Confession: Simple syrup saved me.
I was an awful bartender. If a drink involved anything more than pouring a glass of red wine or mixing vodka, tonic and a lime wedge, I was a train-wreck. I once tried (unsuccessfully) to make a Cosmo with vodka, cranberry juice, Newman’s Own lemonade and a maraschino cherry. Cosmopolitan did this not make. Until recently I had a bit of an inferiority complex about it. See, my brother Jon is an outstanding barman. He went to one of those highfalutin courses where they teach you to make popular drinks and fancy Tom Cruise-bartending tricks. My sister Allyson is a solid mixologist, as well – she makes a mean spiked-punch that involves vodka, frozen fruit and copious amounts of Diet Mountain Dew. It knocks people out.
Anyway, I could never make a decent drink until about a year ago when I started experimenting with simple syrups. I basically learned that any cocktail can be made delicious with the inclusion of sugar infused with fruits, herbs and even the occasional vegetable. You name it – apple, fig, blueberry, cranberry, raspberry, gooseberry, strawberry-basil, ginger, honey, vanilla, mint, thyme, sage, cilantro, even cucumber – I’ve tried it and just about anything will work.
I kind of feel like I can hold my own amongst my siblings now. I no longer bring shame to my family.
So, earlier this Summer when Allyson mentioned Starbucks had recently introduced a seasonal Orange Spice Iced Coffee, one thing was abundantly clear: cinnamon simple syrup was in my future. The original beverage called for freshly brewed iced coffee, sweetened with classic syrup, cinnamon and orange, chilled over ice.
The most basic recipe for simple syrup is one part water to one part sugar. In a saucepan, combine 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water and simmer until the sugar is dissolved, approximately 5 minutes. I have read recipes where the additional ingredient (fruit, herb, what have you) is simmered along with the sugar and water, but I prefer to pour the dissolved sugar mixture over the additional ingredient and let it steep. Allow the mixture to cool, strain and then refrigerate. Simple syrup will keep for a couple weeks.
For the Cinnamon Simple Syrup I actually eschew my earlier advice and add two cinnamon sticks as soon as the mixture begins to boil. I think this heightens the infusion and enhances the flavor.
Orange Spice Iced Coffee (Starbucks knock-off)
Prepared Iced Coffee*
1 – 2 tbsp Cinnamon Simple Syrup
Lots of ice
*I prefer Grady’s Cold Brew, which can be found at Whole Foods. You could also try this cold-brew method.
Blend coffee as directed in cocktail shaker over ice (4 oz Grady’s Cold Brew to 4 oz water).
Add cinnamon simple syrup, as much or as little as you’d like. Shake. Pour over a glass of ice, add a squeeze of fresh orange juice and garnish with the wedge. Sip.
So, put down that venti Pumpkin Spice Latte and step away. I understand it’s beloved and delicious and it’s the first day of Fall, but for now, it is still September and we’re going to be drinking steamed milk beverages for months to come. I know you’re thinking iced coffee was ‘so August’, but humor me, have one more, for old times sake.