Caramel Hot Cocoa

caramel hot cocoaThis past weekend, the Tokyo area was hit by a “blizzard”. I put it in quotations because I grew up in the Northeast U.S., where 4 inches of snow is not even worth mentioning. But here in eastern Japan, snow is unusual – once or twice a year at most – and usually just a dusting. Anyway, all usual transportation stopped for a day or two, and everyone was finding alternate ways to get where they needed to go, and doing a lot of walking in the snow and slush in shoes that were not intended for that kind of use. It seems like everything has been cold and wet, and when I come home to my non-heated house, the first thing I want is hot cocoa. This caramel hot cocoa is my recent favorite – if you want it to taste more like “salted caramel”, you can add a little extra salt!

Ingredients (serves 1)
1/4 cup sugar
2 tbsp cream
1 tbsp cocoa
3/4 cup milk
1/8 tsp vanilla
sprinkle of salt (or more to taste)


Put the sugar in a dry saucepan over medium heat until it begins to melt. Let the sugar melt and caramelize into a brown liquid. Don’t stir – but you can swirl the pan a little if it doesn’t melt evenly. Don’t walk away – it happens very quickly and the caramel can burn in an instant.

When the sugar is melted and has turned a reddish-brown, turn off the heat and add the cream carefully. It may splatter a little bit. Immediately whisk or stir, but don’t worry if it hardens up on you.* Add the cocoa and mix it into the caramel.

Add the milk and turn the heat back on medium-low. Whisk until the milk heats up and begins to steam. Then add the vanilla and salt.

* If the caramel completely hardens, just add the milk first, turn the heat on, and the caramel will melt into the milk. Then you can add the cocoa powder afterwards.


Lavender Earl Grey Tea Latte

IMG_7797I’m not much of a coffee drinker, so when I go to cafes, I usually try their tea drinks. One US-based chain has a Lavender Earl Grey Tea Latte that I love, but it is outrageously expensive. I figured I could make something similar at home for much less money, and tried out different ways until I found something I liked. If you like this one, I also recommend the Pumpkin Spice Steamer I posted a while ago!

Ingredients (makes about 1 cup: 1 large or 2 small servings)
360mL (1-1/2 cups) milk
1 Earl Grey teabag (or 1 tbsp Earl Grey tea)
1/2 tsp lavender*
2-3 tsp sugar (2 tsp was enough for me, so start with that)

*Lavender is the hardest ingredient to find; you can get it at import stores or maybe also at tea stores. It’s quite inexpensive and a little goes a long way.


Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan. Heat over medium heat until mixture begins to simmer.

Turn heat to low and let the milk simmer very lightly for 10 minutes.

Strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer, and serve immediately.

Pumpkin Spice Steamer

pumpkin spice steamerI’ve heard a lot about pumpkin spice lattes this season, and I can imagine the popularity. I don’t drink much coffee, though, so I thought about creating a similar drink without the coffee. It was surprisingly easy, and is much cheaper (and probably healthier) than buying it at a coffee shop. I imagine you could add coffee, too, if that’s your thing!

Ingredients (serves 1)
240mL (1 cup) milk (low fat or whole are both fine; I haven’t tried any other varieties)
2 tsp brown sugar
a sprinkle each of: cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, salt (OR a sprinkle of pumpkin pie spice)
1 thin slice fresh ginger (OR a sprinkle of powdered ginger)
2 tbsp pumpkin puree*
a few drops vanilla extract

*Pumpkin puree is not easily found in Japan. I have seen canned pumpkin once at an import store. It’s also available online. Leftover pumpkin puree can be stored in the freezer in a ziplock bag for months.You can use frozen puree in this recipe, since it’ll thaw in the hot milk.


Put all ingredients in a small saucepan and whisk to combine. Heat over medium-low heat until steaming – do not allow the milk to simmer or boil, or a skin will develop on top.

Matcha Green Tea Latte

IMG_7051This drink is very popular in Japan, and I think it’s gaining popularity in America as well. It’s sweet but not too sweet, due to the almost bitter matcha flavor, and can be drunk warm in the winter or cold in the summer. The only downside for me was that it can be expensive in cafes, so I wanted to make it at home instead.

Ingredients (for 1 serving)
1 cup (240 mL) milk (I have used both regular and reduced-fat with good results)
1-1/2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tbsp matcha (powdered green tea)

Be careful about the matcha. It is a special product, not the same as just any green tea made into powder. It should be a bright green, unsweetened powder, like these images. When I lived in the US I could only find it at Asian supermarkets, so try there if you’re having trouble. It is an expensive ingredient, even in Japan, but a little goes a long way. I bought 35g, about 1.2 oz, for 525 yen, around $5. In Japan, look for the word 抹茶, matcha, or ask someone for help.


Heat the milk in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the sugar and matcha and whisk until the powder is completely dissolved. Continue to whisk until the milk steams. Don’t let it boil!

When the milk is hot, pour into a cup and enjoy!

Note: the matcha powder will start to separate and go to the bottom of the cup after a little while, so I recommend stirring or swirling your cup occasionally!

Chai Tea

I love chai tea, and often make it at home. If you mix a larger batch of the spices in advance, it cuts down on the time to make the drink.

Makes 1 large mug of tea.

1 cup (240mL) cold water
1/4 tsp chai spice mix (see recipe below)
1/4 star anise
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
1 bag black tea
1 cup (240mL) milk
1 tbsp sugar or honey


Put water, chai spice mix, star anise, and ginger into a small saucepan and bring to a low boil over medium heat.

When the water is bubbling, add the teabags and milk. Return to a simmer, and allow to simmer uncovered for 8-10 minutes.

Strain through a fine mesh strainer and add sugar or honey. Enjoy!

Recipe for chai spice mix
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
2 tsp ground nutmeg
2 tsp ground cloves
2 tsp ground cardamom
4 tsp ground cinnamon

This makes about 1/4 cup spice mix, or about 45-50 servings.