The Rise of Caffeine Culture

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Hot or cold, coffee cocktails sell well.

 

There’s a double offering on at many of the restaurants owned by Denver-based Sage Restaurant Group: caffeinated cocktails that offer something for the coffee lover and something for the spirits aficionado.

Caffeinated cocktails are available year-round, with cold versions piquing interest most in the warm months, and hot styles enjoying success in cooler climes.

On the cold drink side, Mercat a la Planxa in Chicago offers Café Balsamico ($14). “For this we tried to capture the spirit of spending the afternoon in a Barcelona bar,” says Brandon Wise, corporate director of beverage operations. “And coffee is definitely a part of that experience, and sweet and savory has a lot of relevance in the bar.

The drink features cold brew coffee and sherry, which adds salinity. It also contains rum, Combier Framboise, and a housemade balsamic vinegar simple syrup. The bar shakes this drink and serves it up in a coupe glass or Martini glass. “When you shake this drink, you get froth, and we garnish with three coffee beans which adorn the froth,” says Wise.

Coffee is embedded into the culture of Portland, Ore., he says, and that’s why the caffeinated cocktail Café Pepe at Urban Farmer there is popular. The bar freezes cold brew coffee into a large ice cube, then makes a cocktail with mescal, Averna and Drambuie – a spin on a Manhattan. The ice cube goes into the cocktail and melts as guests drink. “This is one of our greatest hits,” Wise says, “people come in search of this either for a cocktail or caffeine.”

At another Urban Farmer restaurant (there are four total), this one in Cleveland, Ohio, there’s a caffeinated cocktail named the Wake-Up Call ($14). Its ingredients include cognac, Brancamenta, Don Ciccio Concerto (an espresso liqueur) and cold brew from a local coffee roaster, Rising Star Coffee. This beverage is shaken with ice, poured into a rocks glass, and garnished with a mint sprig. “This is a very fresh drink,” says Wise.

Wake-Up Call coffee cocktail from Sage Restaurant Group - Caffeine Culture bar trend

The Wake-Up Call (image: Andy Hata)

 

The hot drinks have a very different style and taste profile. At Emporium, which opens next month (December) in Fort Collins, Colo., there will be a Café Bowerbird cocktail. This drink will feature Bacardí 8 Años 8-year aged rum, Amaro Nardini and a turbinado sugar, topped with locally roasted drip coffee from Peritus Coffee Roasters, and Chantilly cream.

This drink, explains Wise, is named after the bowerbird, a real bird that gathers items that are often similar in color and then puts those things together in a pile. “We partner with a local coffee roaster and created our own blend with them,” Wise says. “We are gathering the best things that are local and weaving them into an interesting tapestry for this drink.”

During the winter, Urban Farmer sells the Café Urbano, containing Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve bourbon, walnut nocino, Amaro Averna and hot coffee, topped with whipped cream. The whipped cream is unusual, says Wise: “Similar to the whipped cream used on Irish coffee with a texture almost like pancake batter – more of a pouring cream.”

Caffeinated cocktails can be drunk at any time, though Wise’s opinion is they’re often best enjoyed before or after a meal. Café Balsamico in particular, he says, “is great before a meal and gets your appetite going, while Café Pepe works well as a digestif.”

These caffeinated drinks are all popular, but the cold styles outrank the warm drinks, Wise says. “That has to do with exposure because a lot of bartenders are working with coffee and it’s transcended into a dinner and apéritif drink. We’re all becoming more knowledgeable about coffee and cocktails. The coffee revolution is moving step by step with the cocktail revolution and we’re left with the most knowledgeable consumer base in history.”

 

Café Balsamico cocktail recipe from Sage Restaurant Group - Caffeine Culture bar trend

Café Balsamico

Recipe courtesy of Sage Restaurant Group; Image: Anthony Tahlier

  • 1 oz. Lustau East India Solera Sherry
  • 0.5 oz. Lustau Oloroso Sherry
  • 0.75 oz. Cruzan Anejo Rum
  • 0.25 oz. Combier Framboise
  • 1.5 oz. Cold brew coffee
  • 0.25 oz. Balsamic simple syrup
  • 1 Dash Angostura Bitters
  • 1 Mint leaf to garnish
  • 3 Coffee beans to garnish

Shake all ingredients with ice and double strain. Garnish with one mint leaf and three coffee beans.