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Escape the summer heat with a coffee tonic cocktail

A cutting board with ingredients, left, and two coffee tonic cocktails in glasses.
Coffee tonics offer an easy way to segue from coffee break to cocktail hour.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

An afternoon coffee can arrive in many ways: a rushed affair featuring leftovers from the morning; a leisurely catch-up with a friend; a jittery, caffeinated first date; a searing hot espresso taken standing. And sometimes, a coffee break can flow directly into the cocktail hour.

Sure, you can pour an espresso martini, but if you’re looking to ease into caffeinated drinking, choose a coffee tonic — and add booze.

Bright, bubbly and bitter-leaning, coffee tonic — espresso or cold brew poured atop tonic water and ice — first appeared on the menu at Koppi, a roaster in Helsingborg, Sweden. By mid-2014, the sparkling drink had become a veritable thing stateside. It remains a bittersweet pick-me-up suited to warm weather.

Simple to make, coffee tonic can be just coffee plus tonic water. Naturally complex in flavor, it transitions seamlessly from coffee shop to cocktail glass with a simple stop at the bar cart.

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One bottle to pull (and one that is already a natural with tonic) is gin. The GCT (gin, coffee, tonic) starts with a muddling of lime wedges, sugar and a pinch of salt before you add ice, a measure of gin and dry tonic. A gentle pour of cold brew overtop adds a visually striking layer that sinks into the drink with slow, steady determination.

Alternatively, if a lower alcohol-by-volume yet no less happy-hour-appropriate drink is calling, reach for a bottle of amaro. In the Cherry-Amaro Coffee Tonic, amaro is combined with maraschino cherry syrup, stirred with dry tonic and topped with cold brew. Finishing the drink with a sprig of rosemary and a lemon peel brings out the herbal, citrus notes. Although the recipe suggests a lighter, sweeter, more citrus-leaning bottle of amaro such as Nonino, Averna or Montenegro, any amaro will work. If you end up choosing a more bitter bottle, simply offset with more maraschino cherry syrup.

When making coffee tonic, specific ingredients can make a difference. Dry tonic from companies like Fever-Tree, Q Tonic or Fentimans lend balance to the final drink. (If you can’t find dry tonic, use equal parts tonic and soda water.) As for your choice in caffeine, quality coffee, be it espresso or cold brew, ensures the final drink is pleasantly bitter rather than acerbic. Finally, but perhaps most important, pour the tonic first and coffee last to avoid any of your well-deserved drink bubbling over the top of the glass.

Choose one of the two aforementioned combinations or take inspiration from your home bar and dream up your own. Whatever your choice, spiked coffee tonics served on hot days — or nights — provide a refreshing, effervescent excuse to let that afternoon coffee segue straight into evening.

Get the recipes:

GCT

Time 5 minutes
Yields Makes 1 drink

Cherry-Amaro Coffee Tonic

Time 5 minutes
Yields Makes 1 cocktail


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