Monday 23 March 2015

40 Days of Starbucks Alternatives

Anyone who knows me now, can attest to the fact that I am a Starbucks addict. My addiction started about five years ago and only worsened once a drive through was opened less then 10 minutes from my house. What would surprise many people is the fact that A) I don't really drink coffee (maybe 5 cups of coffee per year) B) I don't drink many espresso beverages (maybe 30 lattes per year) and C) I used to hate Starbucks.

Yup it’s true, the Starbucks addict once hated the brand that has become the elixir of life. It started back when I was at Niagara College and my friend Brittney and I would drive to Starbucks every day. Initially it was her choice, but soon I was enjoying the beverages just as much as she was. When I moved back home my Starbucks habit continued and I was making multiple trips a week for my fix. My go-to drink is a non-fat no-water chai latte… I find this comforting, warm and just my happy place. At Christmas I LOVE an occasional ristretto, half-caf all Egg Nog latte and this year became addicted to the Chai Nog latte which was a combination of Chai and Egg Nog. In the spring my favorite indulgence has been the Mocha Coconut Frapp (which hasn’t come back this year) or the caramel flan latte. In the fall I will have an occasional salted caramel mocha or a caramel apple spice, and often for breakfasts a strawberry protein smoothie. I wasn’t kidding about the addiction…. Just writing this post makes me want Starbucks!

My addiction was so crazy earlier this year that when my goddaughter brought up Lent, I knew I needed to prove to myself – and everyone else – that I could take a 6 week break from Starbucks. It was hard - especially since Brian and I drove down to Maryland during that time – but it was a success!

I made it into a fun challenge to step outside my Starbucks zone and try other café alternatives. Fun fact…. The Pickering/Ajax area has a number of cafes that I didn’t even know existed until recently.

Here are a few of my notes.  

Independent Canadian Places

Queen Beans (Port Perry): The hot chocolate wasn't memorable – it tasted like cheap powder mixed with some milk. They also had a strange concept of chai latte as they talked about it being a cup of chai tea mixed with a little milk. I dumped both out.

Piano Cafe (Port Perry): While I didn’t really enjoy the food they made an excellent chai latte. It reminded me of a café I used to work at that made amazing chai lattes. I will definitely be coming back here for drinks! 

Ray's Café (Pickering): Very cool atmosphere and they made an awesome chai latte. Tasted rich and had the hint of spice that I enjoy. I will go back here and try some of their other drinks.

Debbie’s Boutique Café (Ajax): I liked this place a lot. Not only did they have board games you could play, but they also had a great drink/desert menu. The hot chocolate was really good, but I didn’t really like the lattes – a little too sugary sweet for me. This is a must-return too and the staff are super friendly as well.

Canadian/American Chains

Panera: Their chai latte is just okay. Not good but not horrible.

McDonald's: Excellent hot chocolate, it tastes very rich and yummy. Their Mocha is also good but according to Brian it’s “recipe driven but with no heart”. I don’t know what a heartless mocha tastes like, but apparently Brian does and McDonalds makes one.   

American Chains & Independent Locations  

Caffe Bean: Makimono meets Starbucks. Very Asian inspired in drinks and food. Mocha doesn't combine well - low quality ingredients and tastes chemical. There is a burnt coffee taste in their drinks. Aztec Hot chocolate horrible - no taste besides a super dark chocolate. Whipped cream kind of lumpy and tasteless.

Bean Hallow (Ellicott City, MD) Mocha was okay – not wroth the money, it’s better to just get coffee there. They use too much regular milk rather then steamed milk – so you end up feeling very full afterward. Nutty Irishman not what I anticipated but good. Without espresso it was a milk steamer with Irish cream and hazelnut. Tasted like Nutty Irishman drink but warm and non-alcoholic. This place was a bit pricey but their biscotti was worth it!

Little French Market (Ellicott City, MD): OMG I wish I lived closer (well of course I wish I lived closer to see Brian’s family more) but this comes in as a secondary reason. The Santa's Hat was hot chocolate with cayenne pepper and it was amazing. It has this spicy bite at the end with a lush chocolate taste. The Peppermint Chai was a vanilla chai latte with peppermint syrup, and it was incredible! vanilla chai is a bit sweeter with less spice then Starbucks and the peppermint syrup adds something nice. I may have to try this at Starbucks! Junk Girl Java – which was Brian's drink – and had a salted caramel taste after each sip. Now that moacha had heart!

Dunkin Donuts: I like their coffee but nothing else (but I fully admit I have low coffee standards). The almond hot chocolate was horrible – very watery, tasteless.

Einstein Brothers Bagels: The hazelnut hot chocolate was made with machine and tasted watery and powdered.  The Mocha was also machine made and similar to Tim Horton’s.   

Soul Full Cup Coffee House (Corning, NY) Turkish coffee was not good - used regular grind not special Turkish roasted grind. Tasted like espresso with beans left in. Hot chocolate was okay - but not anything special. I could make better at home. Service was fantastic! 

Poppelton Bakery (Corning, NY) - Sipping chocolate was incredible. Rich, delicious, and everything sipping chocolate should be.

Old world Ice Cream and Café (Corning, NY) – The mocha got a Brian shrug. It was cold and tasted just okay – apparently another heartless mocha!

Max Brenner: The Italian hot chocolate was incredible as was the white chocolate chai tea. The mocha tasted more like a hot chocolate but everything was yummy, indulgent, rich and chocolaty – just as you would expect a chocolate store to be! I adore this place and am thrilled there is one near my sister-in-laws house. I told Brian Max Brenner will be completing all of our MD trips from now on.  

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