Coffee cocktails: What’s not to love?
Well, unless your coffee cocktail is just coffee plus syrup, of course. In that case, my condolences to you.
A good coffee cocktail is sublime. It’s balanced, it’s delicious, and it enhances the coffee’s profile exquisitely. Not to mention, it’s fun to drink and make. So as a Head Barista with experience of bartending, let me give you my six essential tips (plus recipes) to making sensational coffee cocktails.
1. Adapt a Classic
Classic cocktails are a great place to start, but don’t think you can get away with just adding a shot of Frangelico to a coffee. Specialty coffee is about innovation. It’s about appreciating the subtle flavours of the coffee. And not every combination is good enough to count as a third wave coffee cocktail.
Think carefully about the balance of what you’re mixing. Coffee, either as espresso or cold brew, makes a great substitution for dark-colored spirits such as whiskey, aged rum, or tequila—but don’t stop there. Sometimes the acidity of espresso can mimic a good gin, as in an espresso gin and tonic. Sometimes these coffee cocktails work great as mocktails, but sometimes they are even better with the alcohol. Don’t be afraid to experiment to work out the best combination.
Want an example of a perfect classic adaptation? Try this twist on an Old Fashioned:
Cold Brew Old Fashioned:
1 t / 5 ml 2:1 simple syrup (raw simple syrup preferred)
2 dashes Angostura bitters
2 oz / 60 ml cold brewed coffee
2 oz / 60 ml bourbon whiskey (optional)
Combine the ingredients and stir in a mixing glass, then strain the mixture and pour it over large fresh ice cubes. Finally, peel a strip of orange, twist it over the drink, rub the rim of the glass with it, and then drop it in the drink to serve.
The Cold Brew Old Fashioned: Great with or without whiskey.Credit: @ercsguitar
2. Be Bitter—But Not Too Bitter
Bitters are a great way to add depth to a drink. The varieties are endless (plus, making your own is relatively simple). You should definitely have these three: Angostura, Peychaud’s, and Orange. They’re found in a whole host of classic cocktails and are easily accessible.
Word of warning, though: you’ll only need a couple dashes. They should highlight the flavors already in the drink, not overwhelm them.
So many bitters, so little time. Credit: @ercsguitar
3. Shaken or Stirred?
Technique is what separates a good drink from a great one. Both shaking and stirring are valid techniques—depending on the effect you want. Shaking will aerate a drink, make it cold, and leave it more diluted than stirring would. Use a shaker when you need to ensure a drink is fully combined. Stirring, on the other hand, will keep a drink clear and cold. When done properly, it will prevent little bits of ice from diluting your drink.
One thing you should never do, though, is shake a carbonated drink. However, it may be appropriate to shake the base ingredients and top them with the carbonated beverage.
Need more tips on technique? I highly recommend Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s The Bar Book.
Barista and bartender Sam demonstrating proper shaking technique. Credit: @ercsguitar
4. Picking the Right Garnish
The aromatics of the perfect garnish will set your drink apart. It both enhances it and tells the customer to expect something special.
So how do you decide what to use? Well, if you’re doing a twist on a classic cocktail find out what garnish is typically used. If you’re looking to dress up a creation of your own, use this opportunity to highlight a particular flavor in the drink. Don’t be afraid to experiment; garnishes don’t have to be fruit or fresh herbs. Try using edible flowers; whole spices, such as a cinnamon stick; bacon; or candy.
Think about how you’re adding the garnish. If you’re using a citrus peel, make sure you peel it over the drink, squeeze it, and then rub the rim of the glass with it. If you’re garnishing with fresh herbs, such as mint, take the sprig and clap it between your hands before placing on top of the drink. These steps enhance the aromatics of the drink.
Creative garnishing: Fresh fruit, herbs, or even candy can add the perfect touch. Credit: @ercsguitar
5. Dress It Up
Coffee cocktails don’t always have to follow the same route as their boozy counterparts. Take a favorite drink from your coffee menu and try something different with it. This take on a short Americano shows how much of an impact you can make with a couple of small changes:
The Angry Orange is a dressed-up take on an Americano. Credit: @ercsguitar
The Angry Orange
3 oz / 90 ml Water
5 oz / 15 ml Vanilla Simple Syrup
Shake the ingredients together in a cocktail shaker, then strain, top with 2 dashes, and serve over ice. Finally, garnish with an orange peel.
6. Make Your Own
Walk the aisles of any liquor store and you’ll find an abundance of Irish creams and coffee liqueurs. But why buy when you can make your own with fresher ingredients and better coffee? The prep time on most of these is minimal, though it may require some time to steep or infuse and the possibilities to make it your own are endless.
Try this ridiculously easy recipe for Irish cream:
10 oz / 295 ml whiskey
1 Tablespoon espresso grounds
1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk
4 oz / 118 ml heavy cream
1 Tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons honey
Blend all ingredients thoroughly in a blender and then refrigerate.
Bonus Ideas for Coffee Cocktails:
There are a lot of really interesting things happening in the cocktail world right now. New techniques are being applied all the time and sometimes old techniques are being repurposed. Want to barrel-age some coffee but don’t have a barrel? No problem—wood chips and a whipped cream charger can approximate the effect. Just give it about 30 minutes to steep once it’s been charged.
Smoked cocktails are also coming into their own, and are fairly easy to do. Carefully light a small fire using wood chips, then capture the smoke in a wide mouth canning jar and seal it tightly. Build your drink, quickly add it to the jar, and reseal. Swirl it for about 15 seconds —and voilà! You have your smoked coffee cocktail.
Wood chips and a whipped cream charger can approximate barrel aging in about 30 minutes. Credit: @ercsguitar
Although venturing into the world of coffee cocktails may initially be scary and stressful, coffee cocktails are both fun and a great way to add interest to your drink specials. They mark a shop as forward-thinking and creative. They are also, and most importantly, delicious when executed properly. Put our tips into practice to see what delectable drinks you can come up with—and let us know how you get on in the comments.
Written by E. Squires.
Feature Photo Credit: @ercsguitar.
Perfect Daily Grind.