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The negroni is a deceptively simple drink. Typically composed of one third Campari, one third sweet vermouth, and one third gin, this basic arrangement has given way to endless spins, riffs, and wholesale reimaginations. Mezcal instead of gin. Suze instead of Campari. A world of vermouths to play with, hailing from California or Spain or the feet of the French Alps. The negroni is a canvas for ever-changing ideas and interpretations—and a simple enough one that even beginner drink makers can start experimenting on their own. You never know what you might get.
The coffee negroni stands out as one particularly successful move. (I’ll admit to some bias here; I am a cofounder at coffee publication Sprudge, and I tend to view the world through coffee-colored glasses.) There are many ways to include coffee in the build of this drink—fancy bars might reach for a splash of coffee bitters or infuse coffee beans in a bottle of gin—all of which arrive at something like a negroni that hints at coffee but doesn’t get carried away with it. But when my coauthor, Zachary Carlsen, and I began to think about putting a coffee negroni recipe in our new coffee cookbook, But First, Coffee, we really wanted coffee to be the star.
So we added coffee ice cubes to our negroni and were so pleased with the results we ended up doing it twice. In the recipe you’ll use them in the shaker alongside the spirits as you stir and again as a finished rock in your glass.
Among folks who make coffee professionally, it’s generally frowned upon to freeze brewed coffee, which results in a loss of the volatile compounds responsible for aroma and flavor. That’s a polite way of saying the cubes taste wonky; in our experience, after unfreezing it’s more bitter, kind of syrupy, and weird to drink on its own. You know what else is bitter, syrupy, and weird to drink on its own? Campari! That wonderful piquant stuff, once tinted with bug shells, which makes up an essential third of the classic negroni recipe. Nothing else tastes quite like it, and its wonderfully malleable oddness can be pushed and pulled in a million directions (it’s part of why the negroni is such a riffable drink).
Did you ever meet a couple that were both so odd as individuals, but their relationship was somehow perfect? Campari fuses together with diluted frozen coffee in a similar way. The two ingredients are terrifically weird together, and it works. Moreover, you arrive at a coffee negroni in which coffee really shines, particularly as the ice cubes suffuse over the course of the 20 minutes or so it takes you to sip your cocktail. The last sip of negroni is always the best part, and that same idea goes for broke here, with a punch of delicious coffee to send you on your way.
We like how this drink tastes using a balanced and light washed coffee (this particular coffee term refers to the method in which coffee fruit is removed from the seed of the coffee cherry) rather than natural-process coffees, which can taste fruity and funky. Freeze for at least three hours prior to making your negroni; this is an easy thing to do with the leftovers from your morning coffee, or if a whole mug gets abandoned in the rush out the door (a terrible fate). If you find yourself with extra cubes, chuck one in your next vanilla walnut date smoothie, or toss one along for the ride in your next pot of chili.
Here, as in all points of life, your choice of gin is critical. In the book we recommend Monkey 47 from Germany, which has a depth and complexity to it that makes it ideal. Gin is so marvelously regional and diverse as a product category, so feel free to experiment (I’ve made successful versions of this drink with cool geeky gins from Killdeer Barr and Isolation Proof). The rest of our version was inspired by the gin-forward Fergroni cocktail, served at London’s St. John, which combines Campari and English gin with Punt e Mes, a bittersweet Italian vermouth that also happens to be dark brown and bitter and quite complementary to coffee.
This Coffee Negroni comes with a very specific instruction: enjoy it as an aperitif before dinner to stimulate the appetite. The vast majority of coffee cocktails haunt the dessert menu, but a good coffee negroni is unparalleled at sharpening the mind for what lies ahead. There’s coffee involved, but this is a negroni first and foremost and needn’t be banished to the after-dinner hours.
Negronis can be quite personal, emotional even, and truly memorable in the context of a fabulous evening. We offer our Coffee Negroni with this course of events in mind. It’s just the thing to enjoy before your guests ring the doorbell, or the car arrives to whisk you away for the night.