No matter the spirit, the golden rule in coffee cocktails is not using more distillate or liquor than coffee (a one-to-one ratio maximum). Drier-tasting liquors may need a little bit of sugar to balance the drink.
My favorite "keep it simple" cocktail: Combine 10 ice cubes with one ounce of vodka, 1 ounce of coffee liqueur, and one double espresso (two ounces). Shake vigorously in a cocktail shaker, and serve over ice. Starting with good coffee, it's a guaranteed winner.
NEXT: Giorgio describes other ingredients to add, plus ways to mix coffee cocktails
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.