All About Our Shakerato (Inspirations, Recipes, Improvisations)
One of our most enduringly popular drinks, which we've made dozens of version of, is our Shakerato. You can see a version we made with Caphe Roasters coffee below:
The inspiration for this drink came from a lecture by Fernet Branca's global ambassador, Nicola Olianas. A lot of people are familiar with Fernet Branca, and Carpano Antica, and fewer are familiar with Branca Menta (actually my first exposure to the company's portfolio courtesy of a drink at Prime Meats in Brooklyn), and their excellent coffee liqueur, Caffe Borghetti.
The story of Caffe Borghetti
The coffee liqueur was started in 1860 when a new railroad line, the Pescara-Ancona line, opened next door to the coffee shop of Ugo Borghetti. Ugo wanted his guests to enjoy his coffee, but the problem arose of how to sell the coffee. Ugo ended up putting neutral grain spirit and sugar in his espresso, bottling it, and sending his son to go from car to car on the train to sell coffee that tasted as fresh and rich as the espresso at his shop. Olinas said that this method is still used to this day, and there's a spout connected to giant coffee makers, that the workers at Fernet Branca can use to pour themselves perfect espresso at the start of a day.
"Italians don't make perfect coffee, they make perfect espresso" - Nicola Olianas
The difference between regular coffee, and espresso is pressure, heat, and speed. Espresso machines typically default to 9 bars or 130 psi (pounds per square inch). To put that into perspective, that's 300 feet under the sea and a pressure that would crack most wristwatches. The coffee is very finely ground and tamped down, and almost boiling water is pushed through it. The syrupy, slightly oily consistency actually comes from a combination of liquids and solids and the crema created from the high quality machine.
Many Italians consider the espresso to be the samurai sword of coffee, the finest expression of its flavor. Into this sugar and vodka are immediately added, to preserve the flavor.
After sampling and being impressed by the liqueur, I knew I wanted to make one of my own that would represent my favorite coffees in Philadelphia. I've used a lot of different coffees for this. I love the espresso at Herman's Coffee, and I've already mentioned the fantastically intense Vietnamese style coffee of Ca Phe Roasters, but my favorite espresso and coffee in Philadelphia is Gran Caffe L'Aquila's. I'm very familiar with getting a bottle filled with fresh espresso, and immediately adding vodka to it, before either sweetening it or saving in the bottle and combining it with condensed milk.
The Role of Vodka: The Preservation, Fortification, and Expression of Flavor
I've seen so many bartenders argue about vodka and it's proper place in a cocktail. Should it be taken seriously, or is it something that mixologists have to grudgingly accept, with this "Vodka Pays The Bills" t-shirt garnering knowing nods at industry get togethers:
For me, the magic of vodka has always been the ability to fade into the background, and to fortify and strengthen flavor, and preserve it across time. This is something I like to call the honeymoon effect.
"The Honeymoon Effect"
Imagine you are on your honeymoon in your dream city. You're having coffee at your favorite little cafe in Florence, or in a laid back excellent shop on the beach in Costa Rica, and it tastes so good, and the moment is so perfect that you want to keep the flavor forever. And so you do what most people do. You take pictures, buy the t-shirt, buy the beans, get a coffee grinder, and do your best to make them at home.
But no matter how hard you try, it never tastes quite the same. Maybe the temperature or humidity were slightly off, or you used different water, or your preparation was different, or the beans got a little too stale. The coffee is still good, it's just not the same.
How can you avoid this? The answer is so simple and so useful that I want to shout it from the rooftops. Take your favorite cup of coffee, add an equal amount of vodka to it. A simple vodka like Smirnoff or Pinnacle is best, and that's all you have to do. It will last forever, preserved in time by the alcohol, and taste exactly the same!
Dave Arnold's Shakerato
One of the strongest influences in Aqua Vitae's shakerato, was Dave Arnold's recipe, featured heavily in his writings and in his seminal book Liquid Intelligence, his recipe calls for:
1.5 oz. chilled espresso
3 oz. whole milk
1/2 oz. Simple Syrup
1 Pinch of Salt
Handful of Ice
Shaken and poured into a glass over ice.
The most interesting thing about Arnold's variation is the use of the salt, which enhances the sweetness, and reduces the bitterness (think about eating a dark chocolate covered pretzel), and adding a touch of salt is something that we've adapted to many of our cocktails.
Condensed milk: Thai Icea Tea, and Hong Kong Style "Yuanyang" Tea
I've had a lot of shakeratos, and iced coffees, and espresso martinis, but there was always something that felt missing to me. One day when I was waiting for thai food, I noticed how quickly I drank a glass of thai iced tea. The rich flavor of the condensed milk was so addictive, it took me less than a minute to finish the entire glass. This is when I knew I had to incorporate it into my cocktail.
Another component I love is the tendency to mix tea and coffee in the same drink which originated in Asia when the British were in control of Hong Kong. The characteristic Hong Kong style tea Yuan Yang with its delicious ratio of 7:3 milk tea to coffee, is still my favorite bubble tea order in Chinatown.
The idea of both using condensed milk to give the drink an addictive edge, and to act as a bridge between coffee and tea flavors, was based on our experiences with Asian flavors.
We've used a number of different teas in our shakeratos, but my favorites are simple Earl Grey tea, and the...Less simple with the chocolate and caramel accented afternoon tea Wedding Imperial Tea by Louis XIVth's tea house, Mariage Freres.
The Riskiest Garnish: Japanese Incense
Incense is considered by many bartenders to be the riskiest garnish because it involves the entire room. For every bohemian street wear advocate who loves nag champa incense, there is someone who dislikes the smell.
Finding an incense that complimented the flavors in the drink, but was also universally beloved was a process that took about 3 months, and we finally settled on a coffee and chocolate incense made by Japanese brand nippon kodo.
The great thing about incense is that it coats the inside of the glass, and when we use our favorite glass for this cocktail, a long champagne flute, there's so much surface area to play with.
The other benefit of the garnish is smell. Because we often use this drink as the final drink in a series, with its role as dessert drink, we have use smell as a cue to the guests that a different experience is coming.
The role of smell in the context of a cocktail class or tasting is extraordinarily important, because especially inexperienced drinkers have a tendency to remember the last drink they loved, and to want to keep drinking in that same style. Smell is an excellent way to get them from wanting more of the same, to a place of curiosity and adventure.
Astronaut Ice Cream Bar Garnish
The use of astronaut ice cream for the garnish is to provide a visual component, and also a layered flavor that melts at a different consistency than the rest of the drink.
2 Ounces Espresso Vodka (1:1 espresso to vodka, made when the vodka was freshly pulled)
2 Ounces Condensed Milk Tea Syrup (1:1 condensed milk to tea, then add salt dissolved in water at a 1:7 salt to water ratio, to the syrup at a 1:20 ratio)
Shake for 20 seconds
Coat a champagne flute with incense, fill with ice
Strain drink over ice, add smashed astronaut ice cream bar crumbles
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