The Birth of the Espresso Old-Fashioned
First up, who decides to make a cocktail out of espresso, anyway? Sam Lewontin, the general manager at Everyman, explains: “We ran a pop-up café in Tribeca last summer at a spot called Bikini Bar. Based on their decor, we wanted to do a tiki-themed coffee bar. One of the cocktails we made was a shaken version of the Old Fashioned: espresso, simple syrup, bitters, shaken and strained into a coupe and garnished with lemon peel.” A traditional Old Fashioned contains bourbon, bitters, and citrus peel, so this was a no-brainer. Simply swap the booze for joe.
The drink was a hit, but after the pop-up, as the staff at Everyman fiddled with the recipe, they discovered a way to make it smoother, richer, and better. Although James Bond may frown at the technique, they decided to stir, rather than shake, the drink. “It changed the mouthfeel of the cocktail from something frothy and airy into something more syrupy and dense,” says Lewontin. “In a good way.” And just like that, the Old Fashioned earned a spot on the menu, right alongside the drip coffee and the cappuccino. It even earned Lewontin a first-place title The Big East Regional Barista Competition in Durham, NC, this November.
It’s Not “Just” Coffee
Although the drink is a constant on the menu, its flavors are constantly evolving. Everyman serves up a seemingly endless parade of variations on the Old Fashioned, based on the types of espresso the staff is excited about at the moment. Think coffee just tastes like coffee? Think again. There’s a huge difference between, say, a bright and acidic bean from Ethiopia and a savory Papua New Guinean bean. In the case of the former, Lewontin says, they’d combine it with hopped grapefruit bitters to mimic the citrus qualities of the coffee, and garnish it with a zingy lemon peel. The Papua New Guinean blend, on the other hand, would get dressed up for the holidays with spiced cranberry bitters and orange peel.
If this minute attention to detail seems a little obsessive, you’re right. But it’s nothing that bartenders and chefs haven’t been doing for ages. “Say you’re cooking eggplant,” says Lewontin. “You’ll probably add three, four, five new ingredients to the dish. They’re all there to either play off of or complement the eggplant.” In the case of bourbon, he explains, you’re choosing additional ingredients based on their ability to stand up to and counter the spirit’s sweetness. “This is not to say that coffee, eggplant, or bourbon aren’t delicious by themselves—a composed dish is just another way of enjoying it.”
How to Brew a Better Cup of Coffee, Every Time
The Espresso Old Fashioned was born out of the goal to make knock-your-socks-off good coffee every time you brew a cup. So even if you’re not taking the time to mix up a “cocktail” every morning before work, there are two easy ways to get the most bang for your bean.
1. Buy freshly roasted and grind it yourself: “A coffee bean is the seed of a fruit,” explains Lewontin, “So as with any agricultural project, freshness is key.” To get the freshest coffee possible, buy from local, small-batch roasters. Once you’ve procured the goods, “Grind it yourself, every morning, before you brew it.” It’s a ritual you’ll look forward to as much as the actual cup…well, almost as much.
2. Use a recipe: Brewing a cup of coffee, like baking, is a process that requires a tested recipe. “It really matters how much water and how much coffee you use. Rather than throwing a bunch of coffee and water together, use a recipe with a tested ratio. It will make the process better, easier, and more delicious every time.”
So… About that “Cocktail”…
The folks at Everyman shared their Espresso Old Fashioned recipe with our test kitchen, and we’ll admit it: We made it once and loved it. Then we made it a second time with an ounce of bourbon and loved it even more. Lewontin gave us the green light to tipple a little booze into the glass, so if you’re in that kind of mood, we highly recommend getting your buzz on with bourbon and coffee. (Just wait until a semi-responsible hour).