specialty coffee cocktails

Can coffee cocktails generate an interest in specialty coffee?

Jenna Gottlieb speaks with Jennifer Poole of Those Coffee People to examine how synergy between alcohol and coffee can open doors to the specialty coffee experience.

Coffee and alcohol don’t exist in isolation from one another. As a species, humans have been captivated by these products for countless generations, so it makes perfect sense that there’s an intersection between the two.

In fact, coffee is often served alongside alcohol, and people have been enjoying coffee cocktails for nearly two centuries. In that time, the possibilities for combinations have grown exponentially, evolving from simple precursors to Irish coffee to extravagant drinks that blend coffee with expensive spirits and other exotic ingredients.

In recent times – perhaps inspired by the growth of specialty coffee – the focus has shifted to the quality of ingredients used, especially in classic drinks like the espresso martini and amaretto.

“We have seen a steady interest in ‘standard options’ like espresso martinis,” says Jennifer Poole, director of international development and co-founder of Those Coffee People, a Colombian specialty coffee supplier.

However, much of this interest has been tempered by the sheer cost of specialty coffee. As Jennifer explains, traditional coffee cocktails are often made using cheap robusta blends with a focus on the alcohol rather than the coffee.

Despite this, the two industries certainly seem to have the potential to complement each other. The rise of the “prosumer” has seen more and more home coffee consumers investing in both equipment and ingredients.

Likewise, alcohol connoisseurs also took their habits home during the Covid-19 pandemic, inspiring a similar obsession with home mixology. With this degree of commonality between the two products, some feel that cocktails present an appealing entry point to the specialty coffee market.

Specialty coffee continues to take up a significant chunk of the coffee market and is expected to experience a global compound annual growth rate of 12.32%. By 2030, it’s predicted to be worth $152.69 billion.

As such, Jennifer believes that it may not be too long before we see bars and restaurants giving more attention to coffee sourcing. “Based on trends of conscious consumerism, I don’t think we are far off,” she says.

What’s standing in the way of specialty coffee cocktails?

Ultimately, Jennifer believes the answer to this question has a lot to do with cost and coffee education.

“I’m not sure how ‘true’ specialty coffee lovers or enthusiasts would feel about their specialty coffee being diluted with alcohol,” she explains. “Therefore I am not sure if the same level of education and enthusiasm for specialty coffee would go into cocktails.”

Put simply, she thinks that the average coffee cocktail consumer isn’t expecting to receive information on where the coffee was sourced, the farmer, or the processing method – all basic pieces of information that typically accompany a cup of specialty coffee.

“I don’t think at the moment it’s even comparable,” Jennifer continues. “I’ve never seen a bar give mention to a farmer for their contribution to the coffee element of the cocktail.”

However, there are specialty coffee cocktail brands that already take coffee sourcing quite seriously. In Australia, for instance, Mr Black works with select farmers, cooperatives, and importers to source ethically cultivated, sustainable coffees for its coffee liqueurs. 

Its cold brew coffee liqueur features specialty arabica coffee from Colombia, Kenya, and Papua New Guinea. Furthermore, the company has its own roastery in Erina, Australia.

Although this is far from the norm, it’s a good indicator of how compatible the two industries are with one another. Together, they enable to elevate its products beyond the scope of the individual ingredients – and they can inspire ideas too.

Jennifer cites Those Coffee People’s popular Red Bomb cocktail as an example of this elevated experience.

“It is inspired by coffee that has undergone 120 hours of double anaerobic fermentation that expresses really beautiful red fruit notes,” she elaborated. “The cocktail itself is a base of aguardiente mixed with fresh-pressed watermelon juice, a shot of fresh lime juice, Bretaña, and an optional salted rim.”

Another example is the Tropical Summer, which is inspired by a coffee that’s undergone 170 hours of lactic fermentation.

“This expresses really beautiful yellow fruit notes and a creamy body,” she says. “The cocktail is a base of tequila mixed with fresh passion fruit juice, a shot of fresh lime juice, shaken with ice and jalapeños and a splash of Bretaña.”

Can coffee cocktails be a gateway to specialty coffee?

Businesses that already place an emphasis on specialty coffee can easily introduce specialty coffee cocktails to their menus. This way, your high-end coffee equipment gains an additional function that adds value.

At home, prosumers with barista-grade coffee machines can easily begin experimenting with combinations of coffee and alcohol. Even the slightly more complex recipes are easier to prepare than ever. For example, dedicated milk-frothing devices can even heat up the cream used to top Irish coffee.

Jennifer explains that in her case, her company is totally focused on putting specialty coffee centre stage, especially when it comes to coffee cocktails. To that end, it has developed its own cocktails that introduce new consumers to the world of specialty coffee by recreating the flavours you would find in a cup.

“In the King Arthur cocktail, the flavours are inspired by a honey-processed geisha from Finaca Puerto Arturo Tamesis that undergoes a 180-hour double fermentation before drying,” she explains. “This is the kind of Gesha that can make the casual coffee drinker see the light of specialty coffee and literally never let them go back.”

It’s a similar situation to the rapid growth of the ready-to-drink coffee market, which appeals to many younger consumers who are entering the coffee market for the first time. Coffee cocktails, too, could spark interest in people that otherwise may not have considered specialty coffee.

In fact, there’s a clear intersection between the concept of RTD coffee and alcoholic coffee beverages.

“As coffee exporters, we’re getting an increased amount of inquiries for coffees to use in coffee beers, which we see as a big segment of the market for growth and increase in quality,” Jennifer adds.

She believes that this growth will go hand-in-hand with the introduction of canned coffee cocktails, which will add more scope for the use of specialty coffee.

Location may also come to play a part in the development of this market. Jennifer says that in Latin America, for instance, the carajillo (espresso with hard liquor), has massive potential for incorporation into the specialty coffee scene.

And, as coffee cocktails continue to flirt with the third wave movement, the combination will ride on the back of consumers’ increasing focus on traceability and sustainability in coffee.

Can coffee cocktails generate an interest in specialty coffee?

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