Here at MPR News, we have nothing against coffeehouse chains. (Shoutout to the one in the St. Paul skyway that has fueled many, many hours of radio.)
But we also know there's more to the season than pumpkin spice lattes and peppermint mochas. So we tapped some small businesses and friends to tell us about their favorite hot drinks, and we’re sharing the hand-warming love.
Want to share your favorite hot drink? Share it on TikTok, Instagram or Twitter and tag @mprnews, or scroll down and fill out the form at the bottom of this story. We might share your submission here or on the air.
Russian tea at Moscow on the Hill
371 Selby Ave. in St. Paul
There’s nothing particularly Russian about a strong cup of black tea, but the way you drink it matters. According to Moscow on the Hill restaurant owner Marina Lieberman, tea — or chai — in Russia is not something you drink on the go. It should be served hot, while sitting down at any time of day, but preferably with friends and something sweet on the side.
“Chai, usually you’re taking time. It’s a friendly conversation about life, about who is dating whom,” Liberman said. “It’s a family and friends event, a social gathering, mostly in the kitchen.”
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The traditional way to prepare tea or chai in Russia involves brewing an extremely strong, dark concentrate of hot tea in a small porcelain teapot. This is called a ‘zavarka.’ You pour the zavarka into your tea cup and add as much hot water as you like — the ratio of zavarka to water determines how strong or caffeinated your tea will be. Traditionally, water is kept hot in a samovar, fueled by burning pinecones. But an electric teakettle works just as well for those who hope to enjoy tea without setting off fire alarms.
While waiting for your cup of tea to cool down, you can add lemon or sugar and munch on cakes, chocolate, cookies, small candies or sushki — small, bagel-shaped, non-salty pretzels. Traditionally, a Russian host might forego sugar and instead get a jar of fruit preserves out of storage — maybe apple with lemon or sour cherry jam — and serve it in a bowl on the table. Some tea drinkers like to put a spoon of jam into their mouths before they take a sip of tea so the hot tea is sweetened and their mouths are filled with the warm aroma of summer fruit.
“The tea mixes with the jam and gives you some extra flavor,” Lieberman explains.
In modern Russian cities there are plenty of cafes and coffee or tea shops, but those are a recent development, according to Lieberman. In the Soviet Union, tea breaks happened during lunch intermissions at work or school. And when most Russians think of tea, it’s something they drink in the kitchen with friends, not in a cardboard to-go cup in the car.
“The kitchen was the center of civilization,” Lieberman said. “Even if it was only five meters (wide) and it was hard to get in (at the) table, still, the kitchen was the middle of earth for a lot of people. It’s tradition (to crowd in together), elbow-to-elbow. It’s warmer.”
Ethiopian coffee ceremony at Limu Coffee
500 5th Ave. Northwest in New Brighton
Limu Coffee specializes in coffee from the Limu coffee-growing region of Ethiopia. You can stop in for a quick cup, or you can also call and schedule a private Ethiopian coffee ceremony.
“Ethiopian coffee tradition is very important,” said cafe owner Gedam Azeze, who said she started participating in the ceremonies at seven years old. “Coffee is not just like we drink it and go. It’s time to spend time with your loved ones and see how people in your neighborhood and in your family are feeling, what they’re going to do, how their day was.”
Azeze describes the ceremony on her website:
“The beans are roasted in a flat pan over a tiny charcoal stove and the strong tasting coffee is served in tiny cups with a lot of sugar and no milk. During this tradition the male elder is always served first, out of respect, and three rounds of coffee are served. Yebuna kourse (popcorn or bread) is made to be passed with the coffee. The youngest child is summoned to stand ready to bring a cup of coffee to the eldest in the room as well as to all others, thus connecting all generations.”
The ceremony is also a show. The person pouring it tries to fill each cup uninterrupted from a height of one foot.
Dalgona coffee at home
Hannah Yang’s kitchen in New Ulm
When MPR News reporter Hannah Yang isn’t reporting, she’s often in the kitchen perfecting the dalgona coffee recipe made popular on TikTok. It’s tasty, visually appealing and sentimental.
“My mom used to make me a dalgona candy, and dalgona is a popular Korean street candy made from melted sugar and baking soda. It puffs up and becomes this light and crunchy candy,” Yang said. “It brought back a lot of nostalgia for me to try to make it as a coffee.”
Yang said the trick to getting this whipped coffee right is instant coffee powder and a lot of upper body strength (or an electric mixer).
She said to whip equal parts instant coffee powder, sugar and hot water until you get the consistency of whipped cream. Spoon it on top of your choice of milk (hot or cold). Stir it in to dilute the strong coffee taste.
Mint tea at Moroccan Flavors
920 East Lake St. in Minneapolis
Raja Ziadi says there are some customers who won’t return to her and her husband’s Moroccan Flavors restaurant inside the Midtown Global Market in Minneapolis for months — until the weather turns cold, that is.
Her Moroccan mint tea has quite the following, bringing customers back regularly for the heavy hit of mint that’s as refreshing as the cold outside, but in belly-warming form.
Hear MPR News newscaster Todd Melby visit Ziadi for some tea below.
Golden milk at home
Celia Siegel’s kitchen in Minneapolis
Celia Siegel moved to Minnesota from California several years ago.
“And I hate the winter so much — except I love hot beverages,” she said. “When daylight saving time hits, I pull out the golden milk.”
Siegel calls the drink, originally from India and known as haldi doodh, a “wonder drink” because it’s thought to reduce inflammation and have antiaging effects. She makes hers with homemade almond milk, cinnamon, ginger and turmeric.
Siegel said she tracks her sleep and the nights that she drinks golden milk, her sleep score goes up.
“I tend to believe everything. I love believing in things,” she said. “And for winter in Minnesota, I believe in golden milk.”