Virtually every niche drink ingredient that has risen to prominence has had a classic cocktail to champion it. Absolut Citron had the Cosmopolitan; crème de menthe had the Grasshopper; crème de violette had the Aviation; and coffee liqueur has had, most recently, the Espresso Martini.
While the craze around that particular coffee cocktail has led to a boom in sales of coffee liqueur—the category grew by about 24 percent in 2020—craft options have been steadily entering the market over the past couple of decades. In fact, Mr Black, the fastest-growing brand in the global coffee liqueur category over the last five years, made its debut back in 2013—only to be acquired by multinational drinks powerhouse Diageo in September 2022.
Many of these contemporary coffee liqueur brands have been patiently waiting on the sidelines for their moment in the spotlight, and the resurgence of the 1980s classic has finally given them a platform to show bartenders why their brand is worthy of a place on the backbar or bar cart. The category shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon, and consumers can expect to see even more new brands race to market over the next few years. Still, sometimes the tried-and-true formulas are best. Amid the inevitable decision fatigue, here are a few of the essential coffee liqueurs to consider, and how to use them.