Let me be your coffee-and-Coke sherpa
It’s not totally out of left field that coffee—a brown, caffeinated liquid—would go well when mixed with another brown, caffeinated liquid. I’m talking about coffee and Coca-Cola, a combination of two vital drinks that will throw a powerful taste-party in your mouth.
The act of mixing coffee into new and exciting food and drinks certainly isn’t a foreign concept: You have coffee-flavored soda, coffee toffee, coffee ice cream, the list goes on. I first learned about coffee-and-Coke after watching a manager mix Pepsi into his espresso at the coffee shop where we worked. He told me he’d been doing it for years and pointed me in the direction of Manhattan Special and the short-lived Coca-Cola BlāK. Knowing that Pepsi tastes like Coke’s less refined second cousin, I decided to heed his advice and pour some soda into my espresso.
The combo was nothing short of magical: sweet, warm, hot, and just the right amount of bitter. Naturally, it all depends on where you get your coffee and how you choose to brew it, but I’ve found that a piping-hot espresso brings out the caramel flavor of the Coke (over Diet Coke) the best. Most recently, I’ve been sourcing my espresso from Savannah roasters, PERC Coffee. PERC picks a new coffee source each month and ensures their farmers are compensated fairly. September’s Guatemala Waykan proved to be a perfect accompaniment to Coke because of its nuanced hints of toffee, almond, caramel, and chocolate.
On my quest to answer the only obvious follow-up question of “how much better would this be with booze?” I chatted with Tom Baker, managing founder of Mr. Black Roasters and Distillers, who assured me that, yes, boozy coffee cola is a thing.
“Coffee, when used correctly, can genuinely pair with most flavors,” Baker says. “It’s far more versatile than people think. People in Mexico drink it with tequila and mezcal, the Irish with whiskey, the Italian with grappa, and the French with cognac. Coffee is also used extensively in BBQ sauces (see Franklin BBQ in Austin’s recipe) and brisket rub. In Australia, we cold brew it, mix it with wheat vodka, and call it Mr. Black.”
Baker says that it’s people in his home country of Australia who have really figured out how to get the most out of coffee combinations, even going as far as to mix it with prosecco.
Of course, not everyone is a coffee combo enthusiast. "I've never understood coffee and other combinations,” says Paul Schlader, Co-Founder of Birch Coffee, “I’ve never understood coffee and booze. I enjoy great quality coffee. I take my coffee black. Always. 100% of the time."
Others are open to switching it up by mixing Coke and coffee, but insist upon knowing exactly what kind of coffee you’re putting in your soda and as well as figuring out the perfect ration.
“The combination is intriguing, but something that requires a bit of care to execute well,” says Philip Brown, founder and owner of PERC Coffee. “How is the coffee prepared? Is it a shot of espresso? Nitro cold brew? Cold brew concentrate? What’s the ratio of cola to coffee and what other ingredients are incorporated to the drink?”
Obviously, there’s no right or wrong way to do it, and that’s what makes this uncharted territory so exciting. Want to pour a hot espresso into a cup and top it off with Coke? Hell yeah. Diet Coke and cold brew? Why not. Drip coffee carefully poured into a half-empty bottle by way of a funnel? OK, sure. But isn’t that what makes coffee so fun? It’s one of those things that tastes wonderful if you follow all of the rules, but can also be personalized by specifically breaking the rules. In the end, it’s up to you.