HOT COCKTAILS ARE GETTING HOTTER WITH THE HELP OF COFFEE AND TEA
For consumers in cold-weather climates, winter is a time for cozying up indoors—with hot cocktails in hand. Even those who don’t have to brave plummeting temperatures, snow and ice love the comfort a warm beverage brings.
Coffee and tea are proving to be the most popular bases for seasonal ingredients. According to Mintel, 43% of American consumers prefer seeing seasonal ingredients featured in coffee drinks, with majorities of millennial (ages 23–40) and Gen Z (ages 10–22) consumers falling into that camp, at 53% and 57%, respectively. Tea is also growing increasingly popular, with 34% of consumers reporting they look for seasonal ingredients in tea.
Whether you’re thinking about interesting ways to kick up your coffee concoctions this season or getting ready to brew a new spin on the hot toddy, here are some trends and recipes to consider.
COFFEE WITH SPIRIT
From bitter notes to a smooth and rich body, coffee’s range of complexity makes it compatible with many spirits, and with younger consumers. Whether it’s their sophisticated palate or increasing expectations for new flavor combinations, millennials are sipping—and steering—this “coffee cocktail renaissance.”
This movement has driven restaurant operators and bartenders to develop new, inventive recipes that push far beyond the standard Irish coffee. For example, The Shannon Rose, an Irish pub with locations in Clifton and Ramsey, New Jersey, offers an Espresso Martini that packs a caffeinated punch, combining vanilla bean-infused vodka, Tia Maria coffee liqueur and crème de cacao light with a shot of espresso. As General Manager Sal La Verdi explained to Flavor & The Menu, a fresh-brewed espresso shot “adds an earthy and robust coffee flavor and creates a creamy head reminiscent of the coffee drink, while adding the kick an espresso martini is known for.”
Elsewhere, San Francisco’s Tosca Café has put itself on the craft cocktail map with drinks like the House Cappuccino, created with bourbon, Armagnac, dandelion chocolate ganache, cream and their house cappuccino mix. The two Lloyd’s Taco Factory locations in upstate New York, meanwhile, turn heads (and a profit) with the Café Gennaro, which features tequila, cacao, amaro, churn coffee, cream and cinnamon.
No matter the bar or the blend, it’s clear that today’s coffee culture and cocktail mixology methods are evolving simultaneously, as consumers look for richer taste notes and exciting flavor blends, all with on-trend ingredients. “A perfectly brewed cup of coffee can be pretty mind-blowing,” Tosca Café’s Claire Sprouse told the San Francisco Chronicle. “Bartenders naturally want to interpret that experience for others to enjoy in the cocktail medium.”
A TWIST ON TEA
While coffee has already distinguished itself in the world of hot winter cocktails, tea is gaining traction. Largely due to a push in global flavors and a more positive wellness story, flavor-forward varietals like chai, matcha and lapsang souchong have powered hot tea cocktails on to menus everywhere. With smooth, earthy and sometimes smoky flavor tones, the pungent tastes of tea leaves make the ideal base to some of the strongest, most popular spirits. A hot toddy, for instance, is an easy way to marry your favorite spirits and blends. Whether it’s rum, gin, whiskey or vodka, you can add honey and lemon and then top it with your tea of choice. Love English Breakfast? Black tea and rum make a great combination, as rum’s natural sweetness creates a smooth finish to the bitter edge of black tea.
While classic blends offer some of the most balanced flavors, some restaurant bartenders are experimenting with slightly bolder brews. Max Green, head bartender at New York City’s tea-centric bar Blue Quarter, is one of them. From tea infusions to tea-based syrups, Green’s hot tea cocktails are making a splash in the East Village. Past drinks have included “I Can See Kilimanjaro,” which combined masala chai with water, milk, rhum agricole and maple syrup, and the “Get Cozy,” which included black tea, blended scotch, Amara Montenegro, ginger syrup and lemon juice. “The Montenegro adds notes of orange blossom and bitter orange to the honey and ginger aspects of the cocktail,” Green told Wine Enthusiast last fall. “Smoky aromas float on top to make this ‘toddy’ as satisfying as a flannel blanket.”
What does all of this mean for you and your seasonal beverage menu? Coffee and tea cocktails are brewing with opportunity, and with the right sales strategy, you can reap the benefits of a stronger bottom line. Beverage LTOs, for instance, are a great way to add a sense of urgency and novelty to your seasonal beverage menu, whether attracting new customers who are looking for fun, wintry sips or delighting returning guests with something different to try. Training your staff to upsell is also critical, as customers looking for a warm way to end the evening might be pleasantly surprised to find they can get it with their favorite spirits included.