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Baristas at the Bar

Espresso Martini. The two words together give me the jitters, and not in a good way. Along with Irish Coffee and White Russians, coffee cocktails seem to be trapped in an eternally un-hip time warp, when espresso was pronounced with an X and drinks were gender-specific. Like the after-dinner coffee that many restaurants still can’t get right, they’re likely to leave a bitter taste in your mouth. So why, when coffee appreciation is at an all-time high and the cocktail scene is incredibly vibrant, do so few venues manage to combine the two successfully? I put it down to rigidly sticking to recipes that no longer suit the way cocktails and coffee are designed these days, tasting and adapting around specific ingredients. Take the Espresso Martini, for example – there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with it, but if the shot of espresso at its base is badly made, the whole drink falls down. You can add all the sugar, booze and cream you like, but if it has a burnt, overly bitter, dirty or sour shot at its heart, there’s no fixing it, just as there’s no disguising a bad coffee with sugar and textured milk. We all know that coffee has a huge range and myriad flavours, so why be limited to an out-of-date formula? Baristas take the utmost care to dial in each and every new coffee they get in, tweaking the grind, weight and time of a recipe until the end result is just right. So we need to take the time to taste and evaluate our coffee before deciding on the other ingredients that might compliment and enhance it best. A Kenyan coffee, juicy with berry fruits, will have a very different application to an Ethiopian that’s full of luscious, bright, stone fruits. Bartender Tristan Stephenson, who co-founded Purl in Marylebone and Worship Street Whistling Shop in Shoreditch, suggests composing Espresso Martinis with tequila or rum rather than vodka, keeping sugar to a minimum and perhaps adding some crème de cassis to accentuate the fruity Kenyan beans that are now in season. “Alcohol is a palate irritant – not something we would usually associate with coffee,” he says, “which is why it can be so hard to perfect the balance so the two don’t fight one another.” Such secrets and more are revealed in his forthcoming book, The Curious Bartender (£16.99, Ryland, Peters & Small). No discussion about coffee and cocktails can be had without mentioning the World Coffee in Good Spirits Championship. The competition varies each year, but the premise is always the same: each barista has 5 minutes to set up their station, followed by 8 minutes to present a set of four drinks – two identical Irish coffees and two identical, coffee-based alcoholic drinks of their own design. This is just over half the time allowed in the UK and World Barista Championships. Reigning British champion, Gordon Howell from coffee and tea house Harlequins York, placed third in the WBC with a set that had the audience hooked from start to finish. Each round took the judges through the evolution of a coffee farm, his signature drink subtly adapting to reflect the changes in climate and economy. It was utterly captivating and Gordon spoke with such passion that we were entranced. Compère Gwilym Davies let me taste it and I discovered a cocktail that was a subtle balance of all of coffee’s constituent parts. Gordon revealed how he starts with a Finca Argentina Fincona 2 Tablon Washed Bourbon from El Salvador, brewed using a Kalita Wave dripper over ice, which he mixes with a sweet Old Tom-style gin, homemade grapefruit syrup, Grand Marnier, homemade tonic and a twist of orange to finish. When asked the secret of making successful coffee cocktails, he had one word: “Water.” When he performed at the finals in Nice, water was the only variable that was beyond his control, at a moment when every element of the coffee making process was vital. So, if you plan to make coffee cocktails at home, start with the basics. You know the drill: fresh beans, correct grind, good water, careful extraction. If a great coffee is a balance of sweetness, bitterness and acidity, then consider this the perfect base to build your cocktail from. A great cocktail is ultimately a winning balance of those same elements – sour notes interchangeable with acidity in this case. All the cocktail classics adhere to a set of formulas that, as a rule, are a fairly good starting point to incorporate a carefully prepared coffee. You can then build upon the brew, layer by layer, always adjusting, adapting and tasting as you go along. Possibly the most important element when creating cocktails, coffee or otherwise, is ice – lots and lots of it, made with quality water – as it’s absolutely crucial for the chilling and dilution of the finished drink. Then, get ready to experience deliciousness and let the night begin…

Rob Dunne

Rob and business partner Vic Frankowski run the inspirational design and coffee space DunneFrankowski at Protein in Hoxton. They’ve just opened their second site, a collaboration with Sharpe’s, which is also set to break new ground in what to expect from a coffee shop. Together they run a creative coffee consultancy, which includes curating a series of taste-based workshops for the Auchentoshan whisky distillery and running their own cupping and training classes. They were also judges at the 2013 Coffee in Good Spirits at the UKBC. Rob devised The Pemberton, a nod to the creator of Coca Cola, John Pemberton, in which coffee is playfully transformed into something entirely different and completely unexpected. By adding a combination of acidity (in the form of fruit), natural sugars, vanilla and spices to a filter-coffee base, he created caramel-like flavours in a drink complex enough to make you ponder its ingredients, just like a good coffee and, funnily enough, just like Coca Cola itself. “As I work with coffee, the last thing I want in a cocktail bar is anything related to coffee,” he admits. “It’s not that I feel I won’t receive a good coffee, it’s more that I’ve never tasted a coffee- based cocktail that is true to the coffee itself. After years of tasting bad, good and excellent coffee, I realised it’s actually very difficult to retain the coffee’s unique characteristics beside alcohol,” he explains. “The aggression of alcohol and its ability to carry huge aromatic compounds will often destroy the subtle aromas associated with quality coffee.” After carefully considering Caffeine’s cocktail challenge, Rob decided, “Obviously I want the coffee to stand out, but a bartender will prefer alcohol to dominate. For me the solution is to just lower the alcohol content. Less is definitely more when it comes to an interesting coffee- based alcoholic beverage.” After sampling his exquisite Sipster, right, we all agree.

