Coffee is a wide ranging beverage that human beings have been exploring, modifying, and enjoying for almost 1,000 years. There’s literally thousands of ways to enjoy the coffee plant in all shapes and forms, but the most common way is to remove the seed (bean) inside the coffee cherry when it is ripe, process it, roast it, grind it, and brew it. Even within that scope, there’s hundreds of ways to extract the coffee bean’s liquor, and even more ways to modify it once you handle the basic extraction.
Everyone loves the “XX Things You Should Do Before You Die” lists because they give some great advice on interesting, obscure, and out of the box things for you to do and enjoy. We’ve seen many lists that include food and beverages, but not one specific to coffee itself, so… why not come up with one. And we did – this is the CoffeeGeek List of 25 Ways and Means to Enjoy Coffee Before You Die.
This list will include serious standards, but also focus on a lot of rarer, single origin coffees, as well as combination coffee beverages and “build” drinks. We’ll also cover a few brew methods and brewing devices you might never have seen or tried before. The list is also structured completely random — the first item on the list isn’t any more or less important than the last one — so you can make your own choices about what suggestions are more or less important for you. Super bonus points if you complete every one.
You’ll also note than when we talk about specific types of coffee to try (before you die), we won’t suggest specific roasters; this is done to ensure there’s no favoritism or any kind of promotional aspect to this list. The list is first and foremost opinion, but opinion based on honest experience and nothing else. In the comments section, please feel free to ask for specific sources or share some good roasters (along with your own tasting notes).
And lastly, before we get to the list, this is by no means the be-all, end-all of coffee drinks; I’ve no doubt there’s other coffee based beverages and methods out there that are just as worthy of being on this list as our 25 picks. If you have some favourites, make sure to share them in the forum comments.
So here we go – 25 coffee drinks to have before you die!
1. Nitro Cold Brew on Tap (or at home)
One of the more interesting methods for serving up cold brew coffee is infusing it with nitrogen. The gas imparts a sweeter, creamier profile to coffee and can often be enjoyed without any sugar because of how nitrogen boosts the balance of the drink. Some top tier cafes serve up nitrogen infused cold brew on tap, so find one and give it a try. Or make it at home. Use your favourite cold brew method to make coffee, then pour it into a cream whipper canister that takes nitrogen gas capsules. Infuse the coffee, shake it vigorously, and then let it sit in the fridge for 10 minutes or so. It’s now ready to dispense and enjoy! We’ll soon have a detailed how to, including some tips to make it better, and pitfalls to avoid.
2. Cloth Pour Over
If the only pourover coffee you’ve ever had is with paper filters, you have no idea what you’re missing out of by not using a cloth filter system. Paper blocks a fair amount of the aromatic and flavour enhancing oils that coffee puts out when you’re brewing it, but cloth lets most of these goodies pass straight into the cup. The result is much, much better than paper pour over, when all your brewing equipment is cleaned properly. Cloth filter brewing is popular in Japan, and there are a wide range of brewers using cloth filter bags available on sources like Amazon. Brew it more or less the same as you would paper filter pourover, but adjust the grind a tad finer to help with good extraction times.
3. Cherry Shakerato
A variant on a drink that Illy Caffe invented (the Shakerato), this one is probably the best alcoholic coffee beverage I’ve ever tasted. I only know of two bars serving it, both in Vancouver. Make this one at home. You start with a quad shot of espresso, brewed over ice to cool it down quickly. Strain off the old ice into a shaker with new fresh ice, and add 1.5oz of Cherry Heering liqueur, and 1oz of Kahlua. Shake the crap out of it. Strain into a chilled tall glass, and top with freshly whipped heavy cream. In the glass, you’ll see three layers form; the black liquid, the foamed up crema, and the white cream. Serve with a wide straw. Heaven.
4. Cowboy Coffee
This is actually one of the oldest brew methods in existence but became synonymous with the Old West. It’s basically a full immersion coffee brewing method with minimal filtration (usually a coarse hole metal filter in front of the spout on a metal kettle). You also use a very coarse ground coffee to make it, and use cold water to end the extraction process. When done right, it’s actually quite good, albeit with a lot more sludge in the cup than even a press pot delivers. Start by getting some water heated up in the brewing kettle; when it is warm, add 1 rounded tablespoon for coarse ground coffee per 8 ounces of water used. Let the kettle come to a rolling boil, then remove it from the heat source. Add in roughly 2 ounces of cold water per 8 ounces hot that you brewed with. This will end the extraction process and cool the liquid down enough to drink. Pour gently into cups. Most of the ground coffee should stay in the kettle, with a thick liquid ending up in the cup. Enjoy. Around a fire.
