Cocktail-inspired drinks filter onto specialty coffee shops in Tampa Bay

Baristas are mixing up cocktail-inspired brews at a few shops around Tampa Bay.
Published June 6 2017

Filtering onto specialty coffee shop menus across Tampa Bay are cocktail-inspired drinks that put a twist on your traditional caffeine order. Fan of a gin and tonic? Try a cold brew and tonic. Like mint juleps? Give one with espresso, instead of bourbon, a shot.

Intermezzo Coffee & Cocktails on Central Avenue in St. Petersburg is currently serving up the 'Spro Mint Julep: espresso and mint-infused simple syrup poured onto a mound of hand-crushed ice and topped with a sprig of mint. The shop where baristas prepare coffee orders in cocktail shakers has been serving the popular drink since it opened in September, but the julep wasn't on the menu for about six months. It wasn't until people kept asking for that "mint thing," owner Jarrett Sabatini said, that he made the drink a permanent fixture.

It sells for $5 alongside a cold brew lemonade ($4.50), a play on an Arnold Palmer that's made with cold brew coffee cut with lemonade. Sabatini, an experienced bartender who has worked as a sommelier at Locale Market, said he got the idea from Italian espresso, which is normally served with a lemon peel.

Also an option at Intermezzo: espresso and tonic water layered with a shot of orange bitters.

"You have to do something to stand out," Sabatini said. He's also planning this month to release a menu of five to eight cocktails featuring coffee — including the Highwire, made with mezcal, Campari and coffee-infused sweet vermouth, and the Coffee Rum Fizz, a blend of rum, meletti, clove, cold brew, cream and egg white.

But the cocktail bent doesn't stop at this St. Petersburg coffee shop.

At Caffeine Roasters Tampa, on E Cass Street, espresso is served with ginger ale for people who prefer something like a gin and tonic.

"Tonic doesn't give it sweetness," manager Emilija Dadonaite said by phone. And since customers often add sugar to espresso tonics, baristas at Coffee Roasters eliminated that step by using ginger ale instead.

The shop, which has been open since April 2016, also offers sparkling coffee, a blend of espresso and sparkling lemonade.

Espresso tonics aren't exactly new. They made the rounds on social media in 2015 but have recently resurged on platforms like Instagram as the latest coffee craze.

The addition of these "mocktails" to coffee shop menus is definitely a trend, Brendan Smith said. Smith, 35, has more than 15 years of experience with coffee, from working as a barista to managing coffee shops and consulting on new projects. He's currently the head of St. Pete Coffee Tours, a pub-crawl style tour of St. Petersburg coffee shops that he runs once a month.

Smith cited a shop in Orlando, Vespr Coffeebar, that is constantly experimenting with adding coffee to classic cocktails. On their Facebook page, Vespr posted about a cafe negroni, made with cold brew coffee, Campari and vermouth. On the menu currently is an old fashioned made with cold brew, bourbon-infused maple syrup and bitters.

In Tampa Bay, interest in the idea is picking up but it's still a novelty, Neal Norton said. The owner of the Bikery on First Avenue S in St. Petersburg, Norton has experimented with coffee cocktails, like a play on a martini he made for Halloween with cold brew concentrate, Hawaiian hot pepper syrup, simple syrup and a chocolate glaze, but is hesitant to put such drinks on the menu.

The coffee market in Tampa Bay is getting there, he said, but it's still young. He's worried about overwhelming people who are still getting accustomed to specialty coffee.

"People are going to have to be asking for it before we get into it," he said.

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