The problem with drinking in the morning is that it tends to ruin, or at least put a depressive damper on, the rest of your day. It doesn’t matter if it’s orange juice and Champagne; whiskey in your drip coffee; or a shot of vodka poured into your green juice—booze makes it hard to soldier on into the afternoon, which will probably end in a nap far from wherever you were planning on going. Thankfully, I’ve discovered a solution: a breakfast cocktail so potent that it will not only get you slightly buzzed, but keep you effervescently awake as long as you keep drinking it, to a degree that may begin to concern you. It’s not an illegal substance; it’s not even Four Loko. No. The answer is the coffee Negroni.
The coffee Negroni is like a classier version of a vodka Red Bull or Irish coffee. It has caffeine and alcohol, sure. But the trick is deciding which kinds of stimulants and depressants you’re going to consume together. Champagne and Prosecco are bubbly and sugary, more than likely to worsen the post-breakfast hangover. Bailey’s is gross, and certainly won’t keep you awake. And who wants all that dairy with your eggs Benedict?
The key to the coffee Negroni is that it takes strong coffee and combines it with straight liquor. It’s nothing but caffeine and alcohol, and maybe a bit of orange peel, which you could also eat if you’re feeling a touch of scurvy. There’s nothing in it to drag you down.
The drink’s exact origins are lost in time, but I think it went something like this: Late one weekend morning I was drinking espresso from a stovetop moka pot, and the bitter, citrus-y taste of the coffee reminded me of something. I thought of Fernet, the herbal liqueur, but that was too extreme, too much like a sip of heavily spiced fertilizer. What the espresso brought to mind was Campari, the fruity, orange-red aperitif that’s a core ingredient in a Negroni.
Campari is often served mixed with soda and sweet vermouth. But in Florence in 1919, a brilliant bartender responded to a customer’s order for a stronger version by adding gin to the mix. The customer was Count Camillo Negroni, who lent his name to the resulting drink. The Negroni is simple: Just combine equal parts Campari, gin, and sweet vermouth, stir with ice, and strain into a glass. Slice a thin twirl of orange peel, twist in the direction of the glass for a spray of essential oils, and then wipe the peel around the rim.
The combination was surprisingly perfect. The brightness of the espresso highlighted the fruitiness of the Campari and the coffee’s oily texture melded with the liquor and liqueurs. As with all great cocktails, the different components became something more than the sum of their parts. The only thing I changed was to add a splash more of sweet vermouth to balance out the funkier, less appealing flavors of the coffee—perfect Nordic light roast beans might make that addition unnecessary, but the final proportion is up to you.
So it looks and tastes is great. But the coffee Negroni really justifies itself in the drinking. It’s perfect either for brunch or an afternoon outdoor party where staying active is paramount. The first Negroni will wake you up, though the jitters of a big espresso shot will be dulled by booze. But the next few—and you can’t drink just one—will make you feel like a kindergartener right after naptime. From personal experience, I will say that it is inadvisable to continue this process for more than a few hours. By then you should switch to beer or wine. Or, you can move on to the Kalimotxo, the Spanish red wine-and-Coke combination, to stay even more caffeinated. Then maybe a white Russian for dessert, and coffee with a dash of whiskey for a nightcap. Who needs to sleep?
- Yields: 1 drink
- Total Time: 5 minutes
Fill two glasses with ice. In one glass, mix equal parts gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari; Stir to chill. Pour one stovetop pot or one shot of espresso into the other glass; Stir to chill.
Strain liquor into a third, empty glass. Add strained, chilled, espresso, ½ part or to taste.
Squeeze orange peel over the glass, wipe it around the rim, and add to the cocktail.