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Its night as I type this but I would still like another coffee. For a person w no full time job I was SURE busy all morning/afternoon. I am on the marketing committee for Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week and spent the WHOLE day emailing eleventymillion people. If you like beer, and I most definitely do, its going to be a pretty amazing week and I’m not just saying that because I’m helping to organize it. There is a ridiculous amount of passion and enthusiasm in the Pittsburgh craft beer community…and we know how to throw a party…or hundred.

I digress….so that I can digress again…to coffee. I am a recent convert. Well mostly. Ok, I really only like good coffee. Preferably with chocolate in it and steamed milk…aka a mocha latte. Coffee for beginners.

I always felt odd not drinking coffee. In the restaurant industry caffeine & nicotine are a way of life. I never liked coffee. Especially the swill brewed in most restaurants. I felt about it the same way I felt about mushrooms, though, I really SHOULD like it. So I kept trying it. Worked with mushrooms, right? (For the record it did, I love them now) The flavored “creamers”? Oh hell no. Revolting. I know a slew of folks that think they are the greatest thing since pudding. I am not one of them. Even the smell of most of them is just so…fake. And those gaggy sweet fake flavored syrups? No thanks. They just taste like sweet. In the same way grape is not a flavor but purple is they represent the food things on their labels. None of these made coffee more appealing to me, in fact, they turned me off even more.

Then I discovered The Evil Empire of Coffeebucks and the venti mocha. More to the point I discovered the buzz provided by it. This is an expensive habit. And one born of burnt overly acidic coffee. But I was still hooked. Venti mocha, no whip, 5 or 6 a week, that’s about $30 a week. I was a smoker at the time, too. Pack a day. So my coffee & nicotine habit it running me around $10 a day. I could adopt a Sally Struthers family and save a shelter of ASPCA dogs for that much a month. Ridiculous.

Did I quit smoking, though? Nope. Not then. Embarrassingly enough that was well over a year and a half later. But the awesome guy I married bought me a Cuisinart Espresso Machine for Christmas. And so began my coffee thing.

I dont buy my coffee at the grocery store, I pretty much exclusively buy coffee from Presto George in The Strip. They roast their beans in house and I just love the store and employees. They are by far not the only game in this town though; LaPrima, Nicholas, Fortunes, Kiva Han and those are off the top of my head. I just like Presto George and am a creature of habit.

I also break what many consider the cardinal rule of fresh coffee – I don’t grind my own beans. I have owned a few different coffee grinders and none have been able to grind the coffee as fine as their badass machines do. In my experience the correctness of the grind has more of an effect on the quality of the end beverage than the freshness of the grind. I dont buy 100 pounds at a time, just enough for a couple weeks and I store it in airtight containers. And don’t freeze it. Doesn’t make it last longer according to the roasters I asked, it actually makes the flavor loss worse; delicate flavors are harmed with the temperature extremes.

I stick to medium roasts and beans that have a more fruity aroma, the dark roasts are too bitter for my tastes and I have never felt the medium roasts are at all thin. My favorites for the espresso machine (and the Husbands French Press, just a different grind that we also get done at the store) are the African Sunrise Blend, Mediterranean and if I am splurging the Jamaican Blue Mountain.

So if I take all that time to pick out perfect coffee I sure as hell am not going to add all sorts of garbage to it. The only thing I really ever want in it is chocolate syrup to make it a delicious mocha anyway. But I didnt like anything I bought. Hersheys was too sweet and didn’t have enough hustpah to stand up to coffee without using half the damn bottle and at that point I’ll just drink the chocolate syrup, why use a middle man? I got 2 other “gourmet” ones at one of those stores that everything is in super adorable packages and they were both crap. One of them just tasted like sweet and the other looked like beef base (if you dont know what that looks like trust me, its not what chocolate syrup is supposed to look like) and they both were far too pricey for morning coffee, anyway. I tried a bunch of different ones from the grocery store and they all were just meh.

What I wanted was moderately sweet, deep chocolate flavor, no weird ingredients, easy to make and easy to use. So I made some up. I saved an old Hersheys bottle and refill it when I make more, but this sauce is the perfect balance and is perfect for my coffee. It tastes like chocolate, not just like sweet. I only have to use 2 Tbsp in a 16oz latte for delicious. I dont just use it for coffee, though. It’s good on ice cream, chocolate milk, hot chocolate…anyplace that one would use chocolate syrup. Biggest pain in the ass is it needs to be cooked, but totally worth it; cheaper, tastes better and you know whats in it! That’s a squeeze bottle full of win!

Chocolate Syrup

  • 3 cups Sugar
  • 1.5 cups Cocoa Powder (I use Hersheys or Ghiardelli usually)
  • pinch of Kosher Salt
  • 2 cups Water
  • 2oz Unsweetened Baking Chocolate, chopped up (I’ve used bittersweet, it works too)
  • 1 Tbsp Vanilla Extract

Put the sugar, cocoa & salt in a sauce pot and mix together with a wire whisk until it is all mixed up together.

All the dry ingredients combined

Add the water, turn the heat on to medium and stir to combine until smooth. Continue to stir while you bring it to a simmer. Stir frequently so it wont burn. Don’t crank the heat, this needs to happen gradually to prevent crystallization of the sugar, or more simply, you will end up with crunchies. No one wants crunchy chocolate syrup.

waiting for it to simmer

Once it comes to a simmer continue to stir. You will feel it thicken up some while you are stirring as it reduces a bit, about 2-3 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the chopped up unsweetened chocolate. Let it sit for a minute or two then stir in to completely melt it in. Add the vanilla extract and mix in.

Strain the sauce through a hand strainer into a bowl or tupperware container. Let it cool at room temperature before lidding and putting into the refrigerator (tupperware) or transferring it to its final serving receptacle. I keep the bottle I am using out and the back up refrigerated. It will mold, so if you aren’t going through it quick store it cold.


Only other down side is I usually end up covered in chocolate sauce and cocoa when I’m finished…but that’s more a display of my exceptional grace and coordination than anything else. If, after it cools, it’s a little thicker than you’d like, thin with water.

Another secret – Best Hot Fudge Sauce Ever – take 2 cups of this chocolate syrup and put it in a saucepan with a 12oz can of condensed milk and stir over medium-low heat until its warmed up and combined. You can do it in the microwave, too, I just have an unnatural fear of that machine and pretty much only use it to soften butter and melt cheese on nachos. When its done pour over ice cream or bananas or your face…whatever blows your hair back, I don’t judge. This is thick after it gets cold but it is still drizzle-able. It is seriously better than the hot fudge sauce at Sarris. I KNOW! I can’t believe I said that either. I’m expecting the hoard of Yinzers in Steeler gear to bash in my door any minute.