Coffee quaffs are the brown-foamed stepchildren of cocktail culture, far too often gauche creations of chocolate sprinkle and swiftly cooling syrup. But whether to wake up at brunch or kick-start a night, there are a few that light our fire—sometimes quite literally.
Clyde Common, $8.
A beguiling blend of bitter, spicy and sweet. Bar manager Jeffrey Morgenthaler mixes coffee, Canadian Club whiskey and brown sugar, with black walnut liqueur and allspice dram adding herbal, almost Christmassy notes of anise and pepper. It would nearly numb your esophagus were it not for the generous pillow of thickened cream, a cooling layer that helps it all go down easy. REBECCA JACOBSON.
The Sam Henry
My Father’s Place, $4.
Some drinks are invented. But Sam Henry earned his. The drummer for punk bands the Wipers, Napalm Beach and Don’t is reliable in both rhythm and drink. And so the enshrinement of the Sam Henry, his regular neighborhood drink of coffee, Bailey’s and vodka. Which is to say: coffee, alcoholic coffee and alcohol. It’s symmetry, you see. WW freelancer Jay Horton has his own eponymous $3 drink at MFP, the Jay Horton, composed of well whiskey, drip coffee and an absolute embarrassment of whipped cream. Horton says the key to the drink is allowing the coffee to burn on a hot plate for hours before serving. MFP happily obliges. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.
Espresso and Grappa
Din Din, $9.
When I ordered this, I apparently was the first to do so, because cafe owner and chef Courtney Sproule was called over to explain that the pairing of grappa and bean roast (served in separate cups) had not yet been finely tuned with Sterling Coffee Roasters. She then expounded on her love for the specific moscato grappa she served, whose grapes were only ever grown to become grappa. Even if not yet fine-tuned, the grappa chaser was already a lovely alcoholic answer to the figs and cheeses often paired with espresso, a perfumed bloom that filled the mouth and turned all coffee bitterness to soil for late and lovely flowers. I look forward to the finished version. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.
Sapphire Hotel, $8.
The coffee purist disdains the tepid milks and creamers of Starbucks Americana, but at the Sapphire Hotel—which touts its past as a den of iniquity but now is more a den of real-estate equity—creamy richness flushes cheeks in a snifter of rum and sharp coffee liquor, topped with a half-inch froth of egg white and ginger whipped cream. The bite from the ginger is more of a nibble, the bitterness of coffee the dark pull of memory on soft foam that might as well be air—that is, if air were fat and sugar. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.
The Pearl District’s Vault lives up to it’s name. Tucked mere feet beneath the street, it’s a place for lovers who want to be plushly entombed and forgotten. The flavor of coffee in its Resurrection, an espresso-drenched cousin of the much-maligned flavored martini, is so dense and dark one expects to be pulling grit from one’s teeth, a feeling enhanced by the whole beans floating in the glass. But the simple drink of vodka, espresso and creme de cacao doesn’t cloy, it fortifies. It’s like a vodka Red Bull for people who dance slowly. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.
Maybe the flashiest coffee cocktail in town, though not necessarily for what’s in it but how it’s presented. Huber’s—the oldest of Portland’s old-school bars, established in 1879—treats its signature Spanish coffee like an onion volcano at Benihana. The drink is flamed tableside, with the vested server shooting an arching stream of Kahlua over his head and into the glass. The Bacardi cuts straight through the whipped cream and dusting of nutmeg, which, given that the place looks like a Mad Men set, makes sense. Order two at once, even when rolling solo: The spectacle is even more impressive when the dude is forced to double-fist it. MATTHEW SINGER.
Hale Pele, $12.
The Krakatoa won’t go out. It’s like those trick birthday
candles: No matter how hard you blow on this towering glass of aged
Jamaican rums, cinnamon, grapefruit and cold-pressed coffee at the Hale
Pele tiki bar on Northeast Broadway, the yellow blaze won’t turn to
white smoke. This is dangerous, because it’s not an easy drink to
ignore. Not particularly sweet, nor tart, nor java-y, this foam-topped
elixir of cocoa-colored booze is restrained in every aspect except the
glowing topper, an eternal flame fashioned from orange and lime peels.
Luckily, there is a straw. And with only four strawfuls of liquid, I
finally dimmed the flame before singeing my eyebrows. Letting it sit
unsipped was simply not an option. MARTIN CIZMAR.