Ice cream is my favorite coffee complement, its creaminess adding great texture. If you're not in a cocktail mood, simply pour a shot of espresso on top of a scoop of ice cream (for me, it's vanilla) for a perfect affogato: so simple, so delicious.
Ice cream combines easily with coffee in cocktails; really the only thing to avoid is over-blending. For a fun, fast start, combine 3.5 ounces of vanilla ice cream, two ladyfinger cookies, a dash of cocoa powder, and a double espresso in a blender for 20 seconds. There you have it: a drinkable tiramisu.
Expand your repertoire with different ice cream flavors. Chocolate, pistachio, and other nut-flavored ice creams combine beautifully with coffee. Always remember this rule of thumb: try avoiding the overly sweet and fruity, especially citrus-flavored ice creams. Instead, try adding fresh or dried fruits. Bananas, figs, and cherries all can be good, but avoid unripe fruit, whose astringency will completely alter a drink's taste. Chopped chestnuts, almonds, and other nuts are welcome companions, too.
On a diet, or out of ice cream? Simply blend ice, half of one ripe banana, one ounce of simple syrup, and a double espresso for 30 seconds in the blender. Another simple pleasure.
Shaken or stirred? Blended or mixed?
You now have the basics to start inventing your own fabulous coffee cocktails. But the age-old question remains, better known to mixologists than baristas: how to combine to best effect? Like with traditional cocktails, it depends on drink type and personal preferences. The four basic ways to combine will come as no surprise: stirred, shaken, mixed, and blended.
For stirred drinks, simply stir the ingredients in a tall glass or your trusty cocktail shaker; use a lot of ice. As logic dictates, this method works only when all the ingredients are liquid, like espresso, liquor, milk, almond milk, simple syrup, coconut milk, liquid chocolate, etc. The result is a straight drink, with no foam or emulsion: very liquid with a lot of taste.
Shaken drinks follow the same principles as stirred; instead of stirring, shake the ingredients vigorously in a shaker for about five seconds. I prefer the Boston shaker, composed of separate metal and glass halves, instead of the perhaps more common three-piece, all-metal shakers. I like the additional room inside Boston shakers, and find them easier to open. The result is an emulsified drink with foam on top, a little smoother tasting then a stirred drink made from the same ingredients.
Mixing follows the same basic principles as stirring and shaking. Mix liquid-only ingredients for about 30 to 40 seconds in an electric milkshake machine (like a Hamilton Beach-type machine with a long wand), using only about four or five ice cubes. The result will be an almost creamy drink, very smooth.
Blending is a different story: the black sheep of the family. A blender's crushing action enables the introduction of solid and semi-solid ingredients like the nuts, dried fruits, ice creams, and cookies mentioned earlier. Use a volume of ice slightly greater than the volume of the glass you're going to drink from. When using ice cream, don't use ice. Blend for about 30 seconds.
Try this at home
Like most things, making great coffee cocktails is best kept simple, making them an ideal way to delight friends (or just yourself) right at home. No exotic equipment necessary. If you have an espresso machine, you probably have everything you need to get started. Ice is all it takes to properly chill your coffee.
For me, preparing coffee cocktails is another kind of ritual. It's another reason we drink coffee, following from the basic key steps: choosing the right coffee, grinding it properly, having the right water in the tank, heating the cups, waiting for the brewing, and then enjoying the taste and aroma. Wonderfully complex and simple, all at once.
Coffee cocktails beautifully embody coffee's social aspect, too. Whether at home or in a café, what a nice way to spend time with friends, inventing or just enjoying something new while catching up, sharing ideas, or just enjoying being together. All served up in the centuries-old coffee house tradition.
Yet more evidence that coffee is not a mere beverage, but fuel for our lives.