Coffee Cocktails & Sophisticated Serves Grow in Importance

The Roman Holiday coffee cocktail at Cindy's in Chicago. Image: AJ Trela

How important is coffee today? The United States coffee industry is currently valued at $48 billion, according to the personal finance website WalletHub, which recently released its report on 2017's Best Coffee Cities in America. To determine the best local coffee scenes in America, WalletHub’s data crunchers compared the 100 largest cities across 14 key indicators of a strong coffee culture.

Coffee keeps nudging its way onto menus as part of today’s cocktail scene, and many bars and restaurants used the recent National Coffee Day event to highlight their offerings.

For example, at Tavernonna Italian Kitchen in Kansas City, the Italian Chocolate is a twist on the Espresso Martini. Created by head bartender Nicholas Boden, the drink includes Amaro Averna, Kahlúa, and chilled espresso, topped with three espresso beans and served up.

Some don’t need the created “holiday” to feature coffee drinks, however. In Portland, Jeffery Morgenthaler at Pépé Le Moko includes a handful of coffee drinks: the Revolver (Bulleit bourbon, coffee liqueur, orange bitters and a flamed orange peel), the classic Irish Coffee, and an Espresso Martini made with coffee extract, Kahlúa, over-proof vodka and lemon oil.

Others reaching for new ways to mix coffee and alcohol include Asian Box, a fine casual restaurant chain serving Asian street-stall-style food in San Francisco. They recently introduced Vietnamese-inspired cocktails at their newest location, including the Good Morning Vietnam, made with traditional-style Vietnamese iced coffee, bourbon, and vanilla cardamom syrup.

Vietnamese-style coffee on its own is easy to find in cities where bánh mì sandwiches and phở restaurants exist. But in New York, a new style of Vietnamese coffee is being served, based on a style common to Hanoi: eggs mixed into coffee. Sweetened condensed milk is, of course, the key ingredient that makes Vietnamese iced coffee so seductive, but in the 1940s someone combined it with eggs to create cà phê trúng (egg coffee). Now featured at Hanoi House, dark chicory coffee brewed one cup at a time in traditional Vietnamese fashion is the base into which a mixture of egg yolks, sweetened condensed milk, and sugar is poured.

Even Starbucks continues to tweak their coffee serves, recently adding a whiskey-flavored drink in a limited number of outlets. There’s no actual alcohol in the company’s Whiskey Barrel-Aged Cold Brew. Instead, it’s the result of whiskey barrel-aged beans turned into cold brew coffee, allowing the drink to retain whiskey notes but no alcohol buzz, says the company. Starbucks first tested the whiskey-influenced drink at their high-end Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room in March, where it sold out fast.

La Colombe, a pioneer in nitro draft cold brew, creates the base for the Roman Holiday cocktail at Cindy’s in the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel. An elegant reinterpretation of the Jungle Bird tiki cocktail, the Roman Holiday is made with Amaro Meletti, Campari, pineapple, lime, La Colombe Pure Black cold brew, and cinnamon. Even more creative is the Midnight Train to Portland served at Travelle Kitchen + Bar located inside The Langham Chicago. This inventive cocktail is a mix of Pinot Noir, espresso tequila, pear wine and aromatic bitters.

As for the WalletHub report, the top 20 of the best coffee cities (and the places where coffee cocktails would logically do well) are, from first to 20th: Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, New York City, Los Angeles, San Diego, Chicago, Denver, Boston, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Oakland, Honolulu, Miami, Atlanta, Long Beach, Austin, Las Vegas, and Jersey City.