Sick of espresso? Can’t face another cappuccino? The world of coffee is full of wonders, but you may have only scratched the surface. We’re not just talking about frappés here — it’s easy to forget that, on top of being rich, aromatic and incredibly popular, coffee is a highly versatile substance. As it stands, we’ve narrowed down our premium selection of inventive, ingenious possibilities that go way beyond the classic combo of hot milk and water.
A deliciously sweet staple of Italian cuisine, the term “affogato” literally translates as “drowned”, which is no mystery to those who have witnessed the sight of hot black espresso poured over sumptuous vanilla ice cream. There is little more to it than that — just your usual amount of ground coffee run through a machine, spilled over two scoops right before serving, and eaten while the black liquid delicately cascades over some creamy gelato.
Whether you call it a beverage or pudding is ultimately up to you, but be careful — it’s still a point of contention in the old country. While espresso is incorporated into many Italian desserts, Pasta Evangelists point out that “no meal is considered complete without something sweet and a strong coffee or digestivo to wash it down.” Affogato ticks both boxes, so win win!
- Vietnamese Iced Coffee
Ask any traveler heading back from Hanoi what the highlight of their trip to the crown jewel of South East Asia was, and be prepared for them to extol the virtues of the coffee. This particular method is a far cry from the European tradition symbolized by the espresso machine. In fact, the Vietnamese way most closely resembles the filtering technique, except instead of using paper, the brew is made by using a ‘phin’ — a metal cup that fits over a mug. The process happens very gradually but yields a small but powerful drink, thicker than espresso and more caffeinated. No doubt due to the hot climate, the method is easily replicated for iced coffee.
The secret ingredient we haven’t mentioned yet, which sets this variety apart from the rest, is the inclusion of condensed milk. Though many attribute the characteristic bitterness of Vietnamese coffee as the reason behind this sugary, creamy addition, initially it wasn’t even used for its sweetness. When the coffee bean was first introduced to the country during the French Napoleonic occupation in the 19th century, Vietnam was lacking in available fresh milk, since the farming industry was underdeveloped. Thankfully (though some will disagree), they were able to use condensed milk to complement their java, and voilà! — a unique delicacy was born.
Dalgona is a far younger, but no less scrumptious affair. Despite its intense surge in popularity, we’re still not even certain of its origin — with some claiming that it hails from Korea, others saying Macau, but it may possibly even be an Indian invention. To coffee snob readers, its inclusion on this list might seem somewhat blasphemous — seeing as it substitutes espresso for instant coffee. The beverage is made by simply combining hot water and the granules or powder with sugar, and whipping the ingredients together until it becomes creamy, and then pouring over either hot or cold milk.
While its name is no doubt taken from a separate popular sugary street snack invented in the 1960s, it wasn’t until 2020 that the Dalgona became a viral sensation. The drink took off via TikTok after the South Korean actor Jung Il-woo drank one on a TV program and inspired countless viewers to try it out at home.
If the sound of instant coffee granules isn’t offputting, have a crack at making it yourself. It might be inexpensive to make, but the whipping process can be a lot of hard work. For vegans, a popular alternative is to swap out cow’s milk for coconut milk.
- Espresso Martini
Anyone who’s ever stepped foot in a bar will know about the Espresso Martini. Combining vodka, coffee liqueur (typically Kahlua), gomme (sugar syrup), ice and fresh, hot espresso, this sweet, invigorating cocktail has become the haunt of any establishment worth its name.
So much so, many bartenders are starting to get sick of it — after all, it’s hard to bang out shot after shot of espresso while preparing other drinks. Not to mention, shaking the spirits, syrup, coffee and ice together, and then straining it into a martini glass requires time and precision. There’s no room for compromise here — the beauty of the creamy foamy layer at the top comes from the combination of small ice fragments, gomme, and the layer of caramel-coloured crema that is the sign of a perfect espresso shot.
The jury is still out on whether this ultimate blend of stimulant and depressant is the magic bullet for a night out, or sleep deprivation and a hangover — but one verdict has been clear from the very beginning: it’s damn delicious. Just stick to one or two though, and preferably as an after-dinner treat, rather than at 10 pm — unless your plan is to be up all night.