Modern coffee cocktails perk up the island’s resort bar scene
Last year, one of the hottest predictions about dining trends to sweep across the nation had to do with breakfast, otherwise known by cocktail lovers as the morning-after meal.
Predictions throughout the restaurant industry claimed that breakfast as the traditional morning meal would begin to disappear, while at the same time, traditional breakfast fare would vastly expand.
It’s not that people have given up eating breakfast. It’s that people are eating breakfast at almost all times of the day — except early morning. According to the National Restaurant Association, which was on board with this prediction in its 2015 industry forecast, seven out of 10 people claimed they like to eat breakfast at all times of the day and want restaurants to serve it. Restaurants, in turn, said: “If you’ve got the cash, we have the hash.”
Thus appeared waffles and chicken, pancakes with steak, and omelets stuffed with cubes of beef cheek sautéed in Madeira sauce. Who knows whether there’s a single item of food left in the universe that a chef hasn’t topped with a fried egg.
Yet, all this “breakfast isn’t just for breakfast anymore” movement opens the question about breakfast’s most essential ingredient: coffee.
Naturally, if the traditional meal with coffee has been butting into the typical time for cocktails, something was going to give — and it did. Barista met bartender and coffee cocktails blossomed.
Yes, there have always been coffee cocktails of some sort, beginning with the Irishman slipping a few drams of whiskey into his coffee when his wife wasn’t looking.
In fact, the first recorded recipe for the coffee cocktail is found in Jerry Thomas’ “Bartender’s Guide” printed in 1887. Notable about it is the fact it doesn’t actually include any coffee. It consists of port and brandy, a little sugar and a whole egg. Its color was coffee-like, thus the name.
About 30 years ago, a bar and coffee man in Seattle created what is credited as being the first real, craft coffee cocktail — the Beccacino. As much a sampling of the entire liquor pantry as it is a drink, it contains brandy, Benedictine, amaretto, Irish Mist and coffee. It’s all served under a cloud of whipped cream.
The Beccacino, still found in a number of Seattle drinking establishments, did not set the world on fire. But it was one of the earliest coffee cocktails of which coffee was not the base liquid, but an ingredient like tonic, simple syrup or the booze itself. It came out naked, meaning it was not a dessert-like life form sporting a spiced head of whipped cream as so many coffee cocktails seemed to be.
Coffee drinks today are made with less sugar and fewer spices, stepping up to the adult bar with both flavor and versatility. Tonic coffee cocktails, for example, are simply made with cold coffee, white rum — recipes vary on the alcohol used — and tonic water. Others are more elaborate, using variations of liqueurs, syrups, spices and alcohols. Even the process of making the coffee has changed from simply chilling leftover breakfast brew. Cold brewing is what’s hot. Bartender/baristas learned that the best and most varied flavors in coffee beans for cocktails come when not heated. It’s like making sun tea, only you don’t need the sun, just water, a selected coffee and time.
A good example of how far coffee cocktails have evolved is the recently arrived Brew Parlors at The Tremont House, 2300 Mechanic St., and the Hotel Galvez & Spa, 2024 Seawall Blvd. Both hotels, managed by Wyndham Grand, are in Galveston.
“This started as a corporate idea from Wyndham,” said Marty Miles, hotel manager at The Tremont House and food and beverage director for both hotels. “They picked up on the interest in cold brew coffees and tested this in three properties, one in Chicago and two in Europe. It was a hit, so it rolled out to other properties in June.”
Using recipes developed in partnership with Wyndham’s award-winning culinary personality, Chef Stephanie Izard, along with mixologist Ivy Mix, these cocktails start with coffee from Houston-based roasting company Katz Coffee. It’s added to room-temperature water and left to steep for 10 to 12 hours.
“We weren’t really sure how people would react to the idea of coffee cocktails, particularly in a resort city,” Miles said. “A lot of people don’t connect the two. To overcome this, the whole cold brew process was set up where anyone walking by could see it. It looks like some wild science experiment. People stopped and asked a lot of questions, studied the menu, then went to the bar and ordered their martinis.”
Fortunately, curiosity overcame habit and before long, the coffee cocktails started giving martinis a run for their sales.
Just to show how sophisticated coffee cocktails have become, many recipes now suggest specific coffee beans to bring out the best in the drink. Beans from South America, for example, have a much nuttier and chocolatey flavor than the more fruitier and robust beans from Africa. Coffees from the Caribbean tend to be sweet and strong, one reason they pair so well with rum.
Each Wyndham property was encouraged to find a local source. Having worked with the company before, Miles chose Houston’s own Katz Coffee.
“Katz has a tremendous amount of experience with cold brews, so that was reassuring,” Miles said. “Still, we must have gone through nine different blends and different grinds until we came up with something that worked like we wanted.”
In the end, Miles picked a Costa Rican blend that everyone agreed best complemented the other ingredients in the cocktails. The results are available for imbibing 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday at both hotels.
Cold brewing at home is simple and doesn’t require the more sophisticated “science experiment” the professionals prefer. Home brew is accomplished by simply pouring a pound of ground coffee into a 1-gallon plastic or glass container, adding eight cups of water and stirring. After that, just let it sit, covered, for eight to 12 hours. As cocktail time nears, strain the coffee two times through the paper filters used on a coffee maker, then store in the refrigerator. It will keep for weeks.
Some experts, including the originators of the coffee cocktails for the hotels’ Brew Parlors, insist better drinks require better coffee. They suggest purified mineral water instead of tap water, claiming additives to regular tap water react with the coffees and diminish or alter their flavors. Want to go a step further? Leave the water for the house plants and substitute a favorite alcohol or liqueur. The results can be a rum coffee, sherry coffee, bourbon coffee or almost any other flavor you want. But be it alcohol or water, the process is the same.
So breakfast can now come whenever it wants to, be it the break of day, at sunset or on a candlelit evening. What’s important is that coffee really can be good to the last sip.
The Impetus Spritzer
1.5 ounces St. Germain (French liqueur)
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons
Canada Dry Tonic
4 tablespoons cold brew coffee
1 teaspoon of Cynar (Italian liqueur)
Pour the St. Germain and the tonic over ice cubes in a 14-ounce pilsner glass. Mix the Cynar and the cold brew and carefully pour it on top of the tonic mixture to create a layer. Add a lemon twist and serve.
(Recipe by Ivy Mix, Wyndham Grand mixologist)