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.
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.
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.
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.
There you have it! That ought to keep you going through the holidays.
Til next time – Cheers.
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.
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.
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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!
- 150 g hazelnuts (about 1 cup)
- 750 ml water (about 3 cups)
- 1 tbsp cocoa powder
- 1 tsp honey or to taste
- 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)
- Place the hazelnuts in a large bowl and cover with cold water. Let stand overnight.
- Discard the soaking liquid and rinse the hazelnuts thoroughly.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Prepare the espresso or strong coffee.
- 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.
- (Optional) You can garnish with a little cinnamon, add a more honey, or even a little vanilla for added variations.
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.