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Old 07-08-2010, 12:37 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Complicated Coffee: Do You Do It?

This piece popped up on Serious Eats today:
Having It Your Way: Is Too Much Choice Ruining Coffee? | Serious Eats



Minimal menu at Stumptown in New York City. [Photograph: Erin Zimmer]

Quote:
Sitcoms have featured story lines about it; stand-up comics do bits about it; people even joke about it across the counter as they do it. But to the highly trained, expert barista, "Extra-shot, half-caf, vanilla, 1 percent milk iced latte with not too much ice," sounds startlingly like, "Super-sized, hold the pickles, extra cheese, mustard no mayo, two slices of tomato on the side. Oh, and coleslaw instead of fries, but only if there aren't any raisins in it."

Are we as a culture so used to having it Your Way (TM) that we forget there might occasionally be establishments where someone hand-crafts what we order? (As a barista friend of mine says, you can't order a Big Mac at your local mom-and-pop burger joint... right?) We've long taken for granted the fact that chefs are allowed to get their backs up when someone cannibalizes their menu, but when does making substitutions on a regular ol' coffee order cross the line from easy-to-accommodate (e.g. soy milk for whole milk) into build-it-yourself territory? And should we care?

Obviously there are coffee shops that take greater culinary care than others when devising a menu. This is usually apparent by the sheer number of offerings—or lack thereof. A good rule of thumb is that the more things a cafe makes available out of the gate, the more amenable they'll likely be to your "super complicated" drink order. (Hint: count the number of products with "-ccino" at the end. If there's more than one, you're probably in the right place to mix-and-match.) But if the cafe you've wandered into has fewer than ten coffee drinks listed (and fewer than three sizes to choose from), chances are they mean for you to pick one and stick with it.

"No substitutions" policies at coffee shops can be controversial, but they're not necessarily confrontational. At Ninth Street Espresso, one of Manhattan's premier third-wave joints, a gentle-but-firm "Please order from the menu" clause is prominent on a posted list of house rules. (The list also includes, "No cell phones at the counter—an offense that steams even the most patient baristas.) Then again, there was that little espresso-over-ice scandal a while back... but let's not bring that back up.

Don't get me wrong: I'm all for being accommodating, and I believe that hospitality is one of the great forgotten arts. There's nothing nicer than getting exactly what you've asked for—especially something as small and potentially perfect as a great cup of coffee—and with a smile, to boot. But as a professional barista whose mission is to expose people to the most delicious, authentic, high-quality coffee drinks imaginable, I want my customers to trust me to give them something they'll fall in love with—as is.

Do you have an off-menu drink you always order, and have you ever run into the substitution problem?
One of my favorite comments was this one:
Quote:
When I first walked into a Stumptown, I was taken aback at the perceived discouragement from ordering "fancy shmancy custom stuff". However, I realized the reason I tend to order those things in the first place is because the actual coffee (or espresso) itself is so underwhelming at many places that it needs add-ins. However, at Stumptown, the coffee and espresso are insanely flavorful - I am happy they didn't indulge my frou-frou tendancies to beef up my order with needless calories. I think a good cafe can insist customers order from the menu if they have the strong standalone product to back it up.--HMG
I thought this user made a good point. I'm not a big fan of elaborate coffee drinks, to be honest. About as froufrou as I get is an iced latte in summer. Of course, as the above said--this totally depends on the coffee. If my only option is Starbucks, I'll usually have them add a shot of vanilla or caramel if I'm getting a latte, but even then, I usually opt for drip. Why would I order coffee only to disguise the coffee's flavor?

So how about you? How do you like your cup of joe?
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Old 07-08-2010, 12:44 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Black with a metric ton of sugar. If it's good coffee, only a half a ton.

My cold coffee drinks are simple, soy milk, sugar, cold coffee concentrate.

Then again, I rarely drink coffee.
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Old 07-08-2010, 01:20 PM   #3 (permalink)
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It's all about the con panna.


Except I like mine in reverse: whipped cream with a shot poured over. Basically a desert.
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Old 07-08-2010, 01:31 PM   #4 (permalink)
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That reminds me of one of my favorite coffee drinks not mentioned in the piece: affogato.



Our gelateria here lets you pick whatever flavor you like, and there are many flavors that marry well with espresso.
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Old 07-08-2010, 01:37 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Iced chai this summer, otherwise just chai. I work(ed) for a coffee company that makes insanely good flavored coffees, so if I really want coffee (not usually a good idea, since the caffeine is ridiculous for me), I make some of their Highlander Grog and just add plenty of milk and sugar to taste.

