleasure ofSteak dining there at the legitimately gourmet “Le Cellier Steakhouse” thanks to an amazing friend of mine who works at Epcot and put our names on the list months in advance.  This offering during Food and Wine is a petite version of the amazing steak I feasted on before and it does not disappoint.  Granted, it’s really hard to go wrong with a decently cooked Filet Mignon, but what you see on top is truly wonderful truffle butter accenting a bed of wild mushrooms.  Really, really good.  Compared to the full-sized, fresh cooked to order version I had, this is probably an 8 out of 10, which is pretty good considering the circumstances.  I love steak… and mushrooms… and butter.  Yum.  Also worth mentioning is the Canadian cheddar cheese soup!  However, it doesn’t photograph well (rather plain) and this was already a long entry, so ask me about it if you like (also really good!)

 

Honey Mead

My last highlights come from Ireland.  (Greece is also great, but again the presentation left a bit to be desired and that’s an important part of the package!) As I mentioned before, I prefer sweet wines so when I come across something called “Bunratty Meade Honey Wine”, it gets my attention.  You get a relatively small serving (about your average shot.. maybe a bit more) but the flavor is distinct and sweet.  Though this is not a pure mead (from honey only,) it’s a dessert wine and you can absolutely taste the honey heavily used to flavor this treat.  Most importantly the dulled bite of the white wine pairs really well with…

 

Irish Cheese

Irish cheese! I can’t resist another cheese platter, especially one offered by Kerrygold!  I’ve long been a fan of their unsalted butter (I’ve even put it in my coffee!)  This particular selection includes a Reserve cheddar, Dubliner with Irish Stout and Skellig (a slightly sweeter Irish cheddar developed specifically by Kerrygold.)  The chutney, bread and butter add substance to the platter for the price, but the cheese is exactly what you expect: quality Irish cheddar with no real surprises.  In my world, that is very, very okay. I’ve picked up this platter every year for the last three years (or more.. I don’t remember…) and I will look for it next year.  If you love cheese like I do, don’t miss it.

There are many more pavilions, and probably a lot of fantastic food I didn’t try, but that’s what next year is for.  In the meantime though, if this manages to make you as hungry reading it as it made me posting it, I’ve done my job.  Unfortunately the Disney Food and Wine Festival is done for the year, but I’ll see you there next year!