So with all these parallels, are coffee and liquor a match made in liquid heaven? It depends. They’re often consumed together on cold, dreary days, by way of a shot of whiskey dropped into a mug of filter coffee - a kind of primitive Irish Coffee - not the best representation of a delicious coffee cocktail.
But individually, coffee and liquor are incredibly dynamic substances with colorful range of flavors and characteristics. And if they each have endless potential on their own, imagine the possibilities when put together.
We spoke with three barista-mixologists about how to create a delicious coffee cocktail from scratch, which coffees to use with certain alcohol or cocktail ingredients, and of course, their favorite coffee cocktail recipes.
Do Coffee and Liquor Belong Together?
First, be sure not to drink too many coffee cocktails (or serve too many to a single patron). Caffeine is a stimulant and alcohol is a depressant. When combined, the caffeine can mask the depressant effects of alcohol, giving drinkers a false sense of control. Coffee cocktails are delicacies to be enjoyed in moderation.
Second, using filter coffee as the base of the drink can be tricky to pull off. Since filter coffee consists mostly of water, introducing any ice to the cocktail might over-dilute the drink. And alternatively, it’s difficult to pull a quality shot of espresso outside of a café setting with the proper equipment. But Urnex Ambassador Nicole Battefeld shows us a workaround to this issue in her recipe video below, where she substitutes an espresso with a “shot” of coffee from an Aeropress.
Third, and most delicately, not all liquors are meant to be mixed with all coffees. Each coffee and liquor have their own unique flavor profiles, and sometimes, those flavors just don’t mix well. But this is where the fun part begins: discovering a new combination of ingredients that wows the palate is an adventure. With so many different flavor possibilities, it’s essential that coffee mixologists embrace trial and error in building any new coffee cocktail to create an outstanding flavor experience.
The Basics of Building a Delicious Coffee Cocktail
“You have an idea of what the perfect thing is that you want to make,” Nicole said. “That stays in your mind as you find the right ingredients in order to achieve that goal.”
This is exactly how Nicole builds a coffee cocktail without a recipe. She starts with the coffee, choosing one that has a flavor or characteristic that she’s attracted to, and that inspires her toward a direction for the rest of the drink: whether it should be hot or cold, sweet or dry.
But as Nicole branches out from the coffee base of her drink, she isn’t concerned with creating a drink with evenness in its individual features. Instead, she aims to embrace a particular element of the drink and express it to its full potential. This is a different mentality than a barista working with just coffee and water. Baristas almost always strive for “balance” in a coffee - a coffee that is evenly extracted, with an optimum middle ground between bitter and sour, strong and weak. In theory, this brings out the best flavors that lie within the coffee. But in creating coffee cocktails, the coffee can be balanced on its own without the drink feeling confined to any set parameters.
“Not every cocktail has to be a perfect balance of sweet, bitter, acid and mouthfeel,” Nicole said. “You can play around a bit and let your creativity run wild.”
Matt’s challenge is that there aren’t many hard rules in creating a coffee cocktail, and that they change depending on the ingredients used. However, he has discovered a few consistent winning flavor combinations between coffee and liquor: he knows that washed coffees are complemented by gins, naturally processed coffees pair well with rum and vodka, and darker roasted coffees and whiskeys make a good match.
In creating your own coffee cocktail from scratch, Matt suggests starting with the element that excite you most. If you have a beautiful coffee, choose ingredients that complement its flavors. If you have a flavorful spirit, choose a coffee that won’t overpower its nuances. Once you establish your star ingredient, Matt said it’s always a good idea to reference classic cocktail recipes as a foundation to build upon and experiment with.
Hillary Mugasitsi also bases his coffee cocktails from classic drinks, which he calls the “mother of all cocktails.” Hillary is the current Barista Champion of Kenya and an Urnex Ambassador, as well as a bartender at the four-star French restaurant Lord Erroll in Nairobi. He references classic cocktail recipes specifically for the proportions - the numeric relationship between ingredients like simple syrup, fruit, coffee and liquor. This is because Hillary also places high value in balance and wants his customers to taste each individual ingredient without one of them overpowering the others.
Hillary has discovered a handful of coffee-and-liquor pairs that enhance each other’s flavors to create a singular desired element. Rum with honey processed coffees, which creates a lovely sweetness from the two sourcse of sugars. Washed Kenyan coffees with vodkas or gins, both with intense fruit-forward and floral characteristics. And whiskeys with a 2:1 blend of washed and natural processed coffee, for a bold, luscious combination.
Three Coffee Cocktail Recipes from Three Coffee Mixologists
Berlin Calling by Nicole Battefeld
- 2 double shot espresso (natural processed Caturra, Panama)
- 5cl of Cold Brew X (by Röststätte Berlin)
- 2cl of Meridor gin
- 1cl px Sherry
- 3cl Tete sake
Combine all ingredients in a Boston shaker and shake vigorously on ice. Strain into martini glasses and serve immediately.
Berry Doctor Cooler by Hillary Mugasitsi
- 50ml espresso
- 45ml spiced rum
- 5ml lime juice
- 10ml simple sugar syrup
- 15ml blueberry puree
- 5ml strawberry puree
- 7ml coconut water
- A pinch of cinnamon powder
In a cocktail shaker with ice add all the ingredients, and shake it up lightly controlling dilution, then strain it in a highball glass with a few ice cubes and garnish with a red rose petal a strawberry. Then simply enjoy your way through it.
Mr. Romo’s Opus by Matt Foster
- Double shot of Ecuadorian sidra coffee
- Redemption rye whiskey
- Leopold Bros New England cranberry liqueur
- Dolin dry vermouth infused with oolong tea
- Concentrated brown sugar syrup
- Egg white
- One crack of white pepper
Dry shake to incorporate the egg white before adding ice for another quick shake. Then fine strain the cocktail into two glasses and garnish coffee plant leaves and cranberries on a skewer, to represent coffee cherries.