Monks, Prohibition & Enlightenment
The origins of coffee are sketchy at best but the general consensus is that a Geminite monk travelling through Ethiopia noticed that animals who ate the berries of a certain tree were more active than the others. He tried this for himself, roasting the seeds and adding them to boiled water, creating the first pot of coffee. The story then sees coffee being misunderstood as “Devils work” to being praised as a gift from the gods, eventually finding its way to British coffee houses during the beginning of the “Age of Enlightenment”.
Coffee in cocktails, however, does not get a mention in writing until 1892 in The Flowing Bowl by The Only William. Recipes for coffee syrups and liqueurs can be found in Jerry Thomas’ 1862 The Bartenders Guide, in great detail and length, however no instructions as to how they were used.
It is not until 1952 when Stanton Delaplane, a reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle, returns to America with a recipe he picked up at Shannon Airport, Ireland, for the Irish Coffee. This is where we start to see a real classic cocktail created. Later the famed Espresso Martini is created by the late Dick Bradsell at Fred’s Club London in 1980.
This, for me, is where coffee in cocktails really took off. In the 1980s, liquor companies were king, the likes of Tia Maria and Kahlua had found their vehicle and Espresso Martinis were consumed by the dozen. This did not mean coffee itself was being taken seriously. It is only in the past five years that I have noticed coffee as a process and a stand alone ingredient being truly considered, not only for quality but for social responsibility reasons as well.
The modern bartender now looks much closer at where their ingredients are coming from, seeking freshness and diversity of flavor to achieve authenticity in their cocktail creations.
To me, Martin Hudak, winner of 2017’s Coffee In Good Spirits Competition (and runner up in the two previous years), is ahead of the curve for all things coffee and cocktail related. With an education in coffee stretching back seven years to his home in Slovakia before moving to London to work at The American Bar, Savoy, he has dedicated his career to his passion for coffee and cocktails.
When asked how he has seen coffee in the cocktail world grow over the years, he humbly replied “(In) these last two years it has become big, I now see more prestigious bars using coffee in combination with alcohol as well as having more respect for the style of beans and how they are used. Coffee in cocktails will be a trend and I just followed it over the years. I’m very happy that I can be a part of this ‘Golden Era’.
Martin also shares the importance of “preserving and capturing all aromas while they are still fresh” when using coffee and cocktails by “turning coffee into syrups or cordials”.
In South East Asia coffee culture has also seen a huge upturn in respect for quality and freshness. Bars such as The Curator Coffee & Cocktails in Manila by David Ong, known across town for being very serious about BOTH specialty coffee and craft cocktails, are among the first to truly focus on delivering a superior product. The Curator Coffee & Cocktails opened on December 5th 2013 (Repeal Day) and since December 2016, they have moved coffee service in front of their previously hidden entrance whilst extending hours through the night, enabling the coffee house to have its own identity.
They are constantly changing their lineup of coffee and cocktail offerings depending on what’s available and what they feel their customers should experience. However, superb customer service is their forte. Genuine relationships forged with customers one coffee and/or cocktail at a time has led to a strong community within.
They are also #16 in the Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2016 list and is arguably the Philippines’ best cocktail bar… and coffee shop.
“Third wave, Specialty Coffee shops are still gaining popularity in Manila. Compared to the rest of the world, we have much to catch up with. However, new trends suggest relying more on advanced equipment to make brews consistent and efficient. If you ask me, it’s a step back as the human aspect - the knowledge, skill… More importantly, the hospitality - are what makes this industry special.”
If coffee is here to stay and is now well respected by consumers and bartenders alike, then what are the new and inventive ways in which it is being used?
Stefanie Goh, owner of Birdy’s Brew has her own unique outlook on the coffee scene in Singapore’s tropical climate. She focuses solely on cold brew coffee in a ready to drink espresso format called Into The Black. Having first discovered cold brew in Melbourne and Sydney (well known for how seriously they take both
coffee and cocktails) she exported the idea back to Singapore where La Maison Du Whisky quickly picked it up as an addition to Whisky Live in 2014.
When asked about cocktails and coffee she says “In my opinion, cold brew coffee is here to stay. Besides the higher caffeine content, the smoother, richer flavour and lower acidity make it easier to create a quality drink without having to disguise the acidity from cooled-off coffee with lots of sugar. With the use of higher quality base spirits, house-made tinctures, bitters, indigenous fruit and spices, it stands to reason the coffee used should also have its own personality profile. It most certainly helps to round out the story behind the cocktail”.