Coffee Cocktails Make a Comeback with More Craft and Caffeine

Coffee—in one form or another—has always been a bar menu fixture. Every bartender knows how to make an Irish coffee, a White Russian and probably even a mean espresso martini. But as diners and drinkers move away from sugary drinks and bar programs evolve and expand, so do coffee cocktails. No longer is “sweet and creamy” the standard when it comes to mixing coffee and spirits (though there will likely always be a demand for those drinks). Today’s coffee cocktails are more complex and nuanced, with a splash of cold brew or fresh shot of espresso often taking the place of traditional coffee liqueurs.

Rethinking the Classics

Crafting a great coffee cocktail doesn’t have to mean completely reinventing the wheel. Bartenders are breathing new life into classics like the Old Fashioned and the Manhattan with a simple shot of cold brew. Some have managed to give the ubiquitous espresso martini a makeover, elevating it with fresh espresso and house-made coffee cordials balanced with complements like amaro. Coffee is even showing up on tiki-inspired menus. At TikiCat in Kansas City, MO., the coffee-centric Grog Right Now features a “house coffee grog” made with a cold coffee reduction, a blend of rums, cream and vanilla.

One of the most popular cocktails worthy of a coffee upgrade is the Negroni, an iconic Italian apéritif made with gin, Campari and sweet vermouth, which can be easily taken to the next level with the addition of cold brew or espresso. At New York City’s Dante, the Negroni Coffee Swizzle gets a shot of cold brew, and the gin is swapped for mezcal. Rosa Rosa in Portland, OR, takes a slightly different approach with A Night in Tunisia, a pre-batched riff on the Negroni in which the gin is infused with whole coffee beans and warming spices.

Hot or Not?

Cold coffee cocktails may be trending, but for dessert drinks and nightcaps, hot coffee cocktails like the Irish Coffee are still, well, hot. In fact, according to a recent survey of bartenders published in Drinks International, the Irish Coffee is among the top-selling drinks at New York City hotspot, The Dead Rabbit. Made with fresh-brewed hot coffee, demerara syrup, Irish whiskey and lightly whipped heavy cream, the traditional recipe leans on higher-quality ingredients for an elevated flavor profile. Pinewood Social in Nashville, TN, put its own spin on the classic, using a seasonal coffee selection in the Southern Limerick, made with rye, amaro and cream.

Non-Alcoholic Options

You don’t need a liquor license to get in on the coffee cocktail trend.Increasing consumer demand for a better selection of low and no-alcohol drinks at restaurants, bars, cafes and coffee shops has created a unique opportunity to stand out with expertly crafted zero-octane coffee cocktails.

Piggybacking on the simple, two-ingredient espresso tonic drink trend, baristas have begun to develop bar-worthy coffee-based cocktails using botanicals, fresh citrus, flavored syrups and artisanal sodas, like the Cold Brew Mojito at Methodical Coffee in Greenville, SC. Whether these drinks are served over ice in a lowball glass, or shaken and strained into a coupe, more coffee shops are adopting the nonalcoholic craft cocktail experience—and customers are happy to pay a premium for it.

Behind the Bar

The resurgence of coffee cocktails means bartenders and baristas alike are stocking their bars with cold brew or coffee extracts, or making their own infusions, syrups and even coffee ice cubes. Test drive the trend at your operation with the Hipster’s Old Fashioned made with Cold Brew Concentrate. For a nonalcoholic version, check out the Oh Cointreau Coffee Seltzer.

View the Hipster’s Old Fashioned Coffee Cocktail Recipe