May 26, 2021

“A wonderful symphony of flavours”: Exploring the coffee negroni

Few cocktails have enjoyed the same level of popularity as the negroni over the last 100 years. It is versatile, refreshing, and has an entire week dedicated to its celebration.

The negroni’s popularity is largely thanks to its simplicity. It is made from one part Campari, one part sweet red vermouth, and one part gin. It’s also easy to mix; a traditional Negroni is stirred, poured over ice, and garnished with a slice of orange.

However, in recent years, negroni variations have become popular around the world. Among the most popular is the coffee negroni, a variation on the classic recipe that generally adds a shot of espresso or coffee liqueur. Like other coffee cocktails, the coffee negroni offers a unique dimension to the flavour of the drink, and a burst of energy thanks to the caffeine. 

To learn more about the coffee negroni, I spoke with Morten Krag and Stephen Kurpinsky. Read on to find out what they told me.

You may also like our article on sugar in coffee.

Once upon a time in Florence: A history of the negroni

The histories of most cocktails are notoriously hard to trace. The origins of the mojito, the cosmopolitan, the pisco sour, and the margarita all remain subjects of debate.

The origin of the negroni is equally difficult to pin down. Several accounts trace the drink back to 1919, when Italian nobleman Count Camillo Negroni asked a bartender in Florence to give his favourite cocktail, the americano (not to be confused with the espresso beverage) more of a “kick”. 

The bartender responded by adding gin in place of soda water, and using a slice of orange instead of lemon. This gave rise to the cocktail we know today.

The negroni quickly spread throughout Florentine bars. Not long after, the Negroni family founded its own distillery in Treviso which produced a ready-to-drink version of the cocktail, Antico Negroni 1919. 

It started to become more popular outside of Italy in the 1940s and 1950s. The first printed recipes can be traced back to UK and US publications in 1955, while a 1947 interview with American film giant Orson Welles described the bitters and the gin as “[balancing] each other”.

Since then, the classic negroni has given rise to a number of variations, including the negroni sbagliato (gin replaced with prosecco), mezcal negroni (gin replaced with mezcal), and the ti-negroni (gin replaced with tequila).

The coffee negroni is different to these variations in the sense that nothing is substituted. Instead, a chilled shot of espresso (or coffee liqueur) is added to complement the gin, vermouth, and Campari.

Stephen Kurpinsky has been a bartender for over 20 years. He is one of three promoters for Bartender’s Weekend, an annual networking event in San Diego for bartenders and spirits industry professionals, and the US Brand Ambassador for Mr Black. He doesn’t attribute the coffee negroni to any one inventor, and notes that it’s relatively new, having only emerged in the last decade.

“I’ve always said the negroni is the coffee drinker’s cocktail,” Stephen tells me. “The complex, bitter sweet ingredients are naturally pleasing for anyone obsessed with quality specialty coffee.

“Numerous bartenders started infusing coffee into negroni variations around the mid-2010s.”

Morten Krag is a self-taught mixologist from the small Danish island of Bornholm. Now based in Copenhagen, Morten runs thecocktail.blog, a website dedicated to teaching people how to make craft cocktails at home. 

He tells me that he wasn’t aware of the coffee negroni until he stumbled upon it while playing around with negroni recipes.

“I didn’t realise there was an official ‘coffee negroni’ drink,” Morten says. “I just ended up creating my own when I was experimenting with different compositions.”

The coffee negroni: A marriage of flavours

For centuries, coffee and alcohol have gone hand-in-hand. All around the world, coffee cocktails have been drunk for centuries, from the carajillo and the café amore to the espresso martini and the Irish coffee.

As such, it’s no real surprise that the coffee negroni has been quick to catch on. Much like a regular negroni, it’s easy to make and has a distinctive flavour, especially when premium coffee liqueurs or good-quality coffee are used.

Stephen says that, for him, the coffee negroni represents a coming together of two “kindred souls”, both of which offer bittersweet flavours and unique taste profiles.

“The balance of ingredients makes the coffee negroni almost magical,” he says. “It has the ability to be perfectly boozy, sweet, and bitter, while having just enough acidity to cut through it all.

“It’s perfect for those who like bitter drinks, and appreciate balance and depth in their cocktails.”

Morten agrees, describing the coffee negroni as “a wonderful symphony of flavours” and “a perfect balance of sweetness, bitterness, and complex flavours”.

How to prepare a coffee negroni

There is no official recipe for the coffee negroni. Most include gin, vermouth, Campari, and a shot of espresso, but the specific composition will depend on the preference of the bartender or customer.

For example, Stephen likes to add coffee liqueur rather than fresh coffee, while Morten suggests using mezcal instead of gin. He also adds his own coffee-infused Campari.

“It’s incredible with mezcal as the base spirit,” Morten says. “The smoky, earthy flavors in the mezcal pair nicely with coffee. It’s also fabulous with coconut fat washed rum.”

Stephen’s coffee negroni recipe

Ingredients

  • 30ml London Dry Gin
  • 30ml Mr Black Cold Brew Liqueur
  • 22ml Campari
  • 15ml sweet vermouth

Method

  • Add all the ingredients to a glass
  • Add ice and stir
  • Garnish with orange peel

Morten’s coffee negroni recipe

Ingredients

  • 30ml mezcal
  • 30ml sweet vermouth
  • 20ml coffee-infused Campari (recipe below)
  • 10ml coffee liqueur of choice

Method

  • Add ingredients to a glass 
  • Stir with plenty of ice
  • Strain into a glass over fresh ice
  • Garnish with orange zest

Coffee-infused Campari

  • Drop a handful of coffee beans directly into the bottle
  • Let it sit overnight
  • Filter the liquid through a coffee filter

Like the espresso martini and the Irish coffee before it, the coffee negroni is a unique cocktail popular among both mixologists and coffee drinkers. Its blend of bitterness and sweetness lend it a flavour unlike any other cocktail.

Next time you’re in a bar or making a cocktail at home, why not give the coffee negroni a try? You never know – it could become your new favourite drink.

Enjoyed this? Then read our article on the espresso martini.

Photo credits: Hideout Speakeasy, Stephen Kurpinsky, Morten Krag

Perfect Daily Grind

Want to read more articles like this? Sign up for our newsletter!