The city’s new coffee cocktails offer two types of buzz
Featuring Vela’s suite of coffee-based drinks along with other caffeinated combinations and home-bar essentials
Legend has it that the espresso martini was invented in the 1980s by Dick Bradsell, a barkeep at Fred’s Club in London, England. The caffeine-kicked cocktail had a good run, then fell out of favour until making a comeback last year. And Robin Goodfellow, managing partner of King West restaurant Vela, is leaning in to it—his current menu includes a few caffeinated cocktails, all with a Toronto twist: a rum-based liqueur made using Sam James beans.
For the espresso martini, Goodfellow mixes that liqueur with a freshly pulled shot and a glug of Grey Goose. For Vela’s riff on a mudslide, that cloyingly sweet adult milkshake, he uses 12-year rum, a swirl of sherry-vanilla cream, that house liqueur, espresso dust and a drizzle of Valrhona-chocolate syrup—it’s just the right amount of sweet, way less saccharine than its predecessor.
The vodka-based white Russian, with more house coffee liqueur subbing in for the usual Kahlúa, may be the most nostalgic drink on the list. According to Goodfellow, millennials and Gen Zers are big fans. It could be the Big Lebowski connection (“The Dude abides…” follows the drink’s description on the menu), but whatever the reason, young people are either starting their nights or capping them off with a caffeine kick, and they almost always order multiples.
The best Ontario-made coffee liqueurs
Vodkow Coffee Cream liqueur
Simply open and pour this lactose-free vodka-spiked coffee cream infused with single-origin Equator coffee into your Saturday-morning joe, shake it into cold brew or enjoy it on the rocks. $34.95, vodkow.com
Mann’s Dirty Chai Liqueur
This Brantford micro-distillery makes its own liqueur out of beans from Altitude Coffee Roasters and cocoa nibs, then steeps chai spices in it. $24.95, mannsdistillery.com
Spring Mill Distillery John Sleeman No. 2 Coffee Liqueur
For Irish coffees or espresso martinis, this Guelph distiller grinds Colombian coffee beans and spikes the blend with a neutral spirit, vanilla and cocoa. $29.95, springmilldistillery.com
More caffeinated cocktails
Short Turn: The cocktail-oriented sister spot to 416 Snack Bar makes a boozy Vietnamese coffee with milk bread–macerated dark rum, condensed milk and house-made coffee liqueur.
Voodoo Child Cafe and cocktail bar: This College haunt makes three espresso martinis, the wildest of which is the Catalina Mixer—a smoky, bitter potion of tequila, mezcal, cassis, espresso and Aperol.