The Japanese Drink Made By Soaking Coffee Beans In Liquor

With an abundance of spirits on the market, every consumer has an opinion on which one is best. Such a range of liquors opens the doors to endless possibilities when making cocktails as well as infusions. Although infusing alcohol may seem tricky, it simply involves soaking a flavored ingredient in a boozy bath. To sample how these elements are combined best, head to Japan, where meticulous preparations match polished surroundings, Bon Appétit notes. The island nation has not only perfected its local offerings — like sake and shochu — but also put its own spin on ideas introduced from abroad. For example, there are distilleries in the country that produce bitters infused with shiso, yuzu, cherry blossom, and even roasted chocolate (via Time Out).

Another new creation gaining steam is coffee shochu — a clever combination of high-quality java and a beloved homegrown spirit. Let's dive into what it's all about.

What is coffee shochu?

This coffee infusion utilizes shochu as a base. The liquor, not to be confused with Korean soju, is made from grains and vegetables, including rice, buckwheat, barley, sweet potato, sugarcane, and other ingredients. Ranging in alcohol concentration from 25% to 37% ABV, shochu is consumed straight, on the rocks, or even mixed with hot water (via Satsumo Shuzo). The flavor of a particular shochu depends on its fermentation base and how many rounds of distillation it has gone through, but its taste has been compared to a combination of vodka and whiskey, per MasterClass.

Coffee shochu is shochu infused with whole roasted beans, which imbue the flavor of coffee and alter the tint of the alcohol to a dark brown. When appropriately prepared, the spirit has a balanced flavor profile, meaning the taste of coffee doesn't overbear that of the shochu, per Japanese Coffee Co. Hong Kong restaurant and cocktail bar Yardbird is renowned for its version of coffee shochu, which is served chilled with ice after a meal (via Sunday's Grocery). After partnering with respected roasters Stumptown and La Colombe, the business now makes its esteemed recipe in collaboration with a coffee roaster in Kobe, Japan, and sells it by the bottle, per Plan B. You could try to purchase one of the world's best renditions — or gather the ingredients to prepare your own.

How to make coffee shochu

Making this infusion starts with procuring a bottle of shochu. In Japan, it's one of the most widely consumed forms of alcohol, overshadowing sake in popularity, per Forbes. However, when it comes to obtaining this liquor stateside, it's more difficult; due to licensing hurdles and a lack of advertising, shochu exports are minimal. Nevertheless, the market is expanding — boosted by the spirit's new reclassification as a soft liquor.

Back when Yardbird partnered with La Colombe, its coffee shochu was made by first combining two liters of shochu distilled from rice with 100 grams of rock sugar and 400 grams of roasted coffee beans (via La Colombe). After a month in a Mason jar, the producers added another 100 grams of sugar, a liter of rice-based shochu, and a liter of shochu distilled from buckwheat. Afterwards, the coffee shochu was left to rest for two additional months before it was ready to serve in cocktails or enjoy straight.

While this is a great framework, there's no incorrect way to infuse the spirit; you can experiment with different kinds of shochu, levels of sugar, and types of coffee beans. Japanese Coffee Co. notes that the infusion doesn't need to take long — just three days to a week is enough. Just be sure to store the strained shochu in the fridge.

How to drink coffee shochu

Once you have the coffee-infused spirit in hand, it's time to enjoy. The best way to appreciate the liquor is by pouring some of it into a chilled glass with ice. But coffee shochu is also ripe for cocktail experimentation, since its taste is not overly bold. It brings a refreshing buzz to a delicious mojito, complementing the mint and lime flavors, per Japanese Coffee Co. Another option is to make a shochu latte by combining the liquor with ice and milk in a tall glass. If you prefer either beverage to be sweet, you can add sugar or simple syrup.

Coffee shochu goes well with tonic, as Plan B. suggests, so you could also use the spirit to craft an alcoholic coffee tonic, an iced drink that's popular in Europe and Japan but also gaining popularity stateside. To start, you can replace the booze used in spiked coffee tonic recipes — such as this interpretation from Nankai Shochu – with coffee shochu. Once a ratio is nailed down, consider experimenting with other additions: A citrus or herb garnish works particularly well, Era of We notes. Before you know it, coffee shochu will become a liquor cabinet staple — perfectly poised to deliver a kick.