Our current issue includes a story about combining uppers and downers — specifically the coffee cocktails stirred up each Sunday at the East Village’s Amor y Amargo by bartender Amanda Whitt, who helms the bar’s aptly named “Double Buzz” program. As writer Liz Clayton explained, bartender-baristas know that coffee’s harmonies of fruit and acidity can provide the perfect backdrop for booze.
Can’t make it to Amor y Amargo? You can get your double buzz on at home. I got Ms. Whitt’s pro tips for mixing up DIY coffee cocktails.
She says caffeinated cocktails are best on the weekend — like in place of mimosas at brunch, when you need both a bump and some hair of the dog. But when mixing, it’s time to think way beyond your mom’s Irish or Mexican coffee, or even milk and sugar. Instead, reach for fruit.
“Coffee tastes really good with fruit because it’s the seed of a fruit — dried and roasted,” Whitt reminded me. “Especially when you’re working with Amaro, a lot of fruits taste amazing with coffee — like raspberry and stone fruits like apricot.” But you don’t need to wait months for these crops to show up at Greenmarket — Whitt shared her trick for making quick syrups out of preserve (see below), plus she stirs in rhubarb liqueur and lavender bitters. Spring by the bottle.
When working with fruit, though, Whitt’s got one word of warning: mind the pH. “One big thing I’ve learned: you have to be careful with acidity. The coffee itself has a lot of acidity already, especially when it’s really fresh.” So use a light hand with any lemon or lime, lest you take someone’s enamel off.
And while plenty of coffee cocktails start with hot joe, Whitt works wonders with the iced stuff (in part for a practical reason: at the bar, she’s serving in glassware instead of mugs). So she gave me her how-to for easy iced coffee, in addition to two caffeinated cocktails made with the stuff.
Her most important advice though? “Be adventurous, don’t be afraid. You’re not gonna hurt yourself.”
First, make iced coffee.
Says Whitt: If you have a Pourover setup, great. Otherwise, in your coffee pot, reduce the usual amount of water in your coffee by about a third, and instead use that much ice to chill the coffee once it’s brewed. Ideally, let the coffee brew directly onto the ice. Then you have your iced coffee, and you’re ready to mix it with stuff! (Or just buy cold-brew Stumptown, or make our recipe — done and done.)
This cocktail pairs coffee with two of Whitt’s other favorite elixirs: she loves the rose vermouth Cocchi Rosa and describes Zucca as “a really rich rhubarb amaro made from charred rhubarb.” To finish, she suggests Bar Keep’s Lavender bitters or Scrappy’s Cardamom bitters.
Fill glass with ice. Add:
1 ounce Zucca
1 ounce Cocchi Rosa
1-2 dashes bitters
Top with 4 ounces iced coffee
For this drink, Whitt makes a simple fruit syrup by thinning two parts preserves with one part hot water, so it’ll mix up easily. She loves the spiciness of apricot with coffee and says she recently made a killer mocktail version using blackberry preserves. Summer can wait.
1 ounce really dark rum, like blackstrap
1/2 ounce fruit syrup (see headnote)
A few dashes bitters
Top with 3 ounces cold brew coffee. Finish top with seltzer for effervescence