Coffee milk is to New England kids (if my upbringing was typical) what cambric tea was to Laura Ingalls Wilder in The Long Winter. Beginner’s coffee, if you will. My progression went like this: coffee milk, Dunkin’ Donuts iced coffee with cream and sugar (please don’t melt it with a litte hot coffee, I like the crunch!), mocha Frappuccino from Starbucks when visiting Boston in eighth grade, vanilla latte from the on-campus coffee shop in college, followed by Americanos and cappuccinos galore.
You may be wondering what’s the big deal with coffee milk — is it essentially just a weaker latte with a bunch of sugar? Nope, it’s made with a coffee syrup — very similar to those for chocolate and strawberry milk. Rhode Island in particular takes their coffee milk seriously — it’s their state drink! — and it’s where Autocrat, the only coffee syrup producer I know of, is headquartered. They make three varieties — Autocrat, Eclipse and Coffee Time — with varying levels of sweetness and coffee flavor. Of those choices, Coffee Time is my favorite — it has the strongest coffee flavor — plus the packaging is pretty awesome (I love font used for the logo).
Whenever I go east for a visit I usually smuggle back a few bottle of syrup. No joke, I always leave room in my luggage (and fly Southwest, hooray free checked bags!), so I can bring back some of my favorite foods and still have room for antiques (my juice, juice, juice pitcher and cheese plate set were both from my last visit a few years ago). But I don’t get out there enough and hate paying for shipping, so it seemed like I was due to make a homemade version.
Turns out, it’s really easy to make! All it takes is some coarsely ground coffee steeped in simple syrup then strained, plus a dash of vanilla extract and generous pour of milk. The flavor? Just as mellow as the real deal — think melted coffee ice cream: sweet, creamy, mild coffee flavor. I can’t think of a much better pairing for an afternoon snack of homemade oreos, faux Hostess or Boston cream pie cupcakes!
Preparation Time: 10 minutes (plus cooling)
Makes: About 3 cups coffee milk
- 192 grams (1 cup) granulated white sugar
- 227 grams (8 ounces or 1 cup) water
- 84 grams (1 1/3 cups) coarsely ground coffee (I use an espresso blend)
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 cups milk, more or less to taste
- Ice (optional)
In a small saucepan, combine sugar and water. Bring to a boil over high heat; continue to boil, stirring once or twice, until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and slowly whisk in ground coffee (warning: it will bubble a lot, so don’t dump it in all at once). Steep for 4 minutes. Strain mixture through a fine mesh strainer, pressing down on solids; discard coffee grounds. If desired, strain again, this time through a jelly strainer bag or several layers of cheese cloth. Transfer to a clean jar or bottle, stir in vanilla extract and refrigerate — once cooled it’s ready to use. (Keeps for about a week in the fridge; reheat gently if it crystalizes).
Make coffee milk:
Stir syrup before use. For each cup of milk, stir in 2 tablespoons syrup (use more or less milk to taste). Add ice, if desired (for whatever reason, I like my coffee milk to be really, really cold), and serve.