I got hooked on Cuban coffee during the weeks I spent in South Beach back when I had to travel to Miami every month for work. The company had an apartment about six blocks from the ocean, and around the corner from a Cuban grocery store that had a coffee bar in it. Not the kind of coffee bar you might picture if you're used to hanging out in chain coffee shops, but a coffee bar nonetheless. Even the Miami International Airport had coffee carts that served better Cuban coffee than you get where I'm from. I would barely make it off the airplane before I would head straight to a cart to get my fix. My boss would be driving round-and-round the airport to pick me up, leaving message after message on my cellphone, while I dawdled in line to get coffee.
I can't remember the first time I tried Starbucks, but I was on the road when it happened, traveling to who-knows-where. I can remember the boyfriend I had, so I can only assume we were somewhere in Atlanta, and it must have been almost ten years ago now. I don't remember being all that impressed by the over-priced cups of coffee, but their specialty drinks, like the Frappaccino, were to die for. We didn't have a Starbucks in my town for years after that, but I tried all the local coffee shops we had and finally found a very similar drink at Blue Sky, a now-defunct coffee shop from downtown Athens. Incidentally, a Starbucks opened right next to Blue Sky years after I had tried my first Frappaccino, but since Blue Sky made a comparable product, I chose to buy local and to this day have not stepped foot in the local Starbucks.
I'm not one of those People Who Hate Big Business. I went to business school, after all, and I have a hard time understanding why anyone would hate a company just because they were profitable. That is, after all, the point of a business. I hold nothing against Starbucks. Sure, their product is only average, and sure, they charge too much, but I don't think that is any reason to hate them or to protest their existence.
On the other hand, I do like to support local businesses. When I find products that are comparable in both price and quality, I will buy local rather than shopping at the chain. However, since I am cost-conscious, if quality is the only comparable trait, then I shop at the cheaper place, which sadly is usually the Big Chain Place.
All that aside, I haven't had a frozen coffee slushie drink in a loooonnnggg time. The Carnivore and I now have a mortgage and a car payment. And a Fat Baby. We also no longer have two disposable incomes, thus it would be a rare day indeed for me to go hang out at the coffee shop and blow perfectly good money on a drink.
I have settled for mediocrity in my coffee of late, but I found my saving grace in the AJC Food Section last week (or the week before - who can remember?). John Kessler, food writer and former dining critic, but still the person I want to be when I grow up, wrote an article about coffee smoothies and the search for the right instant coffee with which to make said smoothie. As always, I was fascinated by his writing, but this time I got answers as well. In his recipe, he mentioned Cafe Bustelo instant espresso, which was not something I had ever heard of, but for years (until we moved out to the country), I used Cafe Bustelo regular espresso coffee in my drip coffeemaker. It was cheap but wonderful, and was always my coffee of choice in those days. Sadly, the Big Box Store I shop at now doesn't carry Bustelo, so I have moved on to Eight O'Clock Bean French Roast for my drip coffee.
Today though, in a fit to try this recipe, I went to Publix and found Cafe Bustelo instant espresso right there on the coffee aisle. I'm pretty sure I drove too fast on my way home so that I could try out the recipe.
FROZEN COFFEE SMOOTHIE-LIKE DRINK
- Add hot water to 2 Tbs instant Bustelo to make 1/2 a cup. Stir.
- Add enough sweetened condensed milk to make one cup total. Stir vigorously.
- In a blender, mix concoction with 2 cups ice cubes.
- Stir 1 tsp more of the instant granules into the slush (these mostly dissolve, but, as Kessler says, "leave the occasional coffee bomb."
This recipe rocks. I was so excited I went straight to my mother's house, still sipping my coffee drink. Mom had just told me this morning that Pam, the funny and sweet social worker from Texas who inexplicably shares my love for my loud but oh-so-charming brother Joey, tried my other iced coffee recipe and loved it. I ran into mom's house this afternoon, triumphant, waving my cup and shouting "Call Pam. Tell her I've built a better mousetrap!"
I've beaten Starbucks. Now I just have to find a way to beat that Cuban supermarket in South Beach. Give me time...