We love a good challenge here at Tasting Table, and as avid home cooks and professional eaters, that means taking one of our most beloved store-bought foods or beverages and recreating it at home. We've tried our hand at Irish cream, made our own version of a Choco Taco and recently took a pass at the almighty Blizzard. We've also made a homemade version of Fireball whiskey and played off limoncello, churning out orangecello instead.
OK, so we've messed around with a lot of booze and dessert. What can we say? We like our vices. And these days, our vice of choice is a coffee cocktail, whether it comes in the form of an on-trend mescal cold-brew drink or a spring break-inspired mudslide (no shame).
With caffeinated cocktails continuing to pick up steam in bars and coffee shops across the country, we take matters into our own hands and make our own coffee-infused liqueur. It's sweet, only three ingredients and will leave you with the perfect buzz (see the recipe).
The inspiration? None other than Kahlúa, an ingredient we've been known to use in more than just the occasional White Russian (a must every time we watch The Big Lebowski, of course). We put Kahlúa in everything from braised pork belly to a cookie icebox cake, so we've employed the help of Kevin Beary, beverage director of Three Dots and a Dash in Chicago, to school us in making this liqueur at home.
Beary steeps cracked coffee beans in Armagnac for two days before straining and slowly dissolving equal parts of demerara sugar for a thick and sweet liqueur.
"The liqueur needs to express a strong flavor and aroma of coffee without tasting artificial," Beary says about what makes a good coffee liqueur. His recipe infuses cracked medium-roast coffee beans for a taste similar to cold brew. He encourages you to play around with the type of bean but warns against dark roasts, which might cause the liqueur to taste like used coffee grounds.
As for the base spirit, Beary likes Armagnac, because it typically has a slightly higher proof than its sister Cognacs. (Armagnac and Cognac are both brandies; they just from different regions in France.) A higher-quality base spirit will yield a higher quality in the finished product, Beary explains. "Within reason, of course," he adds. "Please, don’t put coffee beans in 40-year-old Armagnac."
Finally, after you've infused the Armagnac with the coffee, it's time for the third and final ingredient in this simple recipe: the sweetener. He chooses demerara sugar, which is less refined and contains a higher molasses content, yielding more flavor and a touch more body when it cools.
Throw this all together, and you have an ingredient that will keep in the fridge for months and sustain you through all of your coffee liqueur needs. We've already name-dropped our braised pork belly and icebox cake, but here are a few more ways you can use this versatile liqueur.
① First and foremost, use it in any cocktail that calls for coffee liqueur. From espresso martinis to mudslides to our Cocoa Puffs cocktail, this homemade version will class up just about any cocktail. Beary has even given us a recipe for a tiki cocktail laced with this liqueur and three types of rum, making for a bright and tropical drink (see the recipe).
③ Before you throw meats on the grill, add some of this liqueur to your marinade. The coffee adds a depth of flavor, and the sugar caramelizes for a beautiful char.
④ Let this ingredient save you from ever serving a dry cake again. Before assembling, drizzle a few tablespoons over the cut side of the cake to soak in for a few minutes. This will add flavor and moisture for a perfect slice.
And if nothing else, go ahead and spike your morning coffee for a double shot of caffeine. We won't tell if you don't.