The Antipodal Coffee Sipster

“This sophisticated cocktail is designed to focus attention on savouring layers of flavour, requiring sipping at intervals rather than rapid swallowing. Diffusing a frozen coffee cube into the whisky gradually inverts the ratio of each of the drink’s components, resulting in a glass where the balance of taste constantly shifts and finishes at the beginning’s antipode. As the drinker observes the evolution in balance from predominant whisky notes to predominant coffee notes, we hope a more discerning consideration of the respective ingredients is achieved.”


Coffee: Square Mile Sedie Yirgacheffe – Natural

20ml simple home-made syrup using 1:1 ration of water to sugar (I use a light Muscovado, but sugar choice is subjective, so feel free to play with it)

5ml Madagascar Bourbon vanilla extract


1. For the coffee Coffee brewed with an AeroPress: 18 grams, ground for cupping; 235ml water (temperature 37.5˚C); inverted submerged method; double paper filter; time – 35 minutes brew and press

2. Set as 25ml measures in an ice tray and freeze

3. Mix all liquid ingredients together

4. To present, simply set the ice in a glass with a 25ml measure of your preferred whisky. The whisky measure should be equal to that of the ice cube.

5. Sip and savour.

Ruby’s & Tina, We Salute You

A seductive, faded elegance whispers from the pavements below Stoke Newington High Street, where the intimate cocktail Ruby’s is hidden – in the basement of Hackney’s hipster furniture emporium, Castle Gibson. Tina, We Salute You is just around the corner and embodies the very best in neighbourhood cafés, a relaxed space that welcomes local artists to transform its walls every few months. As sparkling examples of their respective establishments and as equally happy neighbours, I couldn’t think of a better pair to work together to devise espresso-based recipes. Their first, the EspressoTina, is a super- punchy Espresso Martini made with traditional ingredients (Kahlua, vanilla vodka and espresso) but focussing on quality coffee. Steve Hawkes, co-founder of Tina’s, explains that it’s the expertly pulled shot of Square Mile Red Brick – smooth, fruity and strong at it’s heart – that really sets the drink apart from the competition. Their second collaboration, The Bitter Smoke, is completely different, combining smokey Talisker Whisky with walnut bitters and a little sugar syrup, almost using the bitter espresso in place of the lemon juice you’d use in a sour. Tom Gibson, owner of Ruby’s, explains that Talisker is a particularly peaty whisky whose smokiness combines interestingly with the bitterness of coffee to give it a layered, complex flavour. The walnut bitters help accentuate this while the egg white gives it body and the sugar syrup helps to balance it all out.

The Bitter Smoke


50ml Talisker Whisky

25ml Square Mile Red Brick espresso

25ml egg white

20ml sugar syrup

2 dashes walnut bitters


Shake all ingredients except the bitters with plenty of ice. Pour into a rocks glass filled with ice, add the walnut bitters, stir and finish with a lemon twist.

Chloë Callow

I’ve been experimenting with infusions of cascara for some time. As a by-product of the coffee production process it can easily be ignored, but I’ve noticed it popping up more and more this year. Kaffeine on Great Titchfield Street pairs it with Earl Grey tea as a palate cleanser, and Alchemy and Curators in the City serve it as a refreshing alternative to coffee in summer. Proceed with caution: it delivers a whopping hit of caffeine – more than coffee itself. With its tea-like flavours and zesty marmalade notes, I find that cascara lends itself perfectly to spirit infusions, in particular whisky and gin, but maybe that’s down to my personal fondness for both. Although I find that sipping the infused spirits neat tastes too concentrated, syrupy, occasionally flat and high in tea-like tannins, I have discovered that more flavours can easily be teased out by combining it with other ingredients in a cocktail. A twist on the Boulevardier – made with cascara-infused Monkey Shoulder, Campari, Sweet Vermouth, a couple of drops of Caravan coffee bitters and an orange twist – is a revelation: the previously tight, concentrated flavour of the infused spirit really opens up
in the cocktail to become a highly complex and enjoyable drink, in which each note of flavour reveals itself in intriguingly crisp, clear layers.
I generally love short and bitter drinks, so it is with some surprise that I confess that this girly, frothy and rather dainty cocktail has captured my heart. I’ve been inspired by the idea of sherry cocktails ever since
I tasted the sensational Jezebel at Happiness Forgets in Hoxton, and I can’t shake the notion that a marmaladey, tea-like gin would pair beautifully with a super-sweet and sticky Pedros Ximénez sherry, full of dried fruit, spices and even a lick of coffee to even the tone. Here the addition of grapefruit juice adds another level of complexity, lifting the cocktail above a simple sour into something truly magical and super-charged; va va boom!

The Jezebella


30ml gin, infused with cascara (I used Hasbean’s Bolivia Finca Illimani Anastacio Cadena)

15ml Pedrox Ximénez sherry

10ml red grapefruit juice

5ml lemon juice

15ml egg white


To make the gin infusion, push a couple of handfuls of your chosen cascara into a bottle of gin and leave for one to three weeks depending on the strength desired. Be mindful that the longer it is left to infuse, the stronger the tea-like, tannin notes will be.

Shake all ingredients vigorously over ice, strain into the prettiest glass you can find, garnish with a lemon twist and prepare to party.