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For the most part, I'm a coffee purist: black, no milk, no sugar.

I appreciate a variety of
preparation methods, but espresso is my favorite. By design, the interplay of pressure and heat
extracts coffee's very best elements: its true essence.

So when I see one little shot of espresso drowning in a sea of milk, I scratch my head. I want to
save that shot from going down for the count, throw it a life preserver. My best guess is that fans
of super-size lattes really aren't crazy about coffee's taste. Why else reduce it to near
imperceptibility? Add a pump or two (or three) of syrup—game over. Good-quality beans or not,
you need a forensics expert to merely detect them. One of my masters back in Trieste, Dr.
Marino Petracco, goes as far as to consider such additives contaminants, sadly masking a good
coffee's aroma and taste, or transforming a bad coffee into a drinkable beverage.

This doesn't mean there isn't a place for coffee-based beverages; quite the contrary. The art and
pleasure lie in ensuring that the coffee shines through, and using ingredients that complement
coffee's signature taste. I consider iced coffee, that staple of these past steamy months, the most
basic of coffee cocktails. Like so many culinary delights, so much is in the occasion, timing, and
simplicity. A fabulous coffee cocktail for me is the best way to accompany an already great

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Along with colleagues and my good friends Michele and Heidi, I've done a good deal of
experimenting over the past 10 years, developing, tasting, rejecting, reinventing, and refining
hundreds of coffee cocktails, both with and without alcohol, nearly exclusively espresso-based.
Through all our hits and misses, there is always one guiding objective: coffee must remain the
predominant taste.

Through it all, I've seen some very simple but important rules of thumb emerge that make coffee
cocktails a joy to invent and make, and an even greater pleasure to drink.

Coffee preparation and basic ingredients

First, it won't exactly shock you hear me say that the coffee's initial preparation is a coffee
cocktail's most critical variable. I maintain that espresso is by far the coffee cocktail's best
foundation. Espresso is more concentrated than filter or French press, giving it a more "coffee"
taste that retains its primacy in the final concoction. Logically, it's critical to use a very high-
quality coffee and extract it properly, or risk a shaky foundation, putting the rest of the project in
immediate jeopardy.

Critical: Never use espresso prepared in advance, but make it at the moment you need it for a
cocktail. An espresso's flavor profile can change dramatically mere minutes after extraction.

Next, take great care in choosing your remaining ingredients. Unlike a hot beverage like
cappuccino where whole milk is ideal, lower-fat milk, either 2-percent or 1-percent, makes for
better cold cocktails. Whole milk is a little bit heavy for refreshing coffee drinks, and its high fat
content creates a sort of "fat layer" in your mouth—refreshing upon first try, to be sure, but
leaving behind a fatty aftertaste that diminishes each successive sip's flavor.

If a recipe or your sweet tooth calls for sugar, keep in mind that regular granulated sugar doesn't
dissolve well in cold liquid. Be sure to add granulated sugar to a just-made espresso before
mixing it with other ingredients, or, better, use simple syrup prepared in advance from equal
parts sugar and boiling water.

While associating the word "contaminant" with syrup might be a tad extreme (we coffee people,
we get passionate), do try to avoid using too much syrup, if any at all. If you must get syrupy,
choose ones with no preservatives or artificial flavors. Use less than half as much syrup as
espresso. Avoid lemon, orange, strawberry, or other overly sweet or sour flavorings that simply
don't complement coffee's flavor.

Alcohol and coffee

Coffee and alcohol play great together in cocktails. Unflavored vodka's neutrality and absence of
taste make it an especially welcome companion. Rum and whisky each make good complements,
as do Baileys, other coffee liqueurs, and Amaretto di Saronno.

Really, most distillates and other liquors can make good friends with coffee. You'll want to avoid
anything derived from wine, like vermouth, and very fruity, sweet liqueurs like crème de cassis.
Orange-based liqueurs like Cointreau or Grand Marnier can be used, but with care. The only one
true enemy of coffee's taste is gin. Its herbal properties are at odds with coffee's chocolate and
other key components.
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

Other ingredients

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.

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GIORGIO MILOS, Master Barista for Trieste, Italy-based illycaffè, travels throughout the
U.S., hosting illy Master Barista Series events at leading cafes and gourmet retailers, and
training staff at top restaurants and hotels.

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