Night Heron - A Coffee Cocktail made with espresso, hazelnut milk, honey, and coffee vodka (ideally coffee/cacao vodka!) -

Night Heron

In Recipe by Sean18 Comments

Night Heron

Espresso & Cocoa Cocktail with Hazelnut

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I’m going to keep this short and sweet. But not too sweet.

I adore coffee. It was never an acquired taste for me – I’ve always loved the smell and the taste, and I’ve only ever taken it black. That being said, while I don’t add anything to my coffee, I can appreciate the appeal of adding coffee to other things. In this case, to cocktails.

There are plenty of coffee cocktails out there in the world, but one thing that’s put me off in the past is the fact that many of them are VERY sweet. I get it – coffee and alcohol both pack a flavour punch (as well as other kinds of punch), and the sweetness helps mellow out the drink. But when you’re like me, and you like something a little bit dark, a little bit bitter, and a little bit moody to drink, the sweetness can get cloying. So what I’ve got here for you is a little drink I’ve decided to call a Night Heron. It’s strong, it’s simple, and it’s customizable. If you want it sweeter or creamier, that’s easy to do. It’s also a fun drink for DIY foodie-nerds (hi!), because you get to make your own hazelnut milk for it. Don’t want to do that? Use pre-made, or substitute for easier-to-find almond milk. Like I said – customizable.

So why did I call it a Night Heron? I’m a geek of many stripes, and I’ve collected an array of hobbies over the years that lean toward the nerdly side of things. Case in point – I took up bird watching (or birding, as we birder-folk tend to say) when I was 10 years old. I just liked birds and I wanted to watch them. Now I adore biology in general, but birds do hold a special place in my heart. Night herons are a group of aquatic birds who, as the name suggests, are often active at night. One species in particular, the Black-crowned Night Heron, is found throughout much of the world, and it’s always been a favourite bird of mine. Given their semi-nocturnal habits, they’re not usually the most lively of birds during daytime hours. Their bright red eyes, skulking stance, and general sleepy/cranky daytime appearance give them something of a “what do you want?” kind of look. Frankly, I can relate. This cocktail felt to me like something a little bit nocturnal… and perhaps something a little medicinal for when I’ve got my own red eyes and skulking stance. Plenty of coffee and cocoa give this a strong, slightly bitter kick that will wake you up, while the wonderful coffee/cacao vodka (more on that below) means business. But there’s a bit of dawn’s first light peeking into the darkness; the creamy hazelnut and touch of honey give take the edge off the drink (and the drinker). I feel like I’d put this in a thermos if I was getting up to go fishing at 4 AM. Or (let’s be honest here), something I’d sit down with late on Christmas Eve as I FINALLY get around to wrapping presents. But if perking-up isn’t on the menu, you can use decaf espresso and find yourself withan awfully nice drink to unwind with at the end of the day (perhaps on Christmas eve AFTER the presents are wrapped). Like I said – customizable.

This drink is my contribution to a wonderful ongoing collaboration with a group of my fellow Canadian food bloggers. We started a little group called Connecting Over Cocktails a little while back (click here to see the first installation in the series). Once you’ve checked out this recipe, scroll down or click here to read about all of the incredible drinks that these wildly talented people have come up with. There’s a lot of talent in the bunch, and a lot of wonderful bloggers looking to share amazing recipes with you. They’re probably all waiting on me to finish this post right now (clearly I need another Night Heron to move things along), so please do me a favour and pay them a visit.

Recipe Notes

My last drink was bright and punchy and a little on the complex side.  I love it, but on this one I went with something a little more calm, and I’m leaving the degree of DIY up to you, the reader.

Hazelnut Milk

This hazelnut milk is creamy, smooth, and (as you’d expect), it has a nice mild hazelnut flavour. If you’ve never made a nut-based milk replacement before, it’s very easy – you simply soak the nuts overnight, throw them in a blender with water, and strain out the solids. I don’t sweeten the mixture much, but you can easily adjust it to personal tastes. For the record, many store-bought nut/soy milks are VERY heavily sweetened.

I’ve added cocoa to my hazelnut milk, but don’t think of this like a sweet chocolaty drink. Cocoa powder in the absence of substantial sweetness has a bold, earthy, slightly bitter flavour. You’ll find yourself tasting chocolate, but not in a way that says ‘candy.’ If you’re not a fan of the dark side of chocolate (you’re forgiven, I suppose), you can simply sweeten this until it meets your personal tastes.