I've never gotten into fancy coffees, largely because I don't know what a lot of the terms mean, so I would have no idea what I'm ordering..
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Old 07-08-2010, 01:55 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Variety is the spice of life.

I like:
Americano
Cafe au lait
Caffe latte
Cafe mocha
Cappuccino
Irish coffee
Macchiato

Also:
French pressed
Drip brew
Espresso

And there are several other things I still have yet to try. I recently started making Cafe Cubanos, which are basically espresso, but with cane sugar added to the cup before pressing it.

I like it black, I like it with cream no sugar, I like it "double double."

I like it with breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and in the evening. I like it any time.

Coffee, your the devil.
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Old 07-08-2010, 03:38 PM   #7 (permalink)
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I order a medium double sugar single cream when at a Timmies, double double when I'm in some other chain joint.

Any reasonable coffee place that seems to make proper coffee (Starbucks is included here) either I ask for a small dark or an americano with room for cream - and then I adulterate it with sugar and cream to taste. Those coffee shops seem to use American sizes - a small is almost the same size as a Canadian medium or large.

My Lady's brother has a nice espresso machine, so I drink double espresso with a small spoon of sugar when visiting. The only other time I really drank much espresso was in France. They didn't make North American coffee where I was.

My Lady had me try a couple of lattes and such like stuff - it tastes thin, almost wrong. Any flavour shots add to the wrongness in my opinion. Flavours are for ice cream.

Haven't had a tea for years, even though I used to drink 3 or 4 cups a day.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Baraka_Guru View Post
*snip*...

Coffee, your the devil.
oooh man - just had to note the "your" Baraka
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Old 07-08-2010, 04:01 PM   #8 (permalink)
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mmmmm coffee

I actually get so overwhelmed when I see all the choices that I end up with a regular coffee, milk and sugar. There are way too many things to pick from. I just take the easy way out.

Occasionally, I will get a cafe mocha from Starbucks, but only when I have a gift card.
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Old 07-08-2010, 05:54 PM   #9 (permalink)
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I like those dark bitter beans you grind up and add to very hot water for a few minutes before pushing down on the pressing mechanism. Sometimes I add sugar.

I'm proud to say I have no idea what a latte is.
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Old 07-08-2010, 06:24 PM   #10 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kramus View Post
oooh man - just had to note the "your" Baraka
Might I point out your negligence in leaving out not one but two commas to indicate a direct address?

If your going to chastise me, at least get your punctuation straight while doing it.
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Old 07-08-2010, 09:15 PM   #11 (permalink)
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I do not drink coffee for the taste, I've never had one that I could stand. I drink it for the caffeine and it includes a boat load of sugar and milk/creamer

that said, some of them still taste like crap no matter what you put in it, so my go to coffee is either from Waffle House or Dunkin Donuts
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Old 07-08-2010, 11:48 PM   #12 (permalink)
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I just like my coffee black and murky...

...yeah it may be boring but I just can't get into...hell I don't have a clue what anything on the menu in the op actually is. I'd probably stand there staring at trying to figure out which is the plain old coffee, only to order and be handed some giant mug full of whipped cream, sprinkles and fire crackers or some shit and be left wondering "d, do I drink it it or use a spoon?" I'm just fine with a 50 cent cup of sludge from a greasy spoon, at least I know what I'm getting.
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Old 07-09-2010, 04:11 AM   #13 (permalink)
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I got to do it.

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Old 07-09-2010, 04:30 AM   #14 (permalink)
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I like coffee with no cream or sugar. And if I visit Starbucks during the week I get a Venti Cafe Americano black, while on weekends I may get a Venti White Chocolate Mocha with two shots of expresso, just for kicks. I just have to ignore the fact that a Venti White Chocolate Mocha with whipped cream has at least 630 calories with 29 grams of fat.
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Old 07-09-2010, 06:01 AM   #15 (permalink)
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I take my Stumptown grand cru, freshly roasted and shipped to my house less than 24 hours later, grind what I need, seal the rest in air tight container, brew to precisely 210*F in the DeLonghi and pour into a cup with one Splenda or a teaspoon of light agave nectar. Is that complicated?
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Old 07-09-2010, 06:18 AM   #16 (permalink)
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Usually just with cream or milk but I do enjoy a cappuccino when i'm feeling indulgent or it's on offer. I find a cappuccino to be a really nice way to finish a meal when at a nice restaurant.

