Give Coffee an Extra Boozy Jolt
Incorporating coffee into cocktails offers another way to showcase bold flavors
Whether starting the day, hitting Sunday brunch or needing an afternoon pick-me-up, coffee is integral to many people’s daily routines. Many of us can’t live without it, whether as a necessity to boost our energy or as a ritual to drink an espresso, cappuccino or great cup of joe while reading the day’s news on your smart phone. But what happens when, as the day wears on, you’re inclined to have a cocktail yet still need a caffeine boost? Simple: Make coffee cocktails.
More and more restaurants and bars around the country are stepping up their coffee cocktail game. Sure, you can have the requisite Irish coffee or espresso martini, but with a little creativity and inspiration from the craft cocktail movement, you can produce a nice list of coffee cocktails where the coffee is noticeable, but not the overwhelming ingredient.
“Cocktails are about the liquor and creating a drinkable beverage from this liquor,” said mixologist Clare Ward from modern Indian restaurant Sambar in Culver City, Calif. “Instead of making coffee the star, focus on how it can complement and make the drink better.”
Ward created the Baba Budhans Breakfast, a drink inspired by a 17th century Indian man credited with bringing coffee to the subcontinent from the Middle East. It comprises Scotch, Branca Menta, crème de cacao and coffee topped with a dollop of milk foam. And even though these are coffee-focused cocktails, differentiating a new set of drinks from what you may serve exclusively at brunch can help you market drinks to a wider audience. “We called it a hot cocktail list and not a hot coffee list,” said Maureen Donegan, bar director and general manager at San Francisco’s Presidio Social Club. “We wanted to have it stand out differently.”
“Instead of making coffee the star, focus on how it can complement and make the drink better.”
– Clare Ward, mixologist at Sambar
PSC’s list initially featured eight drinks, but recently got pared down to keep things better focused. The more popular drinks include the PSC House Coffee, a secret concoction of five liquors including housemade vanilla-infused vodka, brandy and crème de cacao and locally roasted Caffe Roma; the Ferghetti, made with Fernet Branca, Borghetti coffee liqueur, a double shot of espresso; and the Drunken Earl, which is made with earl gray tea mixed with Wild Turkey rye and Drambuie. “It’s herbaceous and people who don’t drink coffee were grateful we did something for them,” Donegan added.
The hot cocktail list proved so popular that while Donegan assumed most people would use it as an after-dinner drink list, many ordered the drinks to start a meal, during their meal and at brunch.
But a coffee cocktail doesn’t have to incorporate hot coffee. Employing cold-brewed coffee is a natural for cocktails, whether the aforementioned espresso martini (for as late-’90s as that may be) or something a little more kicky. At Measure, a hip lounge at New York’s Langham Place hotel, head bartender Sarah Karakaian took advantage of Measure being the first spot in Manhattan to have Stumptown’s Nitro Cold Brew Coffee on tap. Her drink, the Bajan Mocha, combines the nitrogen-infused cold brew with Mount Gay Black Barrel rum, demerara syrup, heavy whipping cream and vanilla extract. With chocolate notes and a hint of sweetness, it became a big hit, especially with the post-work crowd.
“The drink is like your coffee at night, but taking it up a notch with the caffeine and a little alcohol content to take off the edge,” Karakaian said. “It’s a great way to get people to enjoy coffee after work.”
No matter how you incorporate coffee into your cocktails, make sure you use higher-quality bean. You’ll always be able to taste it and you want to leave people with a pleasant experience.
“Coffee rounds everything out,” said Sambar’s Ward. “It’s such a beautiful flavor, complex and deep. It’s great to mix with big flavors because it’ll never be overshadowed. It has big potential.”