The first time I drank a coffee cocktail, it was made from instant coffee and whipped cream vodka. It was also the worst cocktail I had ever had.
Since then, I have been introduced to the better side of coffee cocktails, a side that includes drinks like the classic Irish coffee, espresso martinis, “cold” fashioneds (made with cold brew), and, thankfully, none of them contain whipped cream vodka.
In Pittsburgh, bartenders are no stranger to this “good side” of coffee cocktails. Espresso machines have become a permanent fixture in many city bars, and coffee drinks are now regulars on many cocktail lists.
If you’re looking to combine your caffeine with booze, here are three local spots offering top-notch coffee cocktails.
The Abbey on Butler Street
This funeral home-turned bar/coffeehouse/restaurant has a full menu of coffee cocktails (and for those who aren’t fans of coffee, a long list of boozy teas).
The shakerato — a double shot of espresso, shaken with Kahlúa, Baileys, and Jameson — may be small (about the size of a cortado), but it packs a punch. Any bigger and the drink would have put me on the floor. And though modest in size, it’s perfectly balanced, the sweet spirits mellowing with the bitterness of coffee and burn of whiskey.
The beloved Mt. Washington cocktail bar and restaurant features two caffeinated cocktails on their drink list: Italian coffee and Dirty Laundry.
The Italian coffee is a fairly standard blend of whiskey and hot coffee finished with touches of lemon cream and amaretto. The Dirty Laundry, on the other hand, is more complex.
Because there’s no heaviness from hot coffee, the Dirty Laundry is a surprisingly refreshing drink. It’s composed of rye, pineapple, gingerbread syrup, and espresso Campari, but the taste of espresso is almost nonexistent. The elements complement each other so well, they’re indistinguishable; flavors fit together like a puzzle.
Mixtape’s signature coffee cocktail, “Pumkin” vs. “New York” (named for the Flavor of Love contestant), lists so many ingredients it’s hard to know what the drink will actually taste like. They claim it’s “better than your pumpkin spice latte,” and they’re right.
Unlike the popular latte, Mixtape’s cocktail isn’t heavy or super-sweet. The only pumpkin-y spirit is Maggie’s Farm pumpkin coffee liqueur. Its other elements — falernum, cold brew vodka, super punch, actual cold brew, soy cream, orange blossom — bring out the warm spices of pumpkin pie, not the nauseating sweetness of artificial flavors.