the sunrise at blueprint coffee features espresso and orange juice. photo by izaiah johnson

St. Louis coffee shops create nonalcoholic coffee cocktails

Don’t tell Big Dairy, but coffee has finally escaped the milk-and-syrup hegemony. When it comes to flavored drinks, coffee shops are using espresso more like a versatile base spirit than a hot chocolate add-in these days.

Espresso and tonic has transitioned from novelty to a regular menu item. Blueprint Coffee makes a superb version that combines its full-bodied Penrose espresso with a bright house-made tonic featuring fresh notes of citrus, lemongrass and bitter cinchoa bark. Coma Coffee adds a floral flair to the bubbly refresher with hibiscus tea ice cubes in its version made with cold brew concentrate rather than espresso.

The Mud House’s Dank and Stormy and Lanai Coffee’s Moscow Hurricane take the trend a zingy direction. Nonalcoholic riffs on the rum-based Dark and Stormy cocktail, both drinks offer the sharp, spicy notes of ginger beer grounded by roasty cold brew concentrate.

Northwest Coffee cools things down with its subtly sweet coconut water Americano, while the Living Room in Maplewood goes full-sugar with a Sproda incorporating Fitz’s root beer. The espresso brings a grown-up depth of flavor to the carefree soda. The Sunrise, another concoction from the Living Room, combines espresso and orange juice to surprisingly successful effect. The coffee disappears into the sweet juice with just a trace of caramely richness.

Nonalcoholic coffee shop cocktails aren’t exactly new – Sump Coffee teamed up with St. Louis bartender Tim Wiggins (co-owner of Retreat Gastropub and Yellowbelly) for a rotating series of drinks a few years ago – but there are more options now, perhaps fueled by an increased interest in zero-proof imbibing.

Sip a Nothing Rhymes with Orange at Blueprint, and you won’t miss happy hour. Made with Penrose espresso, blood orange syrup and mole bitters served over ice and garnished with a dehydrated orange wheel and lemon twist, it looks and tastes full proof. Piquant, sweet-tart and earthy with a hint of rich spice, it’s really a cocktail offering a different kind of buzz.

Heather Hughes is managing editor at Sauce Magazine.