Photo: sean dreilinger, Flickr
It's likely that the brand to pop to mind when talking coffee and liquor is Kahlúa, a Mexican coffee-flavored liqueur that's been around since 1936. Kahlúa's so popular that the name often gets used like Coke, Kleenex and Band-Aid to refer to similar products made by other companies. Some home enthusiasts also post recipes online for "homemade Kahlúa" instead of just saying "homemade coffee liqueur."
Besides the typical suggestion of pouring coffee liqueur over ice cream (isn't everything good on ice cream?), several cocktails call for java spirits, including the White Russian (2 ounces vodka, 1 ounce of coffee liqueur, 1 ounce of cream shaken and served on the rocks). London's legendary barman Dick Bradsell brought us the espresso martini (aka the Pharmaceutical Stimulant or Vodka Espresso) made with coffee, coffee liqueur, vodka, and simple syrup shaken and served up in a cocktail glass.
Then, of course, you can always throw some coffee liqueur into your favorite dessert recipes such as cakes and brownies. The magical combination of chocolate and coffee is hard to resist.
You can pick up fine commercial coffee liqueurs -- in addition to Kahlúa, brands include Patron XO, Starbucks, Illy and Galliano Ristretto, among many others. Even the small distillery St. George Spirits in California has collaborated with Oakland's Blue Bottle coffee roasters to launch an artisanal version called Firelit Spirits Coffee Liqueur.
Many coffee lovers enjoy supporting coffee brands offering the feel goods of fair trade and organic. Try making some liqueur at home with your favorite brand of dark roast, strongly flavored coffee. Yes, you can even use decaffeinated coffee. Espresso made from freshly ground beans works best. (Note that if you simply steep the coffee beans in alcohol, the result can be extremely bitter.)
The alcohol base can be personalized to fit your own drinking preferences. You can use bourbon, rum, brandy, vodka or a combination. Higher proof spirits extract better flavor, so shoot for 100 proof, at least, if you can.
You can use processed white sugar, of course. I enjoy using turbinado or muscavado for a richer flavor. You can also experiment with your own sweetness preferences by adjusting the sugar level.
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup espresso coffee
2 cups liquor
1 vanilla bean split lengthwise
1 glass bottle, at least 1 liter in size
1. Make simple syrup with the sugar and water by heating in a small sauce pan until slightly thickened.
3. Add coffee to simple syrup and stir.
4. Add liquor and vanilla bean into cooled sweetened coffee mixture and fill in a glass bottle.
5. Age for 2-4 weeks, no refrigeration needed.
6. Filter the liqueur through a fine strainer (I use a "gold" metal coffee strainer or micron filter) and rebottle.
7. Age for an additional month or more to your taste. You can drink the liqueur immediately, but the flavor will mellow as it sits.
Alabama-born LeNell Smothers defines herself first and foremost as a bartender, but she's been called many things -- most recently, the proprietress of Casa Cóctel with partner Demián Camacho Santa Ana. She's owned her own whiskey label, called Red Hook Rye, and has been recognized by her home state as an honorary Colonel. Other interests include gin, sin and men.