It's been an unusually sticky and drippy summer in Los Angeles. The kind of hot and humid that makes you slouch and sweat, our usually dry desert heat replaced with the thick sweltering of a borderline Bangkok-like humidity. Enter Cognoscenti Chinatown, where operator Jack Benchakul's Vanilla and Pandan Cold Brew Latte sweeps your sweltering soul up into iced coffee bliss.
But what is “pandan” and what's it doing in my latte?
Pandan is a staple of Southeast Asian cuisine used in a variety of dishes. Its flavor has a pleasant nuttiness and jasmine-like floral quality and it is popularly used in desserts. Benchakul, himself of Thai descent, describes a recent trip to Thailand “like returning to the motherland…like rediscovering Thai food!” Afterward, Benchakul became excited and inspired to imbue his signature beverages with the special allure of his homeland and those foods and flavors he ate growing up. Together with the previously covered Makrut Lime and Malbec Cold Brew Latte, Benchakul's adventurous creations are at once exotic and deeply personal. His indelible signature leaves its aura on familiar drinks, and with his creative flair they are made to taste new and exciting, and in this weather—deeply refreshing.
Benchakul finds that “the nuttiness of the pandan complements the cold brew perfectly. There are aromatics of jasmine there, floating in the backdrop.”
So how do you make it?
First, you've got to get the 48-hour cold brew process down: super coarse grind, roughly a 4:1 water:coffee ratio, 24 hours at room temp, 24 hours refrigerated. Of course, you could just use your regular overnight Toddy method, but I'm trusting Benchakul, a former biochemist, with his time intensive two-day process. Benchakul uses Heart's Stereo Blend, though any similarly incredible bean or blend will do.
He proceeds to create a simple syrup, reduced with pandan leaves and vanilla beans (Benchakul avoids extracts to ensure that the “food tastes like the food”) creating a golden-hued aromatic elixir that will become the base of the drink. (You can find these leaves in any Asian market. They come fresh or frozen, but definitely go fresh if you can find them!)
But simply boiling syrup with leaves and beans will not yield the fullest flavor: Benchakul insists that you must wring out the pandan leaves by hand after everything cools. “‘If you take the lazy route, it doesn't have enough pandan flavor. You really need to wring them to pull out the juice. It's a labor of love.” Love, everyone's favorite tasting note!
You've created the elements, now get some milk and put it together. Experiment with your own exacting recipe to get your perfect flavor, or try this one:
– 1 cup 48-hour cold brew
– 2 1/2 tablespoons vanilla and pandan simple syrup
– 1/2 cup milk
– 1 small scoop ice
Add the mixture to a classic cocktail shaker and shake vigorously.
Frank Ashbery is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. This is Ashbery's first feature for Sprudge.
Photos by Gilles O'Kane.