How to Create That Perfect Coffee “Cocktail”

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Photo Cred: Emily Wren Photography

Coffee cocktails are nothing new. They’ve been on the rise since 2015 when The London Coffee Festival shocked the coffee community with coffee cocktails all day, the most surprising combination an espresso topped with prosecco that left us feeling buzzed and curious. Flash forward to 2019 and coffee cocktails are becoming less boozy and turning into healthier alternatives sans alcohol. Even Saxbys just launched the Free Spirit Collection, a line of coffee drink creations whose ads have us daydreaming about swapping our rosé for something less headache-inducing.

Ever since we opened Function Coffee Labs, our goal was to send our guests on a coffee journey. Do you remember our first coffee “cocktail” creation, The PB&J Latte? We had a Brazilian coffee at the time that tasted so much like peanuts that it begged us to add almond milk and a homemade strawberry syrup, a combination that beckoned us back to our days fighting with the cool kids to sit in the back of the bus. We wanted to enhance the nutty flavor of the coffee even more by adding a sweet touch. Now, whenever we introduce a new signature drink (pretty much every month) we always try to do a pairing that makes sense to showcase the coffee. If you follow the tips below, you’ll be master coffee cocktail creators in no time.

Taste, taste, and taste again.

Taste buds don’t lie. They either light up with excitement or they scream and yell in protest. The key is to PAY ATTENTION to the new natural wine (we can’t wait to try one at Bloomsday), or cider you’re sipping on, or that dish that has your eyes rolling in the back of your head at a restaurant you’ve never been to before. You know Function Coffee Labs’ annual Jalapeno Peanut Cortado that comes out around Cinco de Mayo? It was inspired by a the Bucatini pasta dish topped with jalapeno and almond pesto at a Philadelphia-local favorite Amis. Our taste buds were so intrigued that we thought what if we tried this spicy, nutty flavor with coffee. It worked.

Find inspiration everywhere.

Remember what we said about paying attention to what’s going in your mouth? This is the first step to finding inspiration in your day-to-day experiences. All you have to do is keep an open mind. Remember the Bahama Mama, iced coffee mixed with homemade pineapple and jalapeno syrup topped with cilantro? Yep, another food-inspired creation. This time, we were trying a poke bowl for the first time loaded with jalapeno, pineapple and cilantro. Coffee is so versatile and really considered a fruit, so why not treat it as such?

Lately, we’ve been finding more inspiration from reading cocktail recipes. You’d be surprised how good traditional cocktails can taste when you substitute the main alcohol ingredient for espresso, iced coffee, or cold brew. And what’s better, it’s such an easy (and less expensive) swap!

Set a Challenge.

If you really want to test your creativity skills, make a challenge for yourself. Have a favorite fruit or nut? Set a goal to make a drink using your favorite ingredients. Or, challenge yourself to use only 3 ingredients. Then get to experimenting and don’t be afraid! You can even come up with some interesting, intangible parameters like create a drink that serves as an immunity booster, then start googling what spices and foods help with inflammation. We had a corporate client for our pop-up coffee bar service that was interested in a theme surrounding overactive bladders (TMI, sorry!), so we got to researching what types of foods help with that condition. Turns out, we were able to create a delicious Banana Walnut Latte that paired insanely well with our Guatemalan coffee that had tasting notes of caramel. Not only did we impress the client, but we also learned something new about bananas and walnuts!

Okay, so we didn’t go into technicalities of making a coffee “cocktail” but really there’s nothing to it. Oh, except one rule: ALWAYS make your syrups from scratch. If you want to know more about that, DM us on Instagram @functioncoffeelabs. Let your taste buds lead the way and don’t be afraid to fail; in fact, that’s how the best creations come about.


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