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The New Faces of Java

The New Faces of Java

BEAN THERE: The Cafe Cuba Libre signature coffee drink at Cuba Libre Restaurant & Rum Bar combines Cuban coffee and steamed coconut milk, along with an optional enhancement of spiced rum.

Specialty drinks made with hot coffee have timeless appeal. The fact of the matter is that coffee's heat and robust flavor make it an ideal vehicle for spirits and liqueurs. Scratch the surface of most contemporary coffee drinks and you'll find their backbones contain a bracer of classic Kuhlua, by far the bestselling coffee liqueur in the world.

The reasons for its frequent use are readily apparent. Kahlua bolsters the body and flavor of the coffee and sweetens the finished drink. Its easygoing nature accommodates numerous other complementary liqueurs, laying the groundwork for endless creative possibilities.

Now in the 21st century, however, there are other options available to mixologists, an example being appropriately named Kahlua Especial, a 70 proof liqueur made entirely from high grade, Arabica coffee beans from South America. You know you're in for a special experience when you first waft its bouquet. While the irresistible aroma of roasted coffee naturally takes the lead, the notes of caramel, vanilla and milk chocolate are captivating in a supporting role.

Kahlua Especial has a silky, richly textured body that lilts over the palate. The lightweight liqueur immediately fills the mouth with an array of luxurious flavors, a lavish affair of coffee, dark chocolate with hints of vanilla and mocha. Perhaps best of all, the delectable flavors persist well into the relaxed finish.

Another welcome addition to the back bar is super-premium Starbucks Coffee Liqueur. It has the rich, inviting look of brewed espresso, a satiny, lightweight body and an alluring bouquet of ground coffee. It rolls over the palate without a trace of sweetness, another attribute that distinguishes it from the competition. The coffee-steeped finish is delectable, slightly bitter and remarkably long-lasting. Starbucks' light body and dry, authentic flavor are perfectly suited for drink making.

Patron XO Cafe Tequila Liqueur is another "right product at the right time." Imported by the same folks who make Patron Tequila, XO Cafe is made in Mexico from well-aged anejo tequila and the pure, natural essence of coffee. The liqueur is crafted with a minimal amount of sweetener, which makes it drier and more of a coffee-flavored tequila than a typical liqueur.

Patron XO Cafe has a luxuriously smooth, medium-weight body and an engaging bouquet of cocoa, vanilla and roasted coffee. It has a surprisingly dry taste that at once fills the mouth with the balanced flavors of coffee and mellow aged tequila. Its finish is long and memorable. The marriage of tequila and coffee is luscious, making the liqueur a superb ingredient for use in a slew of hot drinks.

Baristas and bartenders are also going to appreciate topshelf Van Gogh Double Espresso Vodka, an extraordinary caffeine-enriched vodka with more taste than it knows what to do with. This singular release has an intriguing burnished coppery brown appearance and a generous bouquet of just-brewed coffee. The medium-weight vodka tingles on entry as it immediately fills the mouth with the warm taste of espresso. Its persistence of flavor is remarkable. This Double Espresso Vodka needs to be sampled neat to be fully appreciated.

One of the most popular beverages at Cuba Libre Restaurant & Rum Bar in the Old City section of Philadelphia is the Cafe Cuba Libre. Just right for brunch or after-dinner, it's made with Cuban coffee and steamed coconut milk. When it's enhanced with Cuba Libre Brand Premium Spiced Rum, it also serves as a cocktail.

In the alcohol-free realm, t he definitive choice is Monin Espresso Concentrate, a gourmet product made entirely from Italian roasted, Colombian Arabica coffee beans. This versatile product delivers a concentrated burst of authentic, soul-satisfying espresso flavor, all without the hassle and expense of a machine. The concentrate is aromatic, highly versatile and produces amazingly delicious drinks.

In a country that finds tremendous joy in coffee, the potential is unlimited. We should all have futures so bright.

Robert Plotkin is a judge at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and the author of numerous books.