I don't add sugar or syrups and stay away from flavoured varieties because I find them too cloying.

Will, I'm surprised by your pride in ignorance. It,s just a drink.
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Old 07-09-2010, 06:34 AM   #17 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by fresnelly View Post
Will, I'm surprised by your pride in ignorance. It,s just a drink.
Yeah, it's a shame because it's a good drink.

I mean, I love 80+% cocoa dark chocolate....but I also love German chocolate cake.
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Old 07-09-2010, 07:13 AM   #18 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by noodle View Post
I take my Stumptown grand cru, freshly roasted and shipped to my house less than 24 hours later, grind what I need, seal the rest in air tight container, brew to precisely 210*F in the DeLonghi and pour into a cup with one Splenda or a teaspoon of light agave nectar. Is that complicated?
No, that's beautiful.

Do you use a burr or blade grinder? I switched up to a burr grinder last year and I've never been happier.
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Old 07-09-2010, 11:32 AM   #19 (permalink)
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I love strong roast espresso - large sized, hot and strong.

At work I drink instant coffee black and large sized, probably about 150% stronger than most people like.
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Old 07-09-2010, 12:20 PM   #20 (permalink)
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Burr grinder only, snowy.
It's awesome. Set at 29 for the Kenyan grand cru, 31 when we have Yirgacheffe, and 28 with most other kinds.
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Old 07-09-2010, 02:37 PM   #21 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Wes Mantooth View Post
I just like my coffee black and murky...

...yeah it may be boring but I just can't get into...hell I don't have a clue what anything on the menu in the op actually is. I'd probably stand there staring at trying to figure out which is the plain old coffee, only to order and be handed some giant mug full of whipped cream, sprinkles and fire crackers or some shit and be left wondering "d, do I drink it it or use a spoon?" I'm just fine with a 50 cent cup of sludge from a greasy spoon, at least I know what I'm getting.
QFT
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Old 07-09-2010, 09:52 PM   #22 (permalink)
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I don't like milk, nor sweetness in coffee.. So that reduces my options a lot. But I like it that way, since I get to taste the coffee itself . The only variation for me is the brewing method. I don't like drip coffee much... But espresso / french press / turkish / pourover are all good.

Although, I do get an espresso con panna once a year maybe .
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Old 07-09-2010, 10:41 PM   #23 (permalink)
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I like 2 shots of espresso over ice with peligrino. Kind of like a sparkling americano. Otherwise, just black is fine...if it's not good enough to drink black, I don't want it.
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Old 07-09-2010, 10:50 PM   #24 (permalink)
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Hmmm coffee, peligrino and ice? That actually doesn't sound half bad right now.
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Old 07-09-2010, 10:52 PM   #25 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Wes Mantooth View Post
Hmmm coffee, peligrino and ice? That actually doesn't sound half bad right now.
Yes, I'm intrigued.
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Old 07-09-2010, 10:56 PM   #26 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Baraka_Guru View Post
Yes, I'm intrigued.
Indeed, if only I had coffee, peligrino and ice on hand I might give it a shot.
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Old 07-09-2010, 11:00 PM   #27 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Wes Mantooth View Post
Hmmm coffee, peligrino and ice? That actually doesn't sound half bad right now.
It's like the Guinness of coffee!
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Old 07-09-2010, 11:05 PM   #28 (permalink)
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Quote:
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It's like the Guinness of coffee!
Well you can't go wrong with that, the Guinness of anything pretty much means I'll be consuming it somehow Can you use just plain old folgers coffee or do you need something specific?

(oddly enough I just cracked open a Guinness at the very second I read that how bizarre)
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Old 07-09-2010, 11:41 PM   #29 (permalink)
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Wes, if you make it really strong, you could probably use regular coffee. I use espresso shots so it isn't so diluted.
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Old 07-10-2010, 05:41 AM   #30 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by telekinetic View Post
Wes, if you make it really strong, you could probably use regular coffee. I use espresso shots so it isn't so diluted.
So how much peligrino are we talking here? What's the approximate ratio?
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Old 07-10-2010, 07:44 AM   #31 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Baraka_Guru View Post
So how much peligrino are we talking here? What's the approximate ratio?
Ice in a large cup (size of the Starbucks large), add two shots, fill the rest of the way up. So...1:4 or 1:5?
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Old 07-10-2010, 09:57 AM   #32 (permalink)
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never.

