Coffee’s Worth a Shot

Blend together a burgeoning coffee culture with the resurgence of classic cocktails and what do you get? A glorious mash up of spirited coffee drinks well worth a shot. I’m not talking about your grandmother’s Kahlua and Cream or the ubiquitous Espresso Martini, but truly buzz-worthy creations.

If you think that words like varietal and terrior or descriptors like fruit-forward and tannic are only used in wine, think again. Coffee’s quality, like wine and spirits, is carefully and zealously measured by tasting experts. The use of a 100 point scale, just like in wine & spirits, rewards the beans with the most sweetness and smoothness. The top roasters are on an endless five-continent quest to source the best beans, those that score at least an 85, and can pay over a hundred dollars a pound for rare varietals or single farm micro-lots. Consider these tasting notes: Begins with pear, fig and stonefruit, lemon acidity appears followed by raw sugar, floral notes and a delicate, lingering finish. Chardonnay? Elderflower liqueur? Nope, guess again. Try Cruz Del Sur: Peruvian, Micro-lot, Finca La Flor by the world-class Chicago-based coffee roasters, Intelligentsia.

Although winemakers in Europe and a growing number of US producers have long been proponents of organic and sustainable agriculture, coffee is the first commodity in the United States for which there is an independent monitor that guarantees producers are paid a fair wage for their product and work in decent conditions. Furthermore, coffee was one of the first in a growing line-up of industries to experiment with the dual concepts of sustainable practices and fair-trade initiatives. The chief concern of the fair trade movement has been to elevate the way of life for the small family growers that make up most of the over 25 million people who rely on the coffee industry for their income. This guaranteed living wage has newly afforded them the means to invest in health care, education and environmental stewardship. Drop by drop, entire communities and even countries in the “bean belt” benefit every time you give in to your need for caffeine. The added perk to this movement has been the remarkable upturn in the quality of what ends up in your cup.

Just how much we, as a nation, quaff all adult beverages may surprise you. Out of the staggering 1.6 billion pounds of beans harvested each year, the United States consumes more than any country in the world. We LOVE our coffee; over 54% of the US adult population has a cup every day. We’re no “tea-totalers” in the wine and spirits categories either, consuming nearly 4 billion bottles of wine and 2 billion liters of spirits nationwide last year. In other words – there’s a whole lot of drinking goin’ on.

The realms of specialty coffees and wine & spirits exist in similar orbits. A passion for flavors, textures and aromas are the center of gravity for both. Whether the liquid elements used in their craft derive from beans, grapes or grains, devoted baristas, just like the new breed of professional mixologists, are always looking for ways to articulate their passion through the creation of innovative signature drinks. It was really only a matter of time before someone brewed up a way to bring these two “cosmos” together. The result is a stellar selection of rich, robust caffeinated creations that can equally satisfy morning, noon or night.

Besides location, a variety of other factors affect the quality and flavor of coffee. These include plant varietal, soil, amount of rain and sunshine and the altitude at which the coffee is grown. These variables combined with the way the cherries are processed, roasted, ground and eventually brewed all contribute to the way coffee tastes in your cup. The combination of factors is so complex, that even from a single plantation the variations in quality and taste can be astonishing.

Coffee trees produce their best beans when grown at high altitudes in tropical climates and rich soil: conditions found along the equatorial zone, between latitudes 25 degrees north and 30 degrees south. The leading coffee producing countries of the world are Brazil and Colombia.

Bella Notte

1 part vanilla vodka
1 part coffee liqueur
1 part Sambucca or licorice liqueur
1 part Chai syrup
.5 part simple syrup
1.5 parts fresh espresso
Half fill a pint glass with ice, add all ingredients, cover with boston shaker,
shake for 15 seconds to blend, strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

bonBonjour le Monde

1.5 parts vanilla vodka
.5 part Herbsaint or absinthe
1 part simple syrup
2 parts cold chicory coffee
3 parts milk
Fill a pint glass with ice, add all ingredients,
cover with Boston shaker, short-shake to blend.

Brazilian Coffee

1.5 parts Cachaca
1 part Half & Half or cream
.5 part simple syrup
2 parts Brazilian coffee (preferably Typica or Bourbon)
Optional Whipped cream garnish
Fill a 12 oz glass with ice, place ice and all other ingredients into blender, blend till just smooth.
Pour back into glass, top with fresh sweetened whipped cream.

Thai Iced-Coffee Coolers

Doi Chaang Fair-Trade Gourmet Arabica Coffee Beans or favorite ground coffee (4 servings)
2 tsp cardamom, ground
4 tbs sugar
4 shots coffee liqueur
4 tbs heavy cream or sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp almond extract
Add the cardamom to the dry coffee then use your favorite brewing method to make 4 cups of strong coffee. Add the sugar and almond to the hot coffee, and mix until dissolved. Let cool. Fill tall 14 oz glasses with crushed ice, add a shot of your favorite coffee liqueur, then fill to a half inch from the rim with cold coffee. Add a spoonful of cream to each. Don’t shake.

For the Luv O’Coffee

6 dashes bitters, preferably fee bros
1 ½ parts Coffee–Chilled and Strong
1 ½ parts Irish Whiskey
1 part Irish Whiskey liqueur, preferably Celtic Crossing Liqueur
1 part Stout, preferably Guinness
Shake with ice and strain into a chilled rocks glass.

The SCAA, Specialty Coffee Association of America, just held its conference in Atlanta. It was the 21st annual exhibition in conjunction with the 10th Annual International Barista Competition sponsored in large part by Monin Gourmet Flavorings. Over 8,000 attendees, hundreds of exhibitors and competitors from nearly 60 countries, make this the largest gathering of coffee professionals in the world. The US finalist, Michael Phillips from Chicago and Intelligentsia Coffee, placed 3rd. Gwilym Davies from the UK took home the top honors by a close margin. The 2010 event will be held in London.