If the first lockdown taught us anything, it’s that we should all be outside as often as possible – for ventilation, for exercise, and for escaping the gnawing sensation that your house is slowly transforming into a sentient prison that has decided to eat you alive. Now it’s colder, the outdoors may not seem as attractive. But where you see problems, I see solutions. This chillier weather is the perfect opportunity to dig out your vacuum flask and make something warm to sip while you clomp around. I’ve found some of the best below, which I hope will suit most moods.
A quick word on quantities. Flasks are not created equally – from fancy one-cup affairs to vast industrial cylinders – so the volume may need scaling up or down. You’re smart people. You’ll figure it out.
We’ll start with the basics. If you’re making tea in a flask, it’s surprisingly easy to end up with something bitter and curdled. Tea Guardian (no relation) has a useful guide. Brew the tea in a different receptacle before you pour it into a preheated flask. And always, if you can, take a separate container of milk. You could choose a tea that doesn’t require milk: Thermos itself has a recipe for rosemary green tea that is what it says – green tea, infused with a stalk of rosemary. A third, caffeine-free option is turmeric tea: turmeric, ginger and orange, steeped in boiling water and strained.
Similarly, if you want to avoid stewed coffee, this might be worth a shot. Coffee Detectives recommends filling your flask with hot water, taking a French press mug with you, and making a fresh cup every time. If you want to mix it up for the season, then do as Hedgecombers does and add the ground seeds from four cardamom pods to your coffee before you press it.
The other classic flask drink is hot chocolate. If you have plenty of time before your trip, Miriam Nice’s slow cooker hot chocolate is about your best bet. Milk, double cream and two types of chocolate, melted together for two hours. Perfect. A slightly more adventurous option would be to make some champurrado – the thick, warm water-based Mexican chocolate drink. Mexico in my Kitchen’s recipe is pretty standard; some people add more cornflour to make it thicker, but you want to pour it out of a flask without too much of a fistfight.
Now, to more adventurous fare. There’s something pleasingly medicinal about the taste of ginger tea. A good basic recipe can be found on A Day in the Kitchen, but it is really just chopped ginger boiled in water and sweetened with honey.
A smart idea, if you’re about to expose yourself to the windswept bleakness of the UK in early winter, would be to pack a drink from sunnier climes. A Moroccan mint tea may be the thing to lift you from any brambly tundra. Jane Baxter and Henry Dimbleby have the right idea: a bit of tea, a lot of a mint and a ton of sugar.
There is some debate whether soup should be included in a list like this, and I look forward to reading all the comments about why I’m wrong, but I have decided that – if you squint and look from the right angle – a blended soup makes a very passable flask drink. Madhur Jaffrey’s red lentil and courgette curry soup is a good choice, but you can pick any soup you like. Unless it has lumps. Lumpy soup has no place on this list.
If it’s an early morning walk, you’re after, you might want to try making api morado, a hearty Bolivian breakfast drink thickened with cornflour. It might be a faff to find the right purple flour for the job (some wholefoods websites stock it) but the result has the tang of cinnamon and clove and, dare I say it, might actually be quite festive. Then again, if that isn’t exciting enough for you, you could try making a batch of po cha. It’s a blended, salty Tibetan tea made with a tablespoon of butter per cup. Very much an acquired taste, but if you’re brave enough for a winter hike you’re brave enough for this.
Since this is the season for mulling, you could attempt a Russian sbiten – cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, mint, chilli, cloves and blackberry jam, boiled in water, which is then strained. It’s warming, fragrant and familiar, even if you haven’t tried it before. But then, if you’re going to mull anything, it may as well be wine and Felicity Cloake’s perfect recipe is sure to make your walk a little more interesting. Then again, a nice mulled pear and cranberry punch – made with pear cider, apple juice, cranberry juice and gin – will do the same job, without the sensation that you’re stripping the enamel from your teeth.
Now you’ve come this far, you may as well step right over the line. A hot ward eight cocktail will warm you up like almost nothing else, with its generous helpings of whisky and orange curaçao. The recipe on Serious Eats also requires pomegranate juice and citrus syrup. If you try this, it might be worth writing your address on a tag and hanging it around your neck before you set out.
Finally, ladies and gentlemen, I implore you not to forget about the wonder that is hot Bovril. Spoon some Bovril in your flask, fill it up with boiling water and you will be filled with the power of warming beefy goodness.