Over the last few years, espresso martinis have ascended into cocktail stardom. According to generative AI food platform Tastewise, social conversations about espresso martinis have increased by more than 50% over the past year, and the cocktail had a 23% year-over-year jump in menu appearance.
While we love a good espresso martini, we predict 2024 will be the year people decide to get creative with their coffee cocktails—and savvy bartenders are already innovating beyond the standard espresso, coffee liqueur, and simple syrup formula. Here are six exciting new modern coffee cocktails from across the country and the stories and recipes behind each drink.
Pandan-monium — Sắp Sửa, Denver
Beverage director George Wright says his initial inspiration for this cocktail was Vietnamese egg coffee, or cà phê trứng. “I thought a flip cocktail would be a fun way to incorporate the whole egg into the cocktail,” he says, referring to a classic creamy cocktail shaken with a whole raw egg.
Sắp Sửa already had Cafe du Monde in the kitchen for their chocolate gateau dessert, so Wright used the same coffee to create a coffee pandan syrup. “Cafe du Monde became popular with the Vietnamese American population because the chicory in the coffee resembled flavor profiles similar to robusta beans, which are the most grown and consumed coffee bean in Vietnam.”
Sắp Sửa chef Ni Nguyen told Wright that cognac was popular in wedding celebrations in Vietnam, so Wright chose cognac as the base spirit with sherry to complement. “The first time I tested it, it was on the sweet side,” Wright says. “That’s when I added in some navy strength rum to bring in a little more heat to cut through the sugars.”
1 oz Maison Rouge cognac
1 oz Oloroso sherry
.25 oz Smith and Cross rum
.75 oz coffee/pandan syrup (see recipe below)
1 whole egg
Pandan powder for dusting
Combine all ingredients into a tin. Do a reverse dry shake: shake with ice first, then strain into another shaker. Shake again and double fine strain into a coupe glass. Dust with pandan powder.
Coffee pandan syrup recipe
35 g Cafe du Monde Original coffee
250 g hot water
200 g granulated sugar
1 tsp of pandan extract
Brew coffee for 3 minutes, and then strain coffee over sugar. Add pandan extract to the syrup. Let syrup cool before use.
Infusíon Frío de Coco — The Bar at Moniker General, San Diego
Bar Director Matthew Lopez creates a coconut fat-washed cinnamon-infused tequila for this top-selling coffee cocktail at The Bar at Moniker General. “Our house-made coconut tequila has similar notes to Licor 43, one of the most popular liquors to be used in one of Latin America’s and Spain’s most popular cocktails,” Lopez says. “I managed to balance the sweet-to-bitter ratios and had the random thought to add the smooth creaminess of a well-poured Stout on top. Fortunately, it floats well due to the fat used in the washed tequila.”
2 oz coconut and cinnamon-infused blanco tequila
1 oz Licor 43
.5 oz agave syrup
2 oz espresso
1 oz egg white
Guinness draft float
Add all ingredients (excluding Guinness) into a shaker. Dry shake vigorously. Add ice. Hard shake. Strain over a large cube. Float the Guinness draft on top with a bar spoon. Garnish with two espresso beans and two dashes of vanilla extract.
Coconut and cinnamon-infused blanco tequila recipe:
Add two ounces of coconut oil and five cinnamon sticks to one bottle (750ml) of tequila blanco. Let that infuse in a freezer for 24 hours. Scrape or spoon off the hardened oil that rose to the top before straining the liquid through a strainer (coffee strainer recommended).
Tokyo Drifter — Takibi, Portland
This low-ABV aperitif-style drink is refreshing with bitter fruit undertones. Takibi bartender Patrick Smith says he was inspired by the Americano, a classic Italian cocktail made with Campari and sweet vermouth.
Smith replaces the soda water in the recipe with Stumptown’s Strange Magic cascara soda, a fizzy, bright drink made from cascara, the dried fruit of the coffee plant. “It still drinks very much like the aperitif Americano, but with some more robust fruit flavors coming from the Umeshu Liqueur and the Cascara soda,” Smith says. “I really think it works best as the first drink before consuming any food. But it would pair well with either of our desserts as a digestif, too.”
.75 oz St. George Umeshu liqueur
.75 oz Campari
.75 oz Sweet Vermouth
.25 oz lemon juice
3 oz Stumptown “Strange Magic” cascara soda
Shake everything but the cascara soda with pebble ice, then add cascara. Pour into a Collins glass with new pebble ice. Garnish with a lemon peel.
