Drop it like it’s hot.
It’s the time of year when you can see the shape of your breath but you can’t feel your feet. It’s when everything gets a little bit extra - your head gets a hood, your beer gets a tan and your food gets roasted. So what about your coffee? Are you ready for a little sumpin’ sumpin’ in your brew? (You’re gonna be around relatives. Think about it.)
Gin and tonic, sure. Rock and roll, no shit. But alcohol with coffee? Who thought of that? The Italians - which is wacked considering how passionate they are about the exceptional quality of their coffee. Except for the one open-minded (read: alcoholic) guy who decided to dump a shot of grappa into his espresso and, admiring how much better it was, dubbed it a corretto. Translation: coffee that’s “corrected” with alcohol.
Traditionally, grappa was added to coffee to spark it up (or hide the imbibing from your mama), but now all sorts of liqueurs and spirits are added. Basically, it comes down to a combination of what you enjoy and what compliments the coffee. Georgina Downey, head of training at Lavazza, suggests that in order to make a smooth and flavorsome coffee and alcohol combo, you need to source flavors of alcohol that complement the taste of the coffee. No problemo.
Guaranteed coffee mates include Cognac, whisky, anise, Kahlua, Baileys, Frangelico or any tasty hazelnut- or almond-flavored spirits. How and when you add the liquor may depend on what sort of coffee you’re brewing, but the general rule is alcohol, then coffee, followed by other ingredients (cinnamon, sugar, arsenic, old lace.)
Not all coffee and alcohol combinations need to be mixed together. Another palate-seducing combo is espresso accompanied by, but not mixed into, muscat or Port. The latter have the power to stand up to the brawn of the espresso while maintaining their own tawny appeal. (Yeah, we’re channeling a little Angelina Jolie + anybody else here. So sue.)
But while our suggestions are a start, going off the beaten track can’t hurt. Our coffee dominatrix Georgie served us two newbies: one, a half nip of butterscotch schnapps into a latte (can’t get that at the mall); the other, a mocha with a slug of black rum.
The combinations are endless (well, maybe not with Thunderbird... unless you’re really desperate. Or a gangster rapper.). So next time you need firing up, brew up a pot of your finest beans, line up all your favorite and not-so-favorite spirits and taste away. Couple of shots of this and you’ll never start the day the old way again. You may never start the day, period.
TRICKS FOR A TOP COFFEE AND GROG EXPERIENCE
Make sure you begin with GOOD COFFEE. This exercise is all about adding flavor to enhance what you already have, not about disguising a foul tasting brew that you’re too tight to throw out. If you’re making these at home, BREW the friggin’ stuff. If you’re out, inspect your barista and his or her technique. You’ll make new friends - or else get your face burned off. But it’s all in the name of fine living.
If you want to make sure the coffee isn’t cooled when the alcohol’s added, heat the liquor. You can do this on the stove or, if you have a machine, you can add a bit of steam. Warning: it only needs to be warmed VERY slightly. This isn’t an episode of Jackass.
How you add the cream to an Irish coffee is what will make or break you. The cream is supposed to float on the top - not sink, not dissolve and not stand tall like a meringue. Float. The trick is to use really softly whipped cream so that it sets on the top like plankton on a pond. One trick to get this right is to pour it over the back of a spoon. Smoooooth.
When choosing your alcohol, make sure your flavors are complementary. (An Ode to Frangelico, by you.) And choose flavors you know you like. If you don’t like almonds, don’t add an almond-based liqueur. Can’t stand whisky? Don’t add it to your coffee. On the other hand, even if you’re all about Everclear, keep in mind some substances should never meet in a cup.
A serving is a nip, which equals an ounce in most places. In Italy it’s usually after you say “when.’
If you’re not sure what you like, try them, all. Truly, it’s the only way. Maybe not on a first date, though.
If you’re adding syrups for flavor, try and source a good one. Again, choose flavors that contrast the coffee. Things like Irish cream, caramel and French vanilla all go well. Avoid contrasting flavors like raspberry and kiwi fruit. Just “cause it tastes good with ice cream doesn’t mean it’ll enhance your brew. I mean, people put gummy bears on ice cream, too.
TRY THESE AT HOME
These first two are being served as we speak on Parisian sidewalks. (Look, they’re sneering at you!) And the last one - well, as long as you can get your cream to float - is an Irish Coffee. Otherwise it’s just a cheerful mess.
1 oz. vanilla syrup
1 oz. Bacardi white rum
Some runny cream for floating, not mixing
Serve in an espresso glass.
1 oz. sugarcane syrup
1 oz. of Cointreau
Some runny cream to float on top
Adding the ingredients in a glass in the order listed, you’ll get a fabulous striping effect in the glass and a wonderful feeling in your belly.
1 t brown sugar
1 shot Irish whiskey
Build the coffee on top
Top with cream as explained above
When you get this right, it’s a sensory revelation. You’ll get the feeling of cool cream on top, then the hot, sweet, whisky-flavored coffee seeping through. When it’s good...