Espresso Cocktails and Homemade Simple Syrup

Not everyone has access to ninety-plus graded coffee or a national champion barista pulling espresso shots just down the street. But with equal parts discipline and creativity, one can turn an everyday espresso into a sophisticated coffee cocktail. We learned a few tips and tricks from Chloe Nattrass, the 2017 German Barista Champion.

When she isn’t working on a special project with notable coffee businesses like The Barn or 5 Elephants, Chloe is preparing for coffee competition. Her preparation aligns directly with the three types of drinks she will make on stage - dialing in her coffee to produce the sweetest espresso, combining that espresso with the perfect ratio of milk, and of course, designing a delicious and memorable signature drink. The signature drink, sometimes called a “sig-bev” or “siggie” for short, is the portion of a routine where a barista competitor can truly show off their knowledge of seasonality.

In order to receive high marks from judges, the signature drink must be well-articulated, introduced and prepared. It must be appealing in its presentation, functional and include creativity and synergy with the coffee. The taste must be balanced and the flavor descriptors must be accurate. Much like the milk beverage, it is also important that the espresso is not lost amidst the other ingredients. And of course, an excellent signature beverage always begins with an amazing coffee brewed as espresso.

“As a coffee expert,” Chloe explains, “my goal is to showcase the hard work of the producers, the talent of the roasters and my own personal skillset as the barista. A signature beverage is like a coffee cocktail. It helps to have a simple recipe that you can use for a starting place. From there, you can add and subtract ingredients and just experiment. Much like dialing in a coffee, you dial in with the ingredients to reach the perfect balance of complex and pleasant flavors without completely overshadowing what makes the coffee special.”

Chloe's Coffee Cocktail Base

  • 2.5 oz. espresso, freshly brewed
  • 1 tablespoon unrefined cane sugar
  • 1 cocktail shaker
  • Ice

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well and serve.

“This is a great recipe for a house espresso blend, something that is forward with flavors of dark chocolate and nuts,” Chloe says. “But when a really special single origin coffee stands out, it can be fun to substitute the tablespoon of unrefined can sugar for a simple syrup flavored with a natural ingredient like ginger or rose petals.”

As more and more consumers learn about barista competitions and the signature beverage round of the presentation, they are interested to experience a coffee cocktail that incorporates an unexpected flavor. The flavor you choose depends on the coffee, the roast level and the region where it comes from. Chloe continues:

“If using an espresso made from a light roast Central American coffee, try adding substituting plain sugar for a lemon simple syrup. It will elevate the citrus notes known to be present in specialty coffees from this region.

"If using an espresso made from a medium roast Ethiopian coffee, try substituting plain sugar for a lavender simple syrup. This will enhance the floral notes that are present in specialty coffees from this part of the world.

“And don’t be afraid to make mistakes! That is just part of the fun.

“For something truly experimental, try creating a simple syrup with a spice or herb, like cinnamon or rosemary. But no matter what, do not add milk or any milk alternative to this recipe! Instead of considering this a limitation, think of this as a fun boundary to work within. The true challenge for the competitive barista is to showcase a coffee as espresso without losing it among the additional ingredients, and this recipe is good exercise and good practice.”


Simple Syrup is equal parts water and sugar. Start with ½ cup Sugar and ½ cup Water. This will produce just under four ounces of simple syrup. Heat until combined. When it starts to simmer, remove the mixture immediately from the heat source. It should be completely clear (not cloudy or turning brown). Now add your seasonal ingredient. Stir into mixture and then cover. Allow it to steep. When it is completely cool, remove the seasonal ingredient.

Pro Tip #1

Make multiple types of flavored syrups at a single time. We quadrupled our recipe (2 cups sugar: 2 cups water) to make four syrups: cinnamon, lemon, ginger and mint. Remove the simple syrup from heat and immediately pour into mason jars. Submerge the seasonal ingredient in the syrup, cover tightly and allow to cool.

When making multiple flavored simple syrups at a time, we like these four ounce mason jars. But as long as the ingredient is fully submerged in the simple syrup, any container is fine. Flavored simple syrups should be used within a week or two.

Pro Tip #2

Keep the syrup in an airtight container and refrigerate until you are ready to use it.