We’ve all experienced that feeling of dread right around 9 p.m. on a Friday night, when those plans we made earlier in the week begin to sound less and less appealing. But if you don’t want to bail on plans for the third time despite being down for the count, a coffee cocktail could be the perfect concoction to revive you.
While the Red Bull Vodka is a great dive bar staple, upping your cocktail game (and mood) with an icy drink infused with a cup of joe just feels a little sexier. Plus, with such an influx of new high-quality coffee liqueurs made with real coffee beans, you can trust that your caffeinated cocktails won’t taste overly sweet or out of balance. From modern classics like the beloved Espresso Martini to centuries-old mainstays like the Carajillo, these creative libations are the perfect way to jumpstart your night out — or upgrade your day-off pick-me-up.
The Espresso Martini
It wouldn’t be a roundup of the best coffee cocktails without the Espresso Martini. Reportedly invented in the ‘80s by bartender Dick Bradsell in response to a model asking for something to “wake her up, and f*ck her up,” the caffeinated booze bomb has become a mainstay at bars and restaurants worldwide, and is now one of the top five most ordered cocktails globally. And if you have an espresso maker at home, whipping up the drink is easier than you may think. Simply combine espresso, vodka, and coffee liqueur — and a bit of simple syrup, if you wish — in a shaker, shake vigorously, and serve in a coupe glass garnished with a few coffee beans. If you prefer your spirits agave-based, Tequila Espresso Martinis are just as easy to prep.
The White Russian
Invented in 1949 and popularized in the late ‘90s by “The Big Lebowski,” the White Russian is a simple combination of vodka, half-and-half, and coffee liqueur. If you prefer your cocktails sans dairy, the Black Russian is another wonderful coffee cocktail that’s essentially the same thing, just minus the cream. Either way, the libation has a boozy kick and no shortage of rich coffee flavor.
The Irish Coffee
While originally created in 1952 to serve sleepy travelers at Ireland’s Shannon Airport, the version of the Irish Coffee many stateside are familiar with is the recipe developed by the team at NYC cocktail destination The Dead Rabbit. Consisting of Irish whiskey, Sumatra coffee, and Demerara sugar syrup topped with a heaping of fresh whipped cream and nutmeg, the Irish Coffee is as rich as it is effective.
Essentially the Spanish iteration of an Irish Coffee, the Carajillo packs a punch with 50 percent Licor 43 and 50 percent espresso. Licor 43 — named for the 43 secret ingredients that apparently make up the spirit — complements the espresso with robust fruit notes and hints of vanilla, herbs, and baking spices. As the cocktail consists of only two ingredients, we recommend shaking the combo to achieve maximum aeration and blending.
The Wake Up Call
A variation of the classic Espresso Martini, the Wake Up Call employs rum as its base and complements the spirit with orange and smoked chili bitters. The rum is a perfect match for the fresh espresso, while orange bitters elevate some of the tropical fruit notes in the spirit and chili bitters provide some heat.
The Spiked Coffee Tonic
Everyone loves a classic Gin & Tonic, but if you’re in the mood to experiment, the addition of espresso can elevate both the drink and your brunch game. For a build that’s essentially an espresso G&T, combine gin, espresso, tonic, and brown sugar syrup in a highball glass and stir. Garnish with a lemon wheel for added freshness.
Add a little thunder to your cocktail with the Zesty Zeus. Made with Cognac, rye, cold brew coffee, and maple syrup, this is the Espresso Martini for whiskey lovers. Be sure to garnish with an orange twist for brightness and aromatics.
The Fair Trade
Beverage director Amanda Reedt uses a coffee-infused mezcal at Seattle’s Heartwood Provisions as the base for the Fair Trade, which was inspired by the sweet and spicy flavors of Mexican chocolate. With the addition of ruby port, Amaro Ramazzotti, and crème de cacao, this smoky and slightly bitter drink is the ideal cocktail to complement “dark, cold winter days,” as Reed suggests.
The Banker’s Choice
Bourbon alone can express coffee notes, so it only makes sense to infuse the spirit with your favorite beans. Made with medium-roast coffee-infused bourbon, Lazzaroni Amaro, and crème de pêche, the Banker’s Choice was originally conceived at Philadelphia’s Bank & Bourbon. Whether sipped at brunch or enjoyed as a nightcap, this cocktail is a perfectly bittersweet way to start or end the day.
The Dream Potion No. 9
Your childhood Yoo-hoo just got an upgrade. The Dream Potion No. 9, created by Matt Labarge of Norfolk, Va.’s The Public House, is a silky-sweet mixture of cold brew coffee vodka, half-and-half, honey syrup, and orange bitters shaken together. The foamy concoction is easy to make, and home mixologists averse to vodka can substitute any coffee-infused neutral grain spirit.
The Tiramisu Tini
Created for the holiday season by Tony Roehr at San Diego’s Raised by Wolves, the Tiramisu Tini bolsters the classic Espresso Martini by adding a cinnamon-spiced flare. By swapping out vodka for rum as the cocktail’s base, the libation already takes on a more defined baking spice note that’s only accentuated by the addition of cinnamon syrup. Mr Black provides the cocktail with its java core while a hint of aquavit ties the cocktail up with a nice big bow.