Along with the espresso, many coffee aficionados and lovers have never actually had a proper ratio cappuccino. Time to change that, before you die. What’s a proper cappuccino? It’s served in a cup that is 4 to 6 ounces in size, and it is, in effect, a drink of thirds. A proper double shot of espresso is brewed directly into the heated cup, delivering between 40 and 50g of espresso. Next, the barista steams the milk, stretching enough so the volume is doubled. Then, if they have the skill, they can free pour the milk and foam mixture ensuring that at least half of what they pour is foam. Forget the latte art (though as you can see above, it is possible to pour latte art in a proper cappuccino form). If they can’t free pour that much foam, they must use a spoon – it’s important that the beverage has about 1.5 to 2oz of steamed milk, and the volume of up to 2oz foam settling on top. Let the drink settle for a minute or so, and for the foam to firm up, then indulge, getting your full on milk moustache going. Drink slowly, but methodically, enjoying all stages of the drink. We have a detailed How To on this fantastic beverage.
6. A “Geisha” Coffee
This is an Ethiopian variant made popular in the 2000s by it being cultivated and grown by Esmeralda Farm in Panama, which saw the beans go for absolutely insane prices in auction by around 2006 and 2007 (as much as $800 a pound!!!). Since then other farmers in Panama and Central America have been cultivating their own Geisha style coffees, with varying success, mainly to cash in on the Esmeralda craze. So it’s a case of buyer beware, and while you should definitely try these exceedingly floral and balanced coffees at least once, make sure you buy it from a top tier, trusted roaster. Or better yet, source a trusted importer and find out who they sell their Geisha lots to. Best brewing method: Pour Over.
7. Balance Brewer
Within a few years of the invention of the siphon coffee brewer (itself invented around 1840), some bright minds decided to take the siphon design of a globe stacked on top of another globe, and marry them with a British design, called the Naperian. The result was a side by side “automatic” brewer that used the weight of the heating kettle to control the brewing time for coffee. It was, in effect, the world’s first commercially successful “automatic” coffee maker. It does have some limitations — the brew time is far too short if you leave it in full on auto mode — but you can compensate for that by simply holding the kettle up manually for another 60 seconds or so. Jus as much theatre as it is function, the balance brewer can deliver a fantastic cup. On Amazon these days, you can find Chinese made, functioning replicas of these brewing devices, usually under $150. We have a detailed How To guide on balance brewers, check it out.
8. True Macchiato
Roughly 20 years ago, Starbucks nearly destroyed the meaning of the word “macchiato” in the world of coffee. It’s not a 16 or 20 ounce drink with chocolate and cream. It’s a shot of espresso with a dollop of foamed milk on top. Adding to the problem is the North American macchiato became a drink with almost 1 part milk foam and heated milk, to espresso. That’s not a true macchiato the way the beverage was invented in Italy. There, a macchiato is a shot of espresso with spoon of milk foam on top, and that’s it. Make one and give it a go!
9. A Cup of Excellence Award Winner Coffee
There is a form of “Olympics” in the world of coffee, and it’s called Cup of Excellence. Founded by George Howell in the late 1990s, the organization runs events in many coffee producing countries each year that features multiple stages: first, an international panel of tasting experts double-blind taste coffee entries from small scale farmers, scoring said coffees and awarding the top coffees produced that year in each country. The second phase is an auction: the award winning coffees (and all the coffees entered) are put up in an online auction for roaster / retailers to purchase. The Cup of Excellence website has all the information about the competition, the coffees, and even who the buyers are, for you to track down and purchase from. These are literally the best coffees produced in a given year, and are (mostly) worth every penny.
10. Siphon Coffee
I’ll make no lie about this: I think siphon coffee is the best brewing method in the world, after espresso. The problem is, most modern coffee drinkers have never tried it, or never had it done right. This brewing method, which was pretty much the number one way to make coffee in the USA from the 1930s through the early 1950s, was decimated by the popularity of the percolator, then the auto drip machine. It’s a shame, because on top of delivering the goods in the cup, this is one of the more theatrical and elegant ways to make coffee, quickly. Check out our full how-to on siphon coffee brewing.
11. Spanish Coffee
A more dramatic and theatrical beverage than the Irish Coffee, the Spanish coffee involves fire and flames. The basic build is this: overproof rum (well above 45% alcohol content) is added to a sugar rimmed glass. It is torched to burn off some of the alcohol and caramelize the sugar on the rim. Hot coffee is added to extinguish the flames, and the beverage is topped with fresh whipped, not quite stiff heavy cream. If you don’t see the drink built this way, it’s not an authentic Spanish Coffee. It must have flames. And for an even dressier, more complex drink build, check out Imbibe Magazine’s suggestion.