I love coffee in pretty much all of its forms, but I might love espresso most of all. I enjoy the interplay of sour and bitter flavours, and of course the concentrated coffee punch. While bold coffee might seem like it’s going to wake you up, it’s worth noting that espresso and dark-roasted coffees have considerably less caffeine than a cup of milder-tasting medium or light roast. The longer a coffee bean is roasted, the more caffeine is broken down. So if you’re thinking to yourself ‘that’s a lot of coffee’ – you’re not wrong, but it’s also not a ridiculous amount of caffeine. If you don’t have an espresso maker, you can simply use strong coffee. If you don’t like strong coffee, you can make it weaker (e.g. use a one-shot Americano). Then again, if you don’t like strong coffee, I’m not sure why you’re still reading this.

Coffee Vodka

I’ve specified coffee-flavoured vodka in the ingredient list in order to be easily understood, but I actually used a fantastic coffee and cacao spirit called Depth Charge, produced by Vancouver Island’s Wayward Distillation House. Made with cold-pressed coffee, espresso, and cacao nibs, it’s a spectacular spirit. Depth Charge is technically a liqueur thanks to the small amount of honey added, but it’s definitely not even close to what you’d consider a sweet spirit or conventional liqueur. If you can’t get Depth Charge, I’ve specified that you should use a coffee-flavoured vodka and not coffee liqueur  – the latter tend to be very sweet, and would completely change the character of this cocktail.

Connecting Over Cocktails

As I mentioned above, this cocktail was part of a collaboration with a wonderful group of Canadian food bloggers. Each of us has published a new drink today, and I’m happy to tell you a bit about all of them here. I hope you’ll check out their drinks, and their sites – these people are incredibly talented, and I’m happy to call them my colleagues, and my friends.

Kristy of She Eats, who is continuously making amazing cocktails (seriously, she has a book coming out – check it out) has a Cozy Maple Whiskey Sour for your enjoyment.

Cassie at Crumb Kitchen has combined two of my absolute favourite flavours with her Sinful Boozy Orange Hot Chocolate.

Jared at The Hesitant Chef has also given us some cozy cold-weather goodness in the form of his Foamy Blanket Cocktail (or Rum Nog Sour).

Justine from Justine Celina has proven once again that everything she makes is both unerringly gorgeous and incredibly delicious. Here’s her Vanilla Pomegranate Mulled Wine.

Jen from Mud On Her Boots (who is new to our group!) has gifted the world with a Winter Spice and Maple Infused Hot Toddy.

Dana at Killing Thyme wants you to try out some wintry, whiny, apple-y goodness with her Caramel Apple Sangria.

Taylor from The Girl on Bloor given us a wonderful, classy Champagne Pomegranate Spritzer.

There you have it!  That ought to keep you going through the holidays.

Til next time – Cheers.

Nutrition Facts
Night Heron - A Coffee, Hazelnut, and Cocoa Cocktail
Amount Per Serving
Calories 128 Calories from Fat 9
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 1g 2%
Saturated Fat 0.2g 1%
Polyunsaturated Fat 0.3g
Monounsaturated Fat 1g
Sodium 84mg 4%
Potassium 176mg 5%
Total Carbohydrates 3g 1%
Dietary Fiber 1g 4%
Sugars 2g
Protein 1g 2%
Vitamin A 4%
Calcium 19%
Iron 2%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

Nutritional Summary

Good old coffee. On it’s own, it’s basically free from calories. As far as cocktails go, this is about as light as it gets. If you do sweeten your drink further, that will affect the nutritional profile, but it’s pretty neutral overall.

This is an alcoholic beverage (unless you make it a mocktail obviously), which means added calories. And never forget – caffeine and booze can make for an unpleasant combination when you overdo it. Consume in moderation, and always drink responsibly.

Ingredient Pages

No ingredient pages have been written yet for any of the ingredients in this recipe.  Like to see one?  Let me know in the comments below or by email.

Pantry Pages

No pantry pages have been written yet for any of the ingredients in this recipe.  Like to see one?  Let me know in the comments below or by email.

