07 August, 2008

Coffee Milk

Coffee milk. It's the official state drink of Rhode Island, a beverage found in diners and dairy cases from the Connecticut shoreline to Cape Cod, and chances are if you're not from New England, you've never heard of it.

Back in the 1930's, fountain operators and restaurant owners were concocting new drinks to lure customers. Somewhere in Rhode Island, a creative diner owner made up a batch of syrup by cooking leftover coffee grounds with sugar. He stirred the syrup into a glass of milk, and Coffee Milk was born.

By the 1940's, demand for coffee milk was great enough that there were two companies manufacturing the syrup: Eclipse and Autocrat (their rivalry ended in 1991 when the Eclipse brand and formula was purchased by Autocrat. Both labels are still available in stores, but both are today produced by Autocrat Inc.)

Over the past twenty years or so, coffee milk's popularity has spread. Once available only in Rhode Island, it can now be found throughout New England - commonly in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and the South Shore of Massachusetts, but I've found ready-to-drink versions as far north as Portland Maine. Trinity Farm, the dairy in my hometown, bottles an excellent version and sells it in their dairy store.

Coffee syrup all by itself, undiluted by milk, tastes a little strange. It is very similar in flavor to molassess but with a rounder, less harsh "edge" to it. It doesn't remind me of coffee at all! The coffee flavor comes out when the syrup is mixed with milk. Autocrat's taste is smooth, on the gentle side, and sweet with almost no coffee bitterness. Trinity's ready-to-drink coffee milk has more coffee assertiveness, and a short but pronounced bitter finish reminiscent of cappuccino.

Ready-to-drink coffee milk can also be found right alongside the chocolate- and strawberry-flavored varieties in convenience store dairy cases throughout the region. Garelick Farms (originally of Franklin, Massachusetts) coffee-flavored Milk Chugs are sweet and mild and available at just about any market selling other Garelick products, and H P Hood also produces a very good ready-to-drink low-fat (1% milkfat) coffee milk product. Both companies originated in New England and are huge players in the dairy industry here; other dairy companies that produce flavored milks (Land-O-Lakes, NesQuik, and Turkey Hill, for example) sell their products here but can't be bothered to go after the relatively small coffee milk niche.


Autocrat Inc. - Makers of premium coffee and syrup since 1895.

Nutritional info for Garelick Farms Colossal Coffee Milk Chug

Nutritional info for H P Hood Coffee milk

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