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Cashing in on Coffee Specialties

Americans love coffee. We guzzle it like a vampire sucks in plasma. Despite its yearround appeal, we often think of coffee specialty drinks as cold weather fare. The continued proliferation of cafes and coffee houses has changed the playing field, making it advantageous to promote coffee regardless of the calendar. Even though it may be warm outside, now is the time to think about creating java specialties. To that end, here are several factors to consider when you set out to build world-class beverage offerings.

  • Be cool. Take your coffee program full-time by offering guests an option on icing their drinks down, based on season or daypart. A great signature coffee tastes equally delicious hot or over ice. The largest swing factor in demand is the ambient temperature. While some of us will drink piping hot coffee when it's sweltering outside, others prefer their Keoki Lattes or Brandy Machaccinos iced down.
  • Cocktail culture. Coffee and espresso are gaining popularity behind the bar as cocktail ingredients. The simple yet delectable Espresso Martini, for example, exists in several versions. In one, a shot of freshly brewed espresso is mixed with vodka and equal parts of Kahlua and Irish Cream. It's a coffee break and happy hour rolled into one. Another popular version pairs chilled espresso, chocolate liqueur, cream and vanilla vodka.
  • Mocha shakes. Wondering how you can give back to society? How about blending together some coffee, French vanilla ice cream and shots of brandy, Kahlua and creme de cacao? Adult milkshakes are tall, fun and delicious—a small indulgence we can rationalize away the next morning. By changing the flavors of coffee and ice cream, using nonfat frozen yogurt and substituting different backbar ingredients, you'll have an endless variety of tastetemptations to promote.
  • Espirit de corps. Coffee happens to be among the most capable delivery systems for spirits and liqueurs. Fortunately, you have a backbar loaded with slower moving liqueurs waiting to get back into the fight. The range of coffee-complementary flavors includes chocolate, hazelnut, orange, mint, almonds, licorice and banana. Spirits that pair well with coffee are brandy, whisk(e)y, Irish cream, dark rum and aged tequila.
  • Strong finish. Every great signature coffee needs a flourish on top to create a great first impression. Often-reliedupon whipped cream is suitabe, but give it a greater purpose by drizzling it with chocolate or caramel syrup, a dusting of powdered cocoa or shaved chocolate. A generous layer of frothed milk never did a specialty coffee any harm, either.
  • Java basics. Serving a truly world-class cup of Joe requires adhering to a few basic guidelines: Coffee beans rapidly lose their flavor once ground, so whenever possible, grind beans just prior to brewing. While noisy, grinding coffee conveys freshness, quality and value?not to mention it smells wonderful. Brew smaller amounts of coffee more frequently. Remove coffee from the burner immediately and transfer into an insulated carafe. If possible, brew your coffee with spring or softened water. The hard mineral content in tap water adversely affects the flavor of coffee.
  • First impressions. When you create a masterpiece, present it in a worthy glass. Insulated glass offers the best of all options. Its thick-yet-transparent character allows guests to appreciate how attractive these drinks look. Preheat the glass prior to service, using hot water or steam from the milk-frothing nozzle.

Robert Plotkin is a judge at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and author of numerous books, including The Bartender's Companion: The Original Guide to American Cocktails and Drinks.