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.
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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.
Get the Improved Iced Coffee recipe »
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.
Get the Anthora Pilsner recipe »
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.