By Kari Travis | Echo
Coffee shops have turned into a sort of soul-sucking, fast-food routine that requires us to make half a dozen snap decisions about one cup of Joe in roughly 8.5 seconds. And contrary to the claim Tom Hanks makes in "You've Got Mail," our Starbucks experience no longer costs just $2.95, nor does it provide an "absolutely defining sense of self." Considering the fact that we might be nursing a single beverage for more than 45 minutes, the whole process is entirely too pressure-packed for our own caffeinated good.
It's this difficulty that drives us to give up all creative rights while standing in long lines for an overpriced espresso drink. We fall into a regular pattern, afraid to pour our hard earned coins into a mug of something new.
This realization might shock you, but fear not. As your self-assigned caffeine correspondent, I've taxed my wallet while tasting and collecting variations on old classics. I've also stumbled upon a surprising list of new favorites. I'm not limiting you to my overpriced Starbucks picks, either. Here you'll find the freedom to expand your horizons. And I've tried to include an idea for everyone-whether you're a chai lover, a cold beverage aficionado or an all-out coffee snob, I'm here to help you espresso yourself-all over again.
Over the counter at ... Taylor's Jumping Bean
The Peanut Butter and Jelly
An off-menu drink with a chilly start, sweet middle, nutty finish
Once you try this variation on a childhood favorite, you'll never want to turn back.
Here's how it's done. Start with a classic We Covenant and add strawberry-flavored syrup. A shot of espresso also enhances the nutty flavor. You'll be surprised by how the flavors combine to make a drinkable version of a sandwich staple.
Think I'm crazy? I thought the combo was sure to disgust me, but one of my staffers told me to try out this creative concoction. The result amazed me, and it should certainly be the comfort drink of choice when you're facing long nights and an overload of stress.Price: $5-6
Another off-menu drink with a warm start, comforting, sweet and nutty to the finish
For the sweet tooth and nut-lover alike. The drink is made of steamed milk, espresso, butterscotch, chocolate and peanut butter. Sounds a little insane, I know, but it's a combination that reminds one of warm cookies and a fuzzy blanket on a chilly day.
Price for a small: $4-5 range
Over the counter at ... Abbey Coffee Co., Marion, Ind.
Try this drink's mellow, sweet, cinnamon notes with a hint of buttery finish
Upon first sip, you'll find balanced flavor followed with a spicy kick. The rich, foamed milk adds a smooth touch. This is the perfect drink for a late night, and has the potential to perk up even the dullest of assignments.
Price for a small: $3-4 range
Chai latte over mocha
Another off-menu gem, this one with a spicy start, smooth middle, sweet finish
Don't order larger than a small of this beverage, as the cinnamon elements are strong and won't be enjoyable for more than an hour. Chocolate syrup creates perfect mocha tones, and foamed milk sustains enough mellow reflections to make this mug nothing short of the perfect marriage of spice and sweetness.
Price for a small: $3-4 range
Over the counter at ... Starbucks, Gas City, Ind.
Red, white and new
Sweet start, chocolate middle, nutty finish to this off-menu sipper
Order a white chocolate mocha and add an extra espresso shot. (If you aren't a fan of super sweet drinks, lighten up on the mocha syrup. Trust me on this one.) Add one shot of hazelnut and one shot of raspberry. If you're a sugar addict, make it two. On a final note, don't be a James Bond about your drink. You want this one stirred, not shaken.
Price for a tall: $4.50-6.50 range, depending on your preferred levels of added syrup and espresso
A calorie-loaded off-menu delight, featuring a frosty start, sweet middle, creamy, espresso finish
Here's how you get your barista to make it. Begin with a java chip frappuccino, and add a shot of espresso. Toss in one pump of toffee nut and top it off with whipped cream, caramel and mocha drizzle. I know it doesn't sound dramatic, but trust me. It is. Just don't go blaming me for the high price you'll pay to consume something this delicious.
Price for a tall: $6-7 range
Over the counter at ... Payne's, Gas City, Ind.
This off-menu find features a strong start, sweet middle, nutty finish
A simple drink for the espresso lover who isn't quite ready to take a straight shot. The drink is prepared with two shots of espresso and two ounces of steamed milk. This is not a choice for the weak of taste buds, but for those with a well-developed love for strong coffees, the flavor will be well loved.
This is the ideal beverage to sip on while catching up with an old friend. The four ounce size may seem insignificant, but the exceptional taste will last through a long conversation.Price: $2-3 range
Payne's Quake with Oreo
There's a creamy start, smooth chocolate middle, sweet finish in this off-menu treat
Those who have already experienced the Payne's Quake should tremble in excitement at the arrival of this updated version. A combination of cold espresso, vanilla custard, milk and Oreo crumbles, this decadent drink is more a dessert than a coffee.
(Thumbnail image: Café Miel at Abbey Coffee Co. in Marion, Ind., by Kari Travis)