12. Ka’anapali Estate Moka
Way back in 2002, Tom Owen sourced this super tiny bean from Hawaii, and it was a serious game changer in many ways: not the least of which was how difficult it was to roast because the beans were so tiny, they’d fall through most commercial roasting drum screens. It was one of the most chocolate forward coffee beans you could ever try back then. Today, the beans are still produced and the bean sizes have gotten a bit bigger (they’re still super tiny), and when roasted just right, still have some heavenly chocolate notes, a floral nose, and a sweet balanced acidity. Buy it green and roast it yourself. Best Brew Method: cloth filter.
13. Turkish Coffee
Other than the cowboy coffee method, this is one of the oldest brewing methods still used today. The key to this method is the brewing apparatus used: it’s a kettle with wide bottom and narrow, open top, and a handle on the side. Many are made from copper and tin. Brewing methods vary (and you should experiment!) but the basic, standard method is to grind coffee as fine as you can (think talcum powder fine) and add 1 teaspoon per “cup” to the turkish brewer, keeping in mind their cups are 3ounces or so in size. Also add a few pinches of a spice — cardamom, anise, cinnamon, or similar — when starting the brew. Optionally, you can also add sugar at this stage, to taste. Let the slurry heat up to boil and foam creation, and remove it from heat. Once it settles, return it to the heat and let it foam up again. Remove once more, and repeat once more. It’s now brewed, and it’s time to pour into cups. Let the grounds settle a bit, then pour, in stages, across all your serving cups.
14. Beloya Ethiopia Natural Coffee
Possibly the best coffee ever produced in the 2000s; it has made a recent comeback after disappearing when Ethiopia changed up their entire coffee distribution and sales system (to better serve the local farmers) back in 2008. The current availability is scant and I’m afraid there’s some scams out there, so make sure you buy it from a trusted roaster. At it’s best, the natural (fermented finish) Beloya is like a juicyfruit explosion on your palate. Sweet, balanced, and seriously fruit forward. Best Brew Method: siphon.
15. Spritzy Americano
Orange Juice and Coffee? And carbonated to boot? What kind of black magic is this. Well, it’s the Spritzy Americano and it is the first and only (so far) carbonated coffee beverage I’ve actually enjoyed. And trust me, I’ve tried mixing carbonation and coffee for decades. The build is quite complex and you won’t find any bar (that I know of) serving it, so get ready to make it at home. Start by brewing 2oz (a full double) of espresso into a shaker cup. Optionally add 1oz of simple syrup at this point if you want a sweet drink — otherwise the build results in a balanced bitter drink. Then add 2oz of fresh orange juice to the shaker cup. Finish off with an ounce of any amaro liqueur (we like Ramazotti for this). Shake without ice to seriously mix the ingredients. Then add ice and shake some more. Split the shaken drink between two glasses. Now add 4 to 5oz of soda water, ice cold, and very slowly to each glass (this will foam up like crazy, so take it easy). Add a straw, gently stir, add some orange peel, and serve.
16. A Maragogype Coffee
This is a bean style that originated in Brazil and is a mutation of the more standard Typica bean. They are some of the biggest coffee beans ever produced, and are a popular type of coffee grown in Central America. Guatemala produces a fair amount, as does Mexico, but it also found in Brazil. Again, find a trusted, top tier roaster, and ask them what maragogype coffees they have. Noted for their balance and often a buttery, soft flavour, these types of beans grind differently because they aren’t as dense as smaller beans are. The beans are so huge, they are called “elephant beans” in the industry. Best Brewing Method: Siphon.
17. Moka Brew Coffee (via Krups)
This is not actual moka pot coffee I’m talking about, but a specific brewing device championed by Krups for many decades in Germany, but also available in the US for around $150. It’s the Krups Moka Brew brewer, and it’s basically a cross between a moka pot and a drip brewer. The resulting beverage is quite unique and intense. It’s also a great building block, as it were, for iced coffees, as it creates a very concentrated brew in large volumes. We reviewed a previous model on CoffeeGeek way back in 2003, and talked quite a bit about the brewing device’s unique nature and output. If you’ve never had one, you owe it to yourself to try it.
