You may think you know all the coffee cocktails, but you don't

"I was like, you know what? F-ck it — I’m going to do it." Award-winning bartender Martin Hudak has written the book on coffee cocktails.

You may think you know all the coffee cocktails, but you don't
Martin Hudak in March 2021 on the site of what would become Sammy Junior. Photo: Boothby

He's the global ambassador for Mr Black Coffee Liqueur, opened two bars this year with the Maybe Sammy group, and also wrote his first book. Where does Martin Hudak find the time?

“It was mostly at night or in the mornings,” Hudak says about making time to write what will likely become the go-to resource on coffee cocktails, his book Spiritual Coffee: A written history of how coffee found cocktails.

Yes, the book holds within its pages recipes for the Espresso Martini and the Irish Coffee, but as Hudak is at pains to point out in our interview below, there is a much bigger world of coffee cocktails to explore — and a much longer history than we may have thought.

Hudak is crowdfunding the publishing of the book — you can find his campaign on Indiegogo here — with the aim to get it into the hands of bartenders and people everywhere before Christmas.

Below, lightly edited and condensed for clarity, Hudak talks to us about why he wrote the book, the two oldest recipes he found, and how Darren Leaney’s Clarified Tiramisu Punch — one of the finest coffee cocktails we’ve ever had — made the cut.

Martin, congratulations on the book — this is exciting.

Thanks. It’s been hard, and I don’t want to do it again, honestly.

What’s the big idea behind the book, what was the reason behind you wanting to write this?

I remember at the beginning of the pandemic last year, in March when we went into lockdown, I had some jobs to do with Mr Black online. And during the masterclasses people asked me, what’s the story of the White Russian, and they’d heard things about the Irish Coffee, and heard that about the Espresso Martini. And I gave them some information and answers, but in the end I was like, is this really true? Let me just double check again.

And I found three different versions of the Irish Coffee, and that’s wrong — there must be some unified, certified book or information about all coffee cocktails where someone has told the truth. I was like, you know what? Fuck it — I’m going to do it.

I started writing for myself. My own notes. But as I started to dig into history, I found so many things I was like, oh my god: we’ve been mistaken, or we didn’t know that for so long. That was the main idea behind [the book] — to show the real truth behind the drinks.

And, that coffee cocktails aren’t just the Irish Coffee and Espresso Martini, there are way older drinks.

What’s the oldest one?

The oldest one in terms of the story and fairytales and rumours, goes to the 1800s, the time when the Sazerac was born , the time when New Orleans was the capital of cocktails. Behind the creation of one of the first coffee cocktails was a pirate, Jean Lafitte who was a smuggler, pirate, who created one of the first coffee cocktails that nowadays we call the Cafe Brulot — which is still served in Arnaud’s in New Orleans. It’s a very famous combination of a cognac, coffee, a bit of sugar, a bit of fire and flame. That’s the oldest in terms of the rumours.

The oldest written one, and I really like the story, it’s from the 1860s, 1870s, and from Germany. It’s called Pharisäer Coffee. Funny enough, in the mid-1850s Germany is one of the largest exporters of rum in Europe, and one of the things that was very popular there was rum, coffee, and spices. In this little town, there was a little religious ceremony where during a baptism, the local pastor was baptising a child for the local farmer’s family. When he was doing the ceremony, the family wanted to celebrate, they wanted to drink; because he was a pastor — he was against drinking and alcohol — they tried to hide that they were drinking. So what they did was they combined Jamaican rum with coffee and sugar. But because the aroma of Jamaican rum is so strong, to cover it they put a little bit of cream on top.

They were drinking all night, they were celebrating, and the pastor was like: Why the fuck is everyone so joyful and happy? What are they drinking? By mistake, a servant passed the alcoholic version of it to the pastor — he took a sip, he stood up and he said: “All you Pharisäers! All you Pharisäers!” That’s how Pharisäer Coffee was born, which is basically an Irish coffee with Jamaican rum — and it’s older by about 80 years than the Irish coffee.

How long did it take you to do the research for the book?

It took about a year of solid work.

Martin Hudak in March 2021 on the site of what would become Sammy Junior. Photo: Boothby
Martin Hudak in March 2021 on the site of what would become Sammy Junior. Photo: Boothby

But you also opened a couple of bars in this time, Sammy Junior and Dean & Nancy on 22, too — where do you get the time?

Man, what a nightmare. I was like, I cannot stop, I had people relying on me, so it was mostly at night or in the mornings. And the hardest part of writing is you find information one day, and then you find different information which cancels the  previous information.

You’ve got a drink from Melbourne bartender Darren Leaney in the book, the Clarified Tiramisu Punch; what is it you like about that drink?

The whole idea is each chapter is talking about specific historical cocktails. So let’s say that we’re talking about the Irish coffee — there’s the original version, there’s my take on it (which I serve at Maybe Sammy), and there’s always a third recipe by a local or global bartender with their modern approach. What I wanted to show is how diverse coffee cocktails can be, from the original recipe, my perspective, and other perspectives.

And specifically, Darren’s Tiramisu Milk Punch. I’m a big fan of this cocktail, I remember trying it Capitano [in Melbourne] years ago, and I tried it Apollonia — I know they have it at Apollonia in Sydney — I was like, it’s just an absolutely perfect clarified Milk Punch. And it’s Tiramisu — who doesn’t like Tiramisu? Mamma mia!

His cocktail is basically a twist on a classic Punch,  called a Soldiers Camping Punch, which was made in the 1880s by Harry Johnson. He put this cocktail in his book, which was only one of the few hot Punches on the menu. He was inspired by the soldiers in the civil war.

And in the civil war, what we know is, soldiers were mentioning coffee in their diaries and notes back home, it was [mentioned] more than any other word; they were on the fields fighting having coffee with brandy and rum. I thought this was cool, but how was I going to find a modern version of this? When I saw what Darren did with the Milk Punch, I loved it.

How crucial is getting the right type of coffee? Obviously there are many different types of coffees out there, and different ways to prepare them — how should bartenders go about getting the right type of coffee for a drink?

I love that question. This is one of the most important questions. I think we as bartenders, we should appreciate and understand coffee as a single ingredient, the same as we appreciate citrus modifiers, sugar, spice, etc. It has its own character, its own flavour and nuances, and depending on the region where it is coming from, depending on how it was processed, how it was roasted and how we make it, it all influences the final result of the coffee.

I would focus on coffee as a single element, and whenever you want to do a coffee cocktail, start with your coffee first and think about what it tastes like. If it tastes like blueberry jam, or it tastes like bergamot and jasmine, try to pair those with elements in your cocktail and try to enhance them or go against them. This is one of the part of the book where I share coffee tips and tricks, how to choose coffee, how to make it.

How can people get the book?

At the moment the most important part is my campaign which is crowdfunded on Indiegogo. I’m trying to raise some funds to publish it, and the campaign will go until the 13th of November. People can choose to purchase and support me by buying the book and the coffee, and what is important is that the money from the coffee is going to the farmers in Brazil.

And just in time for Christmas presents.