Cocktails on a Budget: How to Save Money in your Home Bar

MIXOLOGY TALK PODCAST #195

Today, Chris is doing a deep-dive with longtime coffee connoisseurs and bar-owners Levi Andersen and Derrick Wessels. They get pretty detailed with their knowledge, so definitely listen to the whole episode! Read below for coffee basics, tips, and yummy coffee cocktails perfect for any coffee lover.

And, of course, don’t forget to visit our shop to get everything you need from a cocktail shaker to a fine strainer for making your coffee cocktails!

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INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS:

  • 1:40– How Levi and Derrick got into the world of coffee
  • 5:40– Tasting coffee and factors of flavor
  • 11:39– What Makes a Good Cup of Coffee (Grind and brewing method at 14:13)
  • 18:52– Coffee infusions
  • 21:53– Flavor combinations– and what to avoid (at 29:08)
  • 32:14– Hot and cold coffee: Favorites, coffee shop pet peeves, and favorite stories
  • 39:28– Levi and Derrick’s career changes and shop promotions
  • 48:22– Coffee tips or techniques to try

Meet Derrick and Levi!

Derrick and Levi both have extensive backgrounds as baristas, coffee competitors/judges, and a variety of other hodgepodge jobs that shaped their business skills.

Together, they own 5BAR, a retro craft cocktail lounge in Beloit, Wisconsin that features a monthly rotating, themed menu. They are also partners in Grace Coffee Company, which currently boasts four locations in Wisconsin.

FLAVORS COMBINATIONS AND COFFEE BASICS

Think you don’t like coffee? Well, there are a lot of factors that go into flavor, so you might need to taste-test a bit before finding the right one for you. Whether it’s hot coffee or cold brew coffee, black coffee or mixed with heavy cream, there is a lot that goes into making it taste right!

FLAVOR FACTORS:

  • Location and its soil’s native flavors
  • Season
  • Production process
  • Humidity in the coffee shop
  • How milk is heated and cooled (affecting the acidity, like with a latte)

    “Coast to coast, year to year, location-to-location, that unifying flavor experience for the customer is really important. No one wants a surprise in their mouth at 8 am.” —Levi Andersen

Coffee Cocktails with Levi Andersen and Derrick Wessels!

OTHER VARIABLES THAT AFFECT YOUR DRINK:

Derrick and Levi talk a lot about the importance of coffee grind, so I recommend listening to their in-depth advice on how coarse or fine the grind should be for which type of drink.

“As a general rule, you want to be fairly coarse in grind with something like a French press that’s full-immersion and then a fairly medium grind on something that’s like your regular coffee machine or pour-over and then a very fine grind for espresso.” — Derrick Wessels

Here are a few other important things that affect your overall coffee experience:

  • Type of coffee beans you use
  • Brewing method/technique
  • Temperature (Usually, you brew around 200 degrees unless making cold brew coffee.)
  • Contact time between your hot water and grinds
  • Water quality and the Ph balance of water
Coffee Cocktails with Levi Andersen and Derrick Wessels!

TYPES OF BASIC COFFEE:

There are so many different types of coffee to explore, but here are some basics to get you started, according to Levi and Derrick:  

  • Brazilian: nutty, full-bodied
  • Ethiopian: acidic, lemon, fruity
  • Central American: Often balanced between nutty and fruity
  • Drip coffee (pour over): This coffee method is where you pour hot water over black coffee grinds in paper— The paper filter holds back quite a bit, so your drink is lighter with less fat and oil.
  • French press: A full immersion experience with a lot of body where all the fats and oils will be fully extracted from pressing because you don’t use a coffee filter— French press is good for adding milk to mimic an espresso!

DELICIOUS COFFEE COCKTAIL RECIPES 

Levi and Derrick offer great advice about mixing alcohol with coffee to extract full flavor and about yummy cold brew infusions (minute 19:48), so check out all their tips in the podcast. But here are a few of their favorites beyond your typical morning coffee to get you started:

  • Coffee Manhattan: Adding about ½ ounce of cold brew coffee and ½ ounce coffee liqueur to this classic cocktail marries the sweet and bitter flavors together perfectly. This would make a great after-dinner drink if you need to stay up a bit late! (Play around and consider coffee or chocolate bitters as well.)
  • Café Boulevardier: Inherently bitter, earthy Campari and sweet vermouth pair beautifully with coffee. Complemented with bourbon or rye whiskey, this makes a great coffee cocktail by adding an ounce coffee liqueur. (It’s worth noting that most recipes leave out the sweet vermouth of a traditional Boulevardier, but Levi recommends using it.)
  • Coffee, Hibiscus, and Rum: Derrick suggests mixing hibiscus simple syrup, Kenyan hot coffee with hibiscus undertones, and rum for an earthy, bright summer cocktail.
Coffee Cocktails with Levi Andersen and Derrick Wessels!

