I needed a drink.
Not just any cup to chug, mind you. I needed a drink that would keep me up between clock-in and clock-out, and all the adventures in-between. It had to last in a 24-ounce mason jar* from an early morning preparation — 4-5am, in true writer-student-style — to a midafternoon consumption of around 11am-12pm. The cutoff was 1pm, otherwise I would be too wired for bed. (I won’t say when, because you’ll laugh and call me a granny.)
And I also needed to cut down on my caffeine intake.
Depending on your sources, caffeine is either a wonderment of natural chemistry, or a horrible health hazard. I decided to reconcile the two by cutting the coffee in half — and substituting the other half with tea.
Yerba Mate, to be exact. Not only would this reduce the caffeine crash that always happened around 3 or 4 in the afternoon, but its alkalizing effects imparted a nice sense of calm. As opposed to the “PERFORMPERFORMPERFORM” rush that accompanies a straight coffee high, this one had a finite breath at the end. Yes, I could get from task to task, and have the capacity to pause long enough to think about the next step.
But you can’t just take any old coffee and dump it with the tea. Even if I wasn’t certified at pairings, I still had a sense of taste.
Dark Roast started off great as a base. There was a discounted Amazon-sourced blend that I tried for sips ‘n giggles, and the mate blended verdantly with the sharpness of its acidity
But after a month, I started to notice unwanted jitters. Was I too Jedi for the Dark Side?
Ok then, Medium Roast. Same deal, less jitters. I went through a passel of Mediums from Kenya, Jamaica, Costa Rica, Colombia, and quietly heard Shakira shaking her hips as I poured the cup.
Then I went Blonde.
Yes. There it was, the roast that really brought out the best of the mate without driving me nuts with the caffeine. I found the lightest beans possible — pre-ground for ease, so that it could be steeped the same way as tea if so desired — in the local corporate-owned health food store. At $3.99 a can, I thought I was set for A+ workweek powerdrinking.
However, the human body has a funny way of letting you know that the drink still isn’t perfect yet. It usually starts with a “Whoops,” and ends with a vague reference to the90s Madeline movie: “She who smelt it, dealt it.” Only this time, there was no cheese to blame it on. Turns out that no matter how good and fresh it is to start with, coffee and tea still degrade over time in an unheated environment. It’s basic Food Safety practice, but I was no longer working at a bubble tea shop where hot tea fixings were on demand. Without such niceties at my disposal, how was I supposed to keep my drink Bel-Air fresh?
“You know,” someone once told me. “In Libya, we put cardamom in our coffee. It’s good for digestion.”
This was also true in Israel, where I had seen cardamom-infused Turkish coffee for sale in the grocery stores. (“That stuff is the best,” verified one of our attending soldier guys. We had bonded over paleo and Vibram-soled footwear.)
And it occurred to me that I still had some cardamom left from my Tea Sommelier final exam. We had to blend our own chai to pass, and cardamom was a necessary ingredient.
So I put a couple of cardamom pods in the mason jar before filling it with coffea, screwed the lid on, and packed it up to go.
When I sipped it during lunch — WHOBAM. The cardamom lent a lemony freshness to the steep, and noticeably less gas!
I threw in some cloves for kicks, and the concoction was complete. Coffai** ho!
Now, this drink continues to evolve. Schedules change, after all. Workweeks adjust and reflect the season.
I debated making it Bulletproof, in concordance with the current health/fitness trend, but the idea of coconut oil and butter going rancid in my jar was too much to bear experimenting with. I had put so much love into this drink that it would be a shame to mess with it too hard.
These days, it looks more like two scoops of coffee, two of mate, and a few grains of coriander to steep per 36-ounce pot. Doing all this in a coffeemaker reduces preptime and allows for that heated steeping that keeps it fresh until you truck out the door. If you’re doing it in a French Press or steeping everything in a smaller device like the IngenuiTEA, reduce all measurements by ¾ or ½ , depending on if it’s a 24- or 16-ounce batch we’re talking about.
And always adjust to taste
*Since they’re made of glass, mason jars preserve tea and coffee better than aluminum thermoses. They’re $1.99 at penny stores, Whole Foods, and Michael’s. Treat yourself.
**Pronounced “caw-fahy,” with the same righteous inflection as “YAS QUEEN.”