Coffee is an exceptionally popular flavour and, as with many other popular flavours, it is often incorporated into alcoholic drinks. The strong and easily infusible flavour of the coffee bean lends itself well to being used in spirits and liqueurs.
Liqueur Coffees are popular after-dinner drinks, but these are typically coffees with added alcohol; perhaps the first was the Irish Coffee (coffee, irish whiskey and sugar), which dates back to the 1940s.
Before this, there were coffee liqueurs, which are typically a mix of coffee beans, spirit and sugar. One of the earliest – and still very well-known – brands of coffee liqueur is Kahlúa, which was first released in 1936 in Veracruz, Mexico and achieved worldwide fame by the 1950s.
Kahlúa is still the most popular and well-known coffee liqueur today, but for this article I shall be focusing on a lesser-known product from Italy. Gala Caffé Espresso liqueur is made by Stock, an Italian drinks company, and uses Arabica beans to create a strong coffee flavour. It is bottled at 30% ABV.
1) On its own
Nose: Rich and dark, like freshly ground coffee beans or shaved 90%-cocoa dark chocolate. There was also a hint of vanilla and a touch of grain alcohol at the end.
Taste: Soft, smooth and quite thick and syrupy. There was an initial burst of coffee, followed by a slight nuttiness. The liqueur is moderately sweet and well-balanced, which means that it’s not too sickly. The finish has dry chocolate and long, bitter coffee notes.
2) On its own, chilled
Soft, smooth and extra silky, and some of the warmth of the alcohol comes through. Served chilled in a liqueurs glass, or over ice in a tumbler, this is a good alternative to an Irish Coffee.
[30ml Dry Vodka, 5ml Espresso Liqueur – SHAKE]
Very clean and crisp, with a deep, dark and bitter coffee finish. Simple, but superb.
[20ml Gin, 20ml Espresso Liqueur, 20ml Campari]
I was sceptical about this drink, although I thought that the bitter coffee might work well with bitter Campari and, actually, it really does work, resulting in a slightly sweet and then strongly bitter coffee cocktail. The gin doesn’t come through too much, but adds a nice dryness.
5) White Russian
[30ml Vodka, 30ml Espresso Liqueur, 30ml semi-skimmed milk]
Very smooth and slightly sweet, with a touch of chocolate and good, dark, deep coffee notes. Very nice, with a well-balanced bitterness, making this a better-than-average White Russian.
[30ml Bourbon, 5ml Espresso Liqueur – SHAKE]
Bourbon on the nose, plus a very faint hint of coffee. This then had an odd flavour profile: not much went on at the front of the mouth, but there were coffee notes at the top, and bourbon at the back. A slight, intriguing flavour of hops came through on the finish, along with a note of strong coffee mixed with cream. Despite the strange separation of flavours, this was an enjoyable cocktail.
7) With Soda
[25ml Espresso Liqueur, 50ml Soda Water]
Unfortunately, the soda waters down the drink without adding much. I found this far too sweet and, overall, one to avoid.
8) Coffee Alexander
[20ml Dry Gin, 20ml Espresso Liqueur, 15ml Single Cream – SHAKE]
A very pleasant drink, similar to the Gin Alexander, but with an extra bite from the coffee, accompanied by dark chocolate notes. If you wanted a warmer, slightly sweeter drink, then I would suggest using brandy instead of gin.
Substituting the gin for brandy creates a drink somewhat akin to a short, thick iced coffee with a touch of brandy warmth, which is also delicious.
9) Maybach 12
[20ml Dry Gin, 20ml Kirsch, 10ml Espresso Liqueur – STIR]
A short drink that is quite dry, but with notable sweetness. The predominant flavours are the cherry and coffee, along with a hint of almond; the gin takes a backseat, but is nonetheless a good base for the cocktail.
10) Caribbean Coffee
[30ml White Rum, 10ml Lemon Juice, 10ml Espresso, 10ml Orgeat – SHAKE]
This drink doesn’t look how it tastes: it is quite a rich and fruity cocktail, with hint of almond and marzipan all signed off by dark, bitter coffee notes. Fresh, with some sweetness.
If you’re looking at adding a coffee liqueur to your home or back bar, then I think that Gala Caffé is a good choice: it’s not too sweet and has a good, strong and genuine flavour.