A cuppa joe. Java. The elixir of life. The humble coffee bean has many names, but one thing's for sure: a lot of us consider it the best part of waking up or the only way to get through a long day. But coffee isn't just for the a.m. hours. Its savory-chocolaty-fruit-and-nut flavor blends well with a variety of spirits, from grappa to whiskey, rum and more.
Coffee lends itself to creativity, and doesn't necessarily require a high-brow bean to taste great with everything from Chartreuse to sherry. We asked a slew of bartenders from around the country about their favorite ways to use coffee in cocktails. After testing them all, we must weigh in: these drinks are gutsy, creative, and most of all, delicious.
Architects and Kings
Josh Relkin of Sable in Chicago created this savory, woodsy cocktail that features bitter Amaro Abano and rye. While the amaro amps up coffee's own bitterness, the hot drink is smoothed out with cream, apple brandy, and demerara sugar.
The drink is meant to use coffee "in its digestif function, after dinner," noted Mike Ryan, head bartender of Sable. "A little sweetness and cream helps it lean a little richer and fuller." The potent drink mellows out if you stir in a little of the cream on top.
Improved Iced Coffee
Mike Treffehn of The Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co. in Philadelphia said that the bar doesn't serve coffee because "we're not equipped to brew coffee at a level we'd want people to purchase," but the staff likes a cuppa, made from a drip pot in the back. "Sometimes, I'll need a coffee, but want to 'spruce it up' a bit, so I make this, an 'Improved Iced Coffee,'" Treffehn said.
Treffehn's absinthe and bourbon-laced creation is unexpectedly floral, and evolves as the ice melts. At super-cold temps, the maraschino comes forward, but as you sip, that warming bourbon sensation takes hold.
In Italy, an espresso is often served with a lemon twist to brighten up the flavor. Eleven Madison Park's Leo Robitschek decided to riff on that marriage, adding deliciously bittersweet Punt e Mes and savory aquavit to round out the flavor. The mint garnish adds an essential fresh aroma.
This cocktail offers a whole scale full of sweet and bitter notes, with savory and even sour tossed in. It's a new sort of pick-me-up, and we're crazy about it.
H. Joseph Ehrmann of Elixir in San Francisco created this deceptively simple combination for the 2006 Chartreuse Cocktail Competition. An unexpected blend of chartreuse, coffee liqueur (he uses Galliano Ristretto), and cream, this drink is sweet but herbal with a smooth, rich texture.
Ehrmann calls this drink, which is layered with botanicals and complementary flavors, a "smaller, colder, bolder" version of the classic Irish Coffee. If you've never thought to mix Chartreuse with coffee, get right to exploring this match: the flavors are surprising and bright.
Java Good Night
PDT's Jeff Bell schemed this liquored-up take on a Thai iced coffee when PDT neighbors Simon Tung and Christina Ha of Macaron Parlor introduced him to Blue Bottle's NOLA Cold Brew. Bell incorporates that earthy potion with rum, evaporated and sweetened condensed milk. The result is refreshing and a bit spicy, with warming notes from the rum and the coffee, all smoothed out in the style of your favorite Thai-restaurant beverage. It'll taste great on a sunny summer patio, but works in the winter too, thanks to that freshening mint sprig.
Get the Java Good Night recipe »
Dulce y Salado
Chantal Tseng of Mockingbird Hill in Washington D.C. was inspired to create this drink when she tasted Castries peanut liqueur, a peanutty rum cream. It seemed like the perfect ingredient to bring out the salty side of sweeter cream sherries. "In all sherries, there is always some kind of nutty quality, from almonds, hazelnuts to roasted walnuts and pecans," Tseng said.
She married cream sherry with Castries and coffee, for a sweet, nutty flavor that brings out the fruity side of the coffee. Tseng likes to rim half the glass with a mix of ground coffee and salt, which adds texture and another dimension to the creamy sweetness of the drink.
Get the Dulce y Salado recipe »