High-end coffee and high-end cocktails have reached dizzying new heights of pretension—or sophistication, depending on one's perspective—over the past decade or so, and now the Times brings tidings that the two crafts have combined in the form of a caffeinated, nonalcoholic concoction called the espresso fizz. Looking back, it's clear now that it was only a matter of time.
Here's the paper's description:
The Espresso Fizz has the air of a classic cocktail, even though it’s made with espresso, not spirits, and was introduced to the coffee menu of the Manhattan restaurant Maialino earlier this year. Created by Ryan Clur, the head barista, it’s a shot of espresso floated over chilled tonic water that’s flavored with orange bitters and an orange twist.
I ran this by my former Brooklyn Paper colleague Ruth Brown, author of the book Coffee Nerd. She said that coffee drinks with cocktail ingredients are a recent appearance on menus, but not in high-end coffee culture. In fact, they have long been a mainstay of barista contests, where participants are required to make several standard espresso drinks, then one "really creative drink." For instance, she noted, the winner of the 2015 U.S. Barista Championship put together a drink made with "pine tree honey, juniper syrup, and a grapefruit reduction, blended together live on stage with Honduran espresso." Then, of course, there's Irish coffee and its boozy ilk.
"Bartenders using coffee is obviously nothing new," she said.
U.S. coffee historians typically split our approach to the beverage up into three periods, the first dating back to the mid-1900s, when coffee became a household item, the second defined by Starbucks and its emphasis on sourcing and roasts, and the third a reaction to the fruity, syrupy excesses of the second, attaching extreme reverence to single-source beans, esoteric brewing methods, and how the coffee tastes without anything else in it. Now that connoisseurs are more than a decade into the latest approach, they have "chilled out a little" with the puritanism, Brown tells me.
"There has generally been a move at high-end coffee places to embracing more additions and, well, fun in coffee drinks," she said.
The Times doesn't mention it, but a fizz at Maialino costs $7, placing it between the $3.25 espresso and the $12 cocktails on the drink menu. The beverage, the paper says, is a takeoff on the espresso tonic, a drink popularized last year by an influential Swedish roaster called Koppi. Now, brace yourselves, because "the espresso tonic is threatening to be the it-coffee of the summer." Move over, cold-brew!
Update 4:05 pm:
Coffee expert Ruth Brown's take added.