I don't like to pay that much for a cup of coffee. In Europe, I enjoy their coffee much better than the "dirty brown water" we have here. Here, I enjoy a cup of coffee on the weekends from time to time.

Simple, coffee regular.
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Old 07-11-2010, 06:39 PM   #33 (permalink)
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Just a side note. I was a manager for *$ in Seattle, and man, can people there get really feckin uptight about their drinks. I constantly told my staff "It's only coffee...". One thing the HQ always threw at us was that Japan *$ always hit exactly on the service time standards... always... everytime... So now I live in Japan and I know why. The Japanese order strictly off the menu. Oh, maybe occasionally someone gets a wild hair and orders a double shot, but by and large, it's no-brainer, off the menu, do it in your sleep coffee orders off the menu. Feck... let those J-baristas try a week in a Seattle *$... they'd go postal...
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Old 07-11-2010, 09:33 PM   #34 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ratman View Post
Just a side note. I was a manager for *$ in Seattle, and man, can people there get really feckin uptight about their drinks. I constantly told my staff "It's only coffee...". One thing the HQ always threw at us was that Japan *$ always hit exactly on the service time standards... always... everytime... So now I live in Japan and I know why. The Japanese order strictly off the menu. Oh, maybe occasionally someone gets a wild hair and orders a double shot, but by and large, it's no-brainer, off the menu, do it in your sleep coffee orders off the menu. Feck... let those J-baristas try a week in a Seattle *$... they'd go postal...
Interesting anecdote, Ratman! Thanks for sharing.
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Old 07-11-2010, 10:04 PM   #35 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by telekinetic View Post
Wes, if you make it really strong, you could probably use regular coffee. I use espresso shots so it isn't so diluted.
Thanks, I'll give it a shot!
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Old 07-12-2010, 04:42 PM   #36 (permalink)
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Location: S.E. PA in U Sofa
Gold Coast Blend beans, ground Turkish (typically the finest adjustment on industrial grinders).
Five scoops (~10 tablespoons) in a #4 Melitta cone
Pour in just under 2 cups of near boiling water
Catch in mug
Drink

occasional option: little splash of whole milk


PS: I've tried all sorts of beans from roasters around the country, but these Starbucks Gold Coast Blend beans have been my favorite for about the last couple years. It's nice and strong and this method seems to bring out the natural sweetness and smoothness, sugar is never needed.
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Old 07-13-2010, 05:50 AM   #37 (permalink)
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Location: In the land of ice and snow.
For me, a cup of coffee is like a cigarette (back when I smoked regularly). When I need one, I'll take pretty much whatever I can get, including gas station coffee and church brown-water. When given the choice, I prefer a freshly brewed cup of anything made from freshly ground whole beans. In the warmer months, it's iced anything, but especially cold press. I usually take it black or with a bit of soy or rice milk.

I think that coffeeshops that aren't willing to modify their drinks for their customers are lame, though I understand why they don't want to modify their drinks.
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Old 07-13-2010, 08:03 AM   #38 (permalink)
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I know a guy (Yosef) at work who returns to Ethiopia each Christmas to be with his parents. His parents are coffee farmers, so Yosef always brings back a few bags of green beans. Since I help him out in the gym setting up (he's blind as well) He brings me baggies of the good stuff.

So we always have a mason jar full of freshly roasted beans straight from a farm in Ethiopia. Since we roast them ourselves on a cookie sheet in the oven, they are usually done a little bit dark and end up tasting rich like an Americano.

I also like to spend 2 dollars on a small coffee at this place:

Coffee Shop | JetFuel Coffee Shop


The Jet Fuel Coffee Shop in Cabbagetown. Their small coffee is an Americano with some really nice crema.
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Old 07-13-2010, 09:55 AM   #39 (permalink)
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coffee; hot and black. when i need fancy, 2 shots of espresso. That's is, soooooooooo boring i know!!
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Old 07-13-2010, 12:01 PM   #40 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Baraka_Guru View Post
So how much peligrino are we talking here? What's the approximate ratio?
Update:

Before: (that's all espresso + ice in starbuck's biggest iced cup)


After:

(excuse the bad lighting, you can ALMOST see the 1" or so of head on top)

If you like black coffee, you can drink it with nothing added, otherwise add some milk--it doesn't need any sugar, even if you normally put sugar in your coffee, the carbonation in concert with milk takes care of that for you.
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