We are a nation obsessed with coffee. The Seattle-based Starbucks coffee shop chain was born in the 1980s, and by the early ’90s, fancy Italian-inspired coffee was trendy. Now there are more than 22,000 Starbucks stores in 67 countries, with countless other coffee chains and independent cafés following suit. Our appetite for coffee keeps growing, bringing with it novelties like the skinny latte and wacky flavors like pumpkin spice. There is a serious coffee culture now, replete with rules, rituals and pedigrees. Everyone knows that caffeine helps clear the head and energizes the body—but there’s more. Some wellness experts claim that coffee is a major source of antioxidants. This eye-opening news (pun intended) certainly fueled our local coffee exploration, and we found some humdingers in both liquid and solid forms. Here are a few favorites.
MIDNIGHT EXPRESS MARTINI
Get your boogie on with Bacio’s midnight express martini, a potent swirl of coffee and booze guaranteed to fuel a festive evening. The base of this elixir is Kahlua, a syrupy sweet and dangerously strong coffee-based liqueur. Add high-test espresso, sweet whiskey-based Bailey’s Irish cream and local organic Prairie vodka for wallop of flavor and sensation. Drink just one of these—responsibly, of course—and you can expect a fully charged night. $9.50.
COLD BREW COFFEE
When foodie culture gets onto something, all sorts of new products ensue, some better than others. Coffee snobs are currently in the thrall of cold brew, which is coffee that has been brewed with cold water, suppressing the bitterest acids. The local coffee gurus at Dunn Brothers have a unique take on the trend: theirs is called “infinite black,” and it’s a lush, slightly fruity coffee experience. The cold-brewing process takes about 24 hours, so it’s a pesky trick to pull off at home. Enjoy yours on-site, iced or hot. $2.68–$3.87.
CHANGEMAKER CHOCOLATE BAR
B.T. McElrath Chocolate
Local artisan chocolatier B.T. McElrath teamed up with local coffee purveyors Dunn Brothers to create the Changemaker chocolate bar, an intense combination of 70 percent dark chocolate and 6 percent crushed dark espresso beans. Twenty percent of the profits go to the American Refugee Committee in the service of global humanitarian crises. Blended with “a splash of goodwill,” the Changemaker is an experience to be savored one square at a time. This candy bar is especially handy if you’re studying for an exam, up late doing chores or dozing through the zillionth meeting at work. Find it at your nearest Dunn Brothers—the branch in Excelsior is always a mellow hang. Three-ounce bar, $5.
EVENING IN MISSOULA
We’ll concede that some people naturally prefer tea over coffee, but even the staunchest coffee advocate will enjoy Evening in Missoula, a loose-leaf blend made by Tea Source that features a disparate jumble of herbs and spices: chamomile, rosehips, raspberry leaf, papaya leaf, peppermint, spearmint, blackberry leaf, passion flower and others. A dash of the natural plant-based sweetener stevia marries the panoply of ingredients together; the resulting mellow, earthy spice is oddly reminiscent of root beer. You can lounge at this cozy café for hours and perhaps stay for live music or a poetry reading. $2.50.
This iconic Italian dessert was invented in the 1960s in the Veneto region of Italy. The confectioner Roberto Linguanotto named it after his apprentice, Francesca Valori-Tiramisu. “Tiramisu” also happens to translate to “lift me up,” which is fitting, because there’s something about this dessert that is not only buoyant in texture but a true joy to eat. The traditional recipe features espresso-dipped ladyfingers, a delectably light sponge cookie, layered with cream and dusted with cocoa. Spasso’s kitchen hews to the traditional, but never phones it in: this tiramisu is as exciting as the first you’ve ever tasted. $8.
(Tiramisu is done in the classic style at Spasso, dusted with dreamy cocoa.)
AGAVE ALMOND MILK LATTE
This earthy-crunchy café is all about sustainability, humanitarianism and good health, so of course their coffee is fair trade and environmentally correct. The special thing here is the diverse choice of milks: besides skim and 2% cow’s milk, there are soy, hemp, almond and coconut milks, too. Each has nutritional benefits and a subtle flavor of its own; design your own latte, or go for one of the café’s creations, like the agave almond milk latte. Agave is a natural form of sugar found in the agave cactus plant (the same plant that makes tequila), and almond milk is high in protein, fiber and omega 3 fatty acids, in addition to magnesium, selenium and vitamin E, which boost the immune system while shoring up teeth, bones and digestion. It tastes sweet and nutty, something akin to the curiously delicious grain-infused milk left at the bottom of your cereal bowl. $4.50.
KICKAPOO SINGLE DARK ROAST
Even though our local chains do a bang-up job in refilling our go-cups, there’s nothing like sitting down to savor a mug of the good stuff. YoYo totally gets it—they’re as serious about coffee as they are about doughnuts. Local roasters and importers Kickapoo Coffee deliver direct-trade beans to YoYo every week and the freshness reverberates in each mug. Good intentions reverberate, too. Kickapoo is a founding member of Cooperative Coffees, a cooperative that aids small-scale farmers and their communities. YoYo uses a Clever coffeemaker, a marvelous machine with its own version of a pour-over. The café features a daily “bold” single-origin and a “bright” single-origin brew; the bold is described as earthy, deep and chocolaty while the bright is lighter and fruitier. We tried a single-source bold, which was smooth and slightly smoky. While enjoying the height of coffee perfection, you might as well get a doughnut, too. The maple bacon will knock you out. Coffee $1.99–$4.99.
McCormick’s Pub and Restaurants
Drink-wise, Irish coffee is fortifying, bone-warming and delicious. The traditional recipe uses Irish whiskey, sugar, coffee and whipped cream. McCormick’s makes theirs special by using extra-strong coffee and Minnesota-born 2 Gingers Irish whiskey, which has toasty caramel overtones that dovetail perfectly with the sugar and fresh whipped cream. It’s served in an elegant glass mug and meant to be sipped slowly. $9.
(McCormick’s Irish coffee is topped with fresh whipped cream.)
SURLY COFFEE BENDER
Coffee beer? Why, yes! A recent explosion in microbrews has produced ever more delicious quaffs from local producers such as Surly, who cleverly combined two of our current beverage passions, beer and coffee, to make Coffee Bender. It’s an oatmeal brown ale shot with malty vanilla and cocoa flavors, and it’s highly chuggable. The beer is steeped with locally roasted Guatemalan coffee beans for 24 hours; the result delivers an intense coffee-ness to create a beverage that is almost more coffee than beer. It smells as good as that morning cup, but is probably better consumed after noon. $13.99 for 4.