Ole Smoky — Maleza, Palm Springs
This intricate cocktail served at Maleza in the boutique Drift Hotel in Palm Springs was designed by beverage manager Nick Turner and is a close collaboration between the kitchen and bar teams, with the kitchen stepping in to make a cafe de olla, a traditional Mexican spiced coffee, syrup, and cornflake butter to infuse in the mezcal.
1.5 oz cornflake and brown butter-infused mezcal (see below)
.25 oz Mr Black coffee liqueur
.25 oz Ponche Pajarote Clove and Cardamom liqueur
Bar spoon cafe de olla syrup
3 dashes Fee Brothers Aztec chocolate bitters
Add all ingredients into a cocktail stirring glass. Stir until properly diluted, about 30 seconds. Pour over an extra large ice cube, and (optional) garnish with a corn husk “joint” and light.
Cafe de olla syrup:
4 cups sugar
4 piloncillo sugar cones
8 cups water
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tsp ground allspice
2 tsp whole peppercorns
2 5-inch orange peel ribbons
1.5 cups black coffee
A pinch of salt
Combine all ingredients in a pot, bring to a boil, and turn on medium heat. Stir until all sugars are dissolved and let simmer for ten more minutes. Strain with a fine mesh strainer and let cool.
Cornflake and brown butter mezcal:
112 g cornflakes
½ lb unsalted butter
2 750ml bottles of Espadin mezcal
Add butter to a large saute pan. Melt butter down and keep on medium heat until butter just starts to brown. Add cornflakes and toss in a pan until the cornflakes turn golden brown. Add cornflake butter mixture into a vacuum seal bag, then add your mezcal. Vacuum seal and let it sit for 48 hours.
After 48 hours, pass the mixture through a cheesecloth and pour it into a large bowl. Put your container of mezcal and cornflake mixture into a freezer. Let sit for at least 8 hours. After the butter fats have separated from the mezcal, you can scoop the solids with a spoon. Bottle and enjoy.
Super Smash Bros — Icarus, Portland, Oregon
“This drink is basically a love child of a Vietnamese coffee and an espresso martini,” says Icarus co-owner Jamal Hassan. “It’s topped with a fun and interactive caramel crunch reminiscent of crème brûlée.” Hassan harmonizes the medley of ingredients to craft a complex booze-forward drink tempered by a touch of sweetness.
“The goal was to create a more interactive espresso martini that didn’t take itself too seriously,” he says. The bits of caramel tuile float on top of the drink after it’s smashed. “As you take each sip, you get a bit of the cocktail, a bit of the cream, and a bit of the pleasant crunch.”
.5 oz armagnac (they use ODVI)
.5 oz bourbon (they use Old Grandad)
.5 oz coffee liqueur (they use Accompani)
.25 oz funky Jamaican rum like Hamilton Black Pot Still
.5 oz 2:1 demerara sugar syrup
.5 oz freshly brewed espresso (or cold brew concentrate if that isn’t available)
Shake all ingredients with ice and double strain into a small rocks-style glass.
This drink is garnished with .5 oz of freshly whipped condensed milk cream (ten parts cream to one part condensed milk) and topped with a caramel tuile. Icarus serves this drink with a hammer on the side to smash the tuile.
Gingerbread Chai — Deviation Distilling, Denver
This gingerbread chai is not nearly as sweet as you might imagine and was inspired by the popularity of their autumn pumpkin chai seasonal special.
“The gingerbread puree is intentionally extra robust, thick, and delicious to marry with the coffee and spices,” says Tiago Amaral, head mixologist at Deviation Distilling. “Chai spices complement the dark flavor depth of cold brew, and the parmesan foam balances out the sweetness of the cocktail and adds a unique savory aspect that customers are intrigued by.”
1.5 oz. Deviation ZinFin Bourbon (or your favorite bourbon)
.25 oz. Barista Spirits Aztec Mocha Whisky (or your favorite coffee whisky)
1 oz. gingerbread pureed in the food processor
.5 oz. chai syrup
.5 oz. cold brew
2 drops of saline solution
Garnish: grated nutmeg, gingerbread cookie, whipped cream (though Deviation Distilling makes a parmesan foam in the taproom)
Put all ingredients except the garnish in a shaker filled with ice. Double strain into a tall rocks glass with four large ice cubes.
Cover photo by Heather Amistad