18. Flat White
If you want a balanced latte, then you have to try a proper flat white coffee beverage. The flat white originated in Australia (or New Zealand, depending on who you ask), and it started life as a beginner drink for people who don’t like coffee very much – introduce steamed milk and tiny bit of foam to a double shot of espresso. Sounds like a latte, right? Well it is, except for one thing — the milk to espresso ratio — in a flat white, it’s a lot closer than it is in a latte. The drink has also evolved somewhat to really fine tune the milk to espresso ratio so that both end up complimenting the other very well. The drink size is never more than 5 to 6 ounces (or around 200-240ml), and is usually served in a glass. Make sure to check out our recent How To on the Flat White.
19. Caffe Correcto
Ah, you have to love Italy, where you can get a no questions asked, no second look response if you want something alcoholic at 7:30am. That drink is the caffe correcto, which is a shot of espresso served with a shot of grappa. And there’s a proper way to drink it as well. First, drink half the espresso. Then take half the grappa as a straight shot. Then add half of the remaining grappa to the espresso, and drink that. Next, take the last bit of grappa and add it to the empty espresso cup, swirling it around to collect all the spent crema. Once the last drops of grappa are mixed with the remains of the espresso, drink that. Done!
This is a gem of a tiny dessert offering that every coffee lover should try at least once. The build is pretty straightforward: brew a shot of espresso, and add a small round scoop (ball) of ice cream to the top. The beverage cools down to luke-warm pretty quick, so drink it quick, and finish off by eating the shrinking ball of ice cream. Optionally, you can also brew directly onto a scoop of ice cream, to further mix the espresso with the iced desert. We have a recent How To on building this drink.
21. Yemen Coffees (any from a top tier roaster retailer)
Yemen is a country with a lot of troubles right now, but they’re still managing to produce coffee, and there are still some rather brave and dedicated buyers working direct with some equally brave farmers and cooperatives in Yemen to source coffees. Some Googling will turn up some of these dedicated folks, so have at it. Why should you have a Yemen coffee before you die? Because of Yemen’s rich history of growing coffee, as well as it being part of the world’s first (and arguably most famous) coffee blend: the Mocca Java blend of coffee (Java from Indonesia). Best Brewing Method: Pour Over.
22. Cafe au lait
If you’ve never experienced the pure serenity and calmness that an early morning cafe au lait provides, you must do it at least once before you move on from this world. It evokes early morning “breakfast continentale” at a hostel, or the first comforting beverage of the day on a lazy weekend. Make it the right way too: with a Moka pot. Heat some milk up on the stove (not scalding, but hot), and add it in a 3 or 4 to 1 ratio to moka coffee into a handleless bowl. Serve it with a fresh baguette, some butter, cheese and fruit.
23. A “Monsooned” Coffee
In India (and in some other East Asia countries), there’s been a long tradition of letting the environment handle the final “processing” of certain beans. It’s done during the monsoon (rainy, windy) seasons. Beans are left out for 8 to 12 weeks on wide flats underneath a warehouse roof that has the sides of the building exposed to the elements. The beans don’t get rained on, but they do soak up the high humidity and are constantly exposed to wind. The result is beans that swell up and lose some of their acidity, while gaining earthy, body-rich flavours. The most famous of these coffees is the Monsooned Malabar coffees, but others exist as well. You owe it to yourself to try these coffees at least once.
24. Irish Coffee
Chances are you’ve had an Irish Coffee, but there’s an equal chance you haven’t had it done correctly. One of the most common mistakes bars and restaurants make with Irish Coffee is the cream. It should be hand whipped just before building the drink, and left short of ‘stiff”, so it would be thick, but pourable. No sugar should be used in the cream, because the proper application of sugar in an Irish Coffee is in the hot liquid itself, before the alcohol is added. We have a full how to on how to build this fantastic tasting drink.
Last, but certainly not least is the espresso. Surprisingly, to this day, many coffee aficionados and purists have never had a genuine shot of great espresso, straight up, with no modifiers. You must experience at least one world class shot of espresso before you die. Google up the top cafes in your town — if you see the yelp and google reviews talk about how great their caramel mochas are, move on to another choice — and visit them. Tell them you want a standards-bearing shot of espresso, one to mark in your culinary palate for the foreseeable future. Watch the barista get all giddy and excited to hand craft you the perfect shot. When served (it must be with a demitasse spoon), sniff, take one sip undisturbed, and taste. Stir the crema in, and take your second sip. Enjoy that for a while as you cradle the cup and let the remaining beverage cool. Then enjoy your third and last sip from the cooled down beverage. If the espresso was brewed correctly, every taste should be unique and excellent.
And there you have it – our list of 25 coffee drinks, brewing methods, and types you must try before you die. Have some favourites we didn’t include? Tell us about them in the forum comments.
Taste The Coffee 2019