Beyond Sugar and Cream: Get Your Caffeine Fix From Coffee Cocktails

“Coffee” used to mean just one thing to Americans: grounds brewed with hot water. You could put sugar, milk or cream in it. But drinking it “black,” the norm in cowboy days, was a sign of true grit. The concept has markedly morphed over the past decade or so, expanding in a big way across the country.

“Drip,” as it’s now often known, can be light-, medium- or dark-roasted. Single origin brews abound. Lattes, cappuccinos, cortados and breves are fixtures in American cafes, coffee shops and restaurants.

Coffee’s star turn coincided with the meteoric ascension of the craft cocktail. Really, it was merely a matter of time before bartenders started fiddling with alcoholic coffee and espresso. Coffee is a beloved and versatile ingredient, after all. Just ask Anthony Merlino, beverage director of newly-opened Bergamo’s in Midtown Manhattan. Before Bergamo’s, Merlino brewed up beverage innovations at uber-fancy coffee and cocktail hotspots like The Modern inside The Museum of Modern Art and the Baccarat Hotel. Merlino says Americans are waking up to coffee’s possibilities—something that’s definitely grounds for celebration.

“From straight espresso, to syrups, to spirits infused with espresso beans, I think espresso and coffee are such a huge factor in the cocktail world right now because they’re versatile ingredients that can be used with so many different spirits,” Merlino says.

Merlino likens cocktail creation to chemistry. “Combining the ingredients together will achieve the ultimate flavor,” he says, adding that he views coffee and espresso as great flavoring agents that go well with many spirits, including Cognac, grappa, rum, bourbon and rye whiskey.

Want to try a few for yourself? Here are two recipes to shake up at home.

Espresso Milkshake

From Anthony Merlino, Beverage Director of Bergamo’s.

1.25 oz Baileys Irish Cream
1.25 oz Buffalo Trace Bourbon
3 oz chilled espresso

Add all ingredients into a shaker, add ice and shake well. Strain into a small, 7-oz beer glass with 1 ice cube. Garnish with chocolate pearls, fine coffee grinds or three espresso beans.

Spicy Espresso Martini

From Volcan di me Terra bartender Katie Auth.

.5 oz Volcan de mi Tierra Cristalino
1 oz Mr. Black Coffee liquor
.5 oz Ancho Reyes Roja liquor
.25 Vanilla Bean syrup
1 oz cold brew

Combine in a shaker with ice and shake thoroughly before straining into a Martini glass and garnish with a toasted marshmallow.