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From the food editor: Warm and cozy drinks to make for the holiday season

By Michelle Stark
Sugar and Spice Latte. Photos by Michelle Stark, Times Food Editor.

When I read this story about perfecting a homemade cold brew coffee, I nearly spit out my latte.

Times staffer Scott Pollenz starts out with a bold claim: "There is almost no drink better hot than it is cold, and especially not coffee."

I don’t want to sound dramatic, but: I have never disagreed with something more in my entire life.

Just about every beverage is better warm, and especially coffee. I opt for hot lattes and just about any other coffee drink over cold ones 90 percent of the time, even when the temperature outside is creeping on 100 degrees.

There’s something about the anticipation before that first sip, about piping-hot liquid coating your throat. Cozy, comforting, charming.

I can’t argue with Scott’s cold brew method, which really does sound like a foolproof recipe for a simple cup of strong coffee. But especially now that we’ve had our first real taste of fall in Florida, I am opting for hot drinks all the way. So I began testing some festive coffee drinks in my own kitchen.

My drink of choice is a latte, mostly because — and this shouldn’t come as a surprise — you can make them much hotter than you can regular coffee. Sure, regular coffee starts out all steamy, but add a dollop of creamer and a packet of sugar, and you’re three stirs away from a lukewarm cup. No, thanks.

A latte is espresso mixed with hot milk. But it’s not even the espresso I prefer over regular brewed coffee; it’s the steamed milk. (I even have a small milk steamer at home, so I can make some foamy, steamy milk at a moment’s notice.) So my foray into homemade caffeinated drinks pairs regular brewed coffee with warm milk and some other additions perfect for this time of year. One of those is maple syrup, inspired by a recent perfect cup of coffee I had on a fall trip to Providence, R.I. It was simply milk, espresso and maple syrup, and it was delicious.

Sugar and Spice Latte

2 cups milk

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon nutmeg

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

Pinch of salt

Pinch of black pepper

2 cups brewed coffee

Pure maple syrup

Add milk to a medium saucepan set over medium-low heat. Add cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and pepper. Heat for about 10 minutes, stirring constantly so that the milk doesn’t burn. If starting to boil, lower the heat.

Add brewed coffee to saucepan, stir and heat for another minute.

Meanwhile, add about 2 teaspoons maple syrup to a coffee mug. You can adjust this to taste. Fill mug with steaming coffee mixture, and stir immediately to mix well. Repeat with as many servings as you’d like (this usually makes two to three, but you may be able to get more depending on the size of your cups).

Not into the coffee thing? Here are two other warm beverages for you to sip on the rest of 2017.

Minty Hot Chocolate

Fresh mint! It’s worth the $2 investment. You’ll start this drink by making a mint syrup that can work in other beverages, too: cocktails, flavored water, etc. To make, combine ½ cup granulated sugar in a saucepan with 1 cup water and ½ cup roughly chopped fresh mint leaves. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat, remove from stove and let sit for another 15 minutes. Strain well to remove mint leaves and set aside. In a large mug, combine 1 cup milk, 1 tablespoon cocoa powder, ¼ teaspoon peppermint extract and a pinch of salt. Microwave for 1 minute, then stir well to combine. If not hot enough, microwave another minute. Add about 1 tablespoon mint syrup, or to taste. Stir and serve with a garnish of fresh mint.

Easy Mulled Cider

Keep a couple of oranges and whole spices on hand this holiday season and you’ll have the basis for a number of hot and cold punches. Plus, boiling them in a saucepan with some water will make your whole house smell like nostalgia. To make this easy cider, use a vegetable peeler to peel 1 navel orange, creating long strips that don’t cut too much into the white pith of the orange. Add to a saucepan with the following: ½ gallon store-bought apple cider, 2 tablespoons honey, 6 whole cloves, 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg, 8 cinnamon sticks and 1 small of piece ginger cut into thin slices. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for about 30 minutes. Ladle into cups and serve.