  • Vegetarian
  • Dairy-free
  • Gluten free

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5 from 3 votes
Night Heron - A Coffee Cocktail made with espresso, hazelnut milk, honey, and coffee vodka (ideally coffee/cacao vodka!) -
Night Heron - A Coffee, Hazelnut, and Cocoa Cocktail
Prep Time
5 mins
Total Time
5 mins

A pick-me-up cocktail loaded with bold flavours, but without the cloying sweetness found in many coffee drinks. Plus, how-to make your own hazelnut milk!

Course: Cocktails, Drinks
Cuisine: Canadian, North American
Keyword: cocktail with nut milk, coffee and hazelnut cocktail, hazelnut milk cocktail
Servings: 1 drink
Calories: 128 kcal
Hazelnut Milk (see note)
  • 150 g hazelnuts (about 1 cup)
  • 750 ml water (about 3 cups)
  • 1 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp honey or to taste
Night Heron
  • 2 shots hazelnut milk
  • 4 shots espresso or about 125 ml (1/2 cup) strong coffee
  • 1 shot coffee vodka (see note)
  • honey (or other preferred sweetener), optional and to-taste.
  • cinnamon (optional)
Hazelnut Milk
  1. Place the hazelnuts in a large bowl and cover with cold water. Let stand overnight.
  2. Discard the soaking liquid and rinse the hazelnuts thoroughly.
  3. Place the hazelnuts in a blender along with 750 ml (about 3 cups) of water. Blend as thoroughly as possible, trying to break down the hazelnuts into the smallest crumbs possible.
  4. If you have a jelly bag, use it here - it's the easiest way to go. If not, line a strainer with several layers of cheesecloth and place it over a large bowl or pot. Pour the liquid through slowly and allow it to sit for about 1 hour. Keep the filtered hazelnut milk. You can dry out the solids in the oven and use them as a flour replacement, or simply discard them.
  5. Add 1 to 2 teaspoons of honey (or more if you want it sweeter) to the hazelnut milk, along with the cocoa powder. Combine thoroughly (I used a blender again). The finished hazelnut milk can be kept in the fridge for about a week. It will separate into layers when sitting, so shake it thoroughly before using.
Night Heron
  1. Gently warm a portion of hazelnut milk (only warm as much as you need for drinks). You can carefully use a microwave or stovetop, but take care not to boil the milk, as it will separate.
  2. Prepare the espresso or strong coffee.
  3. Pour a little honey (about 1/2 teaspoon, or to taste) into the bottom of a cup. Add the coffee vodka and espresso. Pour the warmed hazelnut milk over top and gently stir. Serve immediately.
  4. (Optional) You can garnish with a little cinnamon, add a more honey, or even a little vanilla for added variations.
Recipe Notes

Making your own hazelnut milk is optional of course, though commercial hazelnut milk isn't the easiest thing to find. A good quality almond milk could be substituted, though I will say that if the homemade touch makes for an exceptional drink. You'll obviously make more than you need, but you can use the leftover hazelnut milk as a delicious milk substitute, and/or drink it as is. It will keep in the fridge for about 5-7 days.


  1. Well done! I’m not a coffee drinker but with a bit of nut milk and vodka, why not? I did check out a few of the other ones earlier today and yes, you guys are a very talented bunch! My husband’s going to wonder what’s up with all the new ingredients in this week’s grocery list!

    1. Author

      Thank you Annika! I like your attitude… why not indeed! And I’m glad you checked out some of the other recipes too – I feel privileged to work with so many really talented folks on this project. And I’m sure your husband won’t mind all the odd ingredients when he sees where they’re going!

  2. Coffee, DIY milk AND you’re a bird nerd?!? Love it! (and I’m with you on the weird and constant connection between coffee and overly sweet…)

    1. Author

      Truth be told Jen, I am MANY kinds of nerd. I can’t really help it. I combine a genuine interest for many different things with a take-on-the-world approach (plus a bit of obsessive perfectionism). But yeah, coffee, DIY cooking, and birds? Those three things are pretty high on my nerd-list.
      High five, and go team #whyarecoffeedrinkssodamnedsweet?

  3. This would be the perfect way to warm up after an evening of shovelling the yard. Yay to adult priorities! I like the addition of homemade hazelnut milk as I haven’t ever tried it. Cheers to the holiday season!

    1. Author

      YES. So I live in a largely snow-free part of the world now, but I spent many years shoveling MANY feet of snow. I can definitely see myself coming in from the cold, ditching my gloves and hat (over the furnace vent, natch) and downing one of these. Cheers!