NON-ALCOHOLIC OPTIONS

  • Espresso and tonic water: Bringing together tonic water, lime, and one shot of espresso, this drink delivers an acidic, effervescent, tonic-forward flavor.
  • Cold brew and lemonade: Levi and Derrick recommend a Kenyan cold brew coffee with blueberry notes to play off the lemonade (mixed together at a 50/50 ratio).
  • Lavender simple syrup and coffee: According to The Flavor Bible, lavender and coffee don’t pair well– but that’s not true! The key here is to avoid smoky, bitter coffee. Know what undertones you’re working with so you know how to pair it with other flavors. Strong coffee isn’t always best!

INSTANT COFFEE IN COCKTAILS

Levi and Derrick recommend using instant coffee for things like flavored cream or foam (or play with heavy cream) to add a java element to your cocktail; the instant coffee creates texture that keeps the foam afloat. But it also works in the cocktails themselves: 

“If you’re doing a cocktail, you need to be balancing sugar. And so you have the opportunity to take that dry or very condensed flavor, stretch it out with sugar, and then whatever liquid you want, whatever spirit you want. And it’s very cheap and easy to work with. And it’s instant results.” —Levi Andersen

Whatever you decide to make– perhaps a Black Russian with vodka and coffee liqueur instead of milk– you need to have a complementing flavor component to play with the coffee flavor for the perfect balance of flavors.

Coffee Cocktails with Levi Andersen and Derrick Wessels!

TIPS FOR MAKING YOUR DRINKS

As with any cocktail, sometimes things don’t work out the first time. Here are Derrick’s and Levi’s suggestions for perfecting your coffee beverages:

  • Identify why you don’t like it and eliminate that one element (spice, coconut, etc.).
  • Sometimes simple dilution helps.
  • Use fresh coffee!  
  • Learn the proper technique for making Irish coffee with a delicious sweet cream layer floating on top… Don’t just use Bailey’s and let it sink to the bottom. (Guilty!) 
  • Eliminate variables one-by-one: When troubleshooting, don’t make multiple changes at once; pinpoint the original issue by working on one ingredient or element at a time.

PAIRINGS THAT DON’T WORK 

While there are many cocktails that work with coffee, you can’t just dump vodka into a latte. It takes some sugar and bitters to make alcohol work with coffee– and adding acid to milk or cream is just going to make your drink coagulate. 

Here are a few tips of what to do and not do:

  • Use a non-dairy milk product (like coconut cream) with acids and alcohol to avoid curdling.
  • Keep it simple: When cocktails get complex, the drink can’t showcase its strongest element.
  • Understand the basic properties of your ingredients before combining everything together.
  • Coffee and chocolate seem like an obvious pairing, but Levi and Derrick warn not to pair chocolate with something acidic like espresso. Of course, there are caveats to every pairing, so you have to understand flavors when combining them.
  • Gin and coffee are not a traditional taste-pairing, and Levi recommends avoiding it.
Coffee Cocktails with Levi Andersen and Derrick Wessels!

FROM IRISH COFFEE TO ESPRESSO MARTINIS: WHAT WILL YOU MAKE?

So, now what are you serving at your next brunch? We’d love to hear all about it in our Craft Cocktail Club Facebook community. And if you watch the documentary Barista, Baristas, or Black Coffee on Levi’s and Derrick’s recommendations, let us know what you think!

You can also get in touch with Levi and Derrick on Instagram. Of course, if you’re ever in Wisconsin, make sure to check out Grace Coffee Company and 5BAR in person. Until next time, stay creative and keep on cheers-ing!

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Melanie Tornroth

Melanie Tornroth

A former English teacher, Melanie optimistically embraces the struggle that is work-from-home parenthood as the in-house writer for A Bar Above. When not responding to “Mom” and writing articles for ABA, she also runs Goodnickels Photography, loves to cuddle her cats, and is perfecting the art of keeping her pandemic “fermentation babies” alive.

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