When To Use Coffee Vs. Espresso In Your Favorite Caffeinated Cocktails

Coffee and alcohol — beloved as beverages separately, but a duo that shines together, too. Coffee cocktails are on the rise, in part due to their malleability. Whether as an afternoon wind-down or a late-night pick-me-up, they are fit for a variety of contexts. And while classics like Irish coffees and espresso martinis are dependable delights, there are also many more innovations to explore.

When hoping to integrate coffee into a mixed drink, the question arises — what form of joe to utilize in a mixed drink? There's no best option; it just depends on the desired result. Espresso provides intense flavors and a foamy head, while brewed coffee imparts a lighter body that melds with other components. No matter the selection, choosing a high-quality, well-prepared coffee is paramount. Considerations of origin and roast will impact how the coffee aligns with other components. So let's get brewing — here's how each coffee type best integrates into a caffeinated cocktail.

To create a tasty coffee-flavored foam, use espresso in cocktails

Espresso offers an approachable way to infuse coffee flavor into a cocktail. It's the most densely-flavored preparation method, with a small volume. Plus, it contains far more fat molecules, altering the mouthfeel and mixing with other liquids. When shaken, these oils create a delightful foam, like the head on top of a carajillo. Most espresso-based cocktails utilize such a textural trick — other examples include the creamy, rum-based Dominicana, and of course, the espresso martini, along with its many variations.

Alternatively, espresso-based cocktails utilize the coffee for a defining flavor. There's the Italian caffè corretto – which is basically a shot of espresso with some booze. A cold mixed drink can rely on espresso for its palette, too, like a creative take on an old-fashioned with espresso, or a bonaparte cocktail with a citrus liquor. With espresso's strong flavor, consider pairing it with a spirit-forward base, or a tangy note — it needs a bold companion to shine. And as with any coffee cocktail, make sure to dial in the espresso shot before mixing it in.

Utilize filter coffee for a more nuanced flavor

Espresso can define a drink, but its strong flavor can also overwhelm other components. Integrating filter coffee allows for more options inflecting a coffee note alongside other ingredients. Plus, filtered coffee can be brewed directly over ice, which enables malleability with the temperature.

Few coffee cocktails are more iconic than the Irish Coffee. The mixed drink reaches for a hot cup of joe, and pairs it with a whiskey to create a result greater than the sum of its parts. Coffee and booze create other fabulous pairings when heated, too, as evinced by the rum-based Pharisaeer Kaffee.

When it comes to integrated chilled filter coffee, there are two routes. The first integrates only a small amount of the joe so that it blends alongside other components. For example, Nashville's Husk bar combines an ounce of chilled coffee alongside a ounce of tequila, coffee amaro, as well as sherry and bitters. Alternatively, ice coffee can be the main vessel, with some booze mixed in, like a RumChata-infused brew. Either way, it's hard to go wrong — just make sure to watch the caffeine intake at the end of a night.