  4. Depth Charge is wonderful! You’ve come up with a great way to showcase it. And hazelnut milk is worth making/tracking down, too.

    So many cocktails are like dessert in a glass. It’s nice to see a more grown up version.

    1. Author

      It really is a great liqueur! I normally wouldn’t go near a coffee liqueur (namely because I don’t really do the whole sweet coffee thing), but I taste-tested this and was smitten. Just a whisper of sweetness, and a ton of amazing flavour. I’m glad to know that my non-dessert approach is appreciated by you and others!

  5. Sean, my boyfriend would LOVE this. He’s really into making delicious coffee and espresso for us at home and he also loves his coffee the same way you do. I’m going to send him your way and we’ll report back with the results. Cheers — it’s always a pleasure collabing with you!

    1. Author

      I hope he gives it a shot Justine! I don’t know if you can get Depth Charge in Calgary or not, but if you can DO IT. It’s so good and it does a lot for this cocktail. And hey, if you can’t – give me a shout. Maybe we can figure something out! 😀
      Great to work with you again too!

    1. Author

      Thanks Diana! There’s nothing like a good boozy coffee, is there? I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  6. Would it be strange to deconstruct the cocktail? haha. You really made something interesting but I can get you on the black coffee! So I might go for the interesting sounding coffee wodka along a good dark coffee. Then again the hazelnut milk sounds like a fun thing to do… Might need to give it a chance 🙂

    1. Author

      Not at all, Simon! I take things apart and put them together all the time. It’s always great when people make my recipes, but it’s also wonderful to see them inspire others to do something new. I think that the straight coffee/vodka idea is a fine one too (that’s basically the idea behind Norwegian Karsk), but the creamy/nutty hazelnut was a nice component. And that’s coming from someone who NEVER drinks coffee and milk together!

  7. A. I won’t lie, Sean… I don’t get coffee. In fact, I hate coffee. I drink it, because I like what caffeine does to my morning but it makes me cringe. What’s a natural taste to you makes me want to slap people. UNLESS It’s in cocktails…. And then, I inhale the stuff faster than Keith Richards before a Stones show… God, did I just date myself?

    B. I LOVE Wayward Depth Charge!! I used in on of my cocktails for Edible Vancouver once – it’s divine. Clearly I like espresso… I just need alcohol in it. Kind of like blue cheese or lamb – LOVE them with wine. Not so much on their own.

    C. Git ‘yer nerd on, brotha. I’m with ya 😉

    D. Finally, you just made my day by sharing my cookbook news with your readers. Thank you thank you thank you. You are a dear friend and kind of a badass. I adore ya.

    1. Author

      A. I’ve heard of people like you. 😀 But it’s quite alright – just leaves more coffee for me. And for the record, the Stones were my first concert EVER, so if you just dated yourself, rest assured that I’m firmly in the same demographic corner.

      B. Isn’t it awesome? They make some seriously amazing booze, and I was really impressed with it. I’m going to have to go look for that cocktail in the Edible archives! I totally get what you mean about the intensity of espresso though – I tend to like some pretty bold flavours on their own, but so many things just shine when they’re properly matched up with the right ingredients.

      C. Oh I will.

      D. My pleasure. I’m PSYCHED to get my copy of your book. I’ll probably keep on promoting the heck out of it. You’re an awesome writer and your recipes are amazing. So right back atcha.

  8. Now all I picture in my head is you as a child, chugging coffee and staring at Night Herons with binoculars. LOL. But, while I’m usually on the sweet side of cocktails, a good strong, moody drink is needed sometimes! I love the use of homemade hazelnut milk, there’s always a quirky twist on your recipes and that’s it!

    It was great to collaborate with you and the other Connecting Over Cocktails folks this time, Sean. Here’s to many more times!

    1. Author

      Well – to be fair Cassie, I didn’t exactly down espressos when I was 10. Or even 12. But at 18? YES. And the thing about birds is that they (much like my children) get up ungodly-early, which makes coffee a pretty natural partner for birding.

      I’m glad you like the hazelnut twist. I don’t know why exactly, but I always want to be making SOMETHING. I could have just used any old store-bought nut milk, but I just love doing little things like this. Scratch 4 life.

      Awesome collaborating with you again too. Can’t wait for the next one!

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