Coffee Cocktail

First encountered in Jerry Thomas’ 1887 Bartender’s Guide, he specifically notes that “The name of this cocktail is a misnomer, as coffee and bitters are not to be found among its ingredients, but it looks like coffee when it has been properly concocted, and hence probably its name.”


1 1/2 oz port

1 1/2 oz brandy

1 tsp. simple syrup

1 whole egg

dash Angostura Aromatic Bitters


Dry shake (no ice), add ice and shake.

Strain into a wine glass.

Garnish with grated nutmeg.


Kimberly Patton-Bragg 30 Mar 2009
9:02 am

I notice you are using rich syrup instead of a 1: 1 simple. I prefer to use rich as well so as to not over-dilute. If one were to use simple, instead of rich, do you have a “rule of thumb” to adjust the recipe?

Wild Bill Turkey 30 Mar 2009
9:21 am

Poor old Jerry Thomas, gets himself quoted saying that without even realizing there were bitters in the cocktail after all.

Robert Hess 30 Mar 2009
9:21 am

Cocktail recipes are very flexible, with there rarely (if ever) being one single recipe that a particular cocktail should always be done with. You should treat any recipe that you see as simply “guidance” as to how to make something that holds faithful to what the originally intended product was. I use the same mindset in cooking as well. Perhaps following the specific recipe the first time I make a dish, but then always making my own personal adjustments to it from that point on.

Rich simple syrup (2:1) is going to impart a little more sweetness to a drink than standard simple syrup will (1:1), but I will typically use the exact same amount either way, and then if the drink tasted too sweet, or not sweet enough, adjust as necessary.

The end result, is that everbody will be making slight adjustments to their recipes to either fit their own personal tastes, or to fit the expectations of their environment/establishment.

Hopefully all of the recipes I present on my shows will reflect my own particular palate, and some of you might say “Robert’s drinks are usually slightly too sweet”, or “...not quite sweet enough”, and then you’ll know to automatically at a touch more, or a touch less of simple syrup, or juice, or whatever, so that these drinks will match your own palate a little more.

In this way, each of us will make our drinks ever so slightly different from one another. It’s part of the “participation” we play in the cuisine.


blair frodelius 31 Mar 2009
3:36 am

The 1887 edition of JT’s guide does NOT include bitters in the recipe.  I think Robert was adjusting the recipe to his personal taste, as he wrote above.  Of course, if JT had added bitters, they wouldn’t have been Angostura.  :)



mdoudoroff 31 Mar 2009
12:22 pm

I’m not sure how the bitters slipped into Robert’s rendition without explanation and in the face of JT’s own quoted commentary. At the very least, the bitters should probably be qualified as “optional”. However, considering that Harry Johnson specified garnishing the Coffee Cocktail with an olive (!), this is a minor quibble.

Robert Hess 31 Mar 2009
1:31 pm

Ya know… I could have sworn that I had my standard disclaimer in there “...while the Jerry Thomas recipe notably doesn’t include bitters, I find that a dash or two just add that special touch to this drink, and so I always add them…”

But I guess I didn’t :->

Dinah (MetaGrrrl/Bibulous) 22 Apr 2009
9:12 am

Good to see you spreading the word about this one. It’s a great insight into the late 19th century palate - as well as being useful to coffee historians curious about what a standard coffee looked like, sure seems like milk must have been part of the deal.

Blair, JT’s bitters would have been Boker’s still in 1887, is that right? Isn’t that the flavor that Stephen Berg of The Bitter Truth said he was going for with his Jerry Thomas Bitters? Clove is the forward flavor there, but they are very complex. (A view of that bottle & some tasting notes on it & other bitters here )

blair frodelius 22 Apr 2009
4:04 pm


Do you have a source for Bitter Truth bitters in the US?  I hate to pay shipping all the way from Germany!


Dinah (MetaGrrrl/Bibulous) 22 Apr 2009
7:13 pm

Hi Blair,

They’re available at Cask in San Francisco and from their online store.

But before you ship across the country, you may want to ask around to find out if anyone in New York is carrying them.

I’d also confirm prices direct from the source + shipping from Germany vs. Cask prices + shipping from San Francisco.

Good luck!

Ben Alpers 15 May 2009
2:39 pm

I just made one of these for the first time; it’s terrific!  Thanks, Robert, for the recipe!

I did have one question about it, however.  On your video, you’re using a ruby port and the drink appears, understandably, to come out purple.

I used an Australian tawny called Jonesy that’s my favorite inexpensive “port” and the drink really came out looking exactly like a coffee with milk. 

Do you have any sense of what kind of port American bartenders in Jerry Thomas’s day would have had access to? Comparing the color of your drink and mine to the color of coffee, my guess is a tawny not a ruby.

Robert Hess 16 May 2009
4:49 am


I’m not sure what types of Port/Porto would have been commonly available in America during the mid 1800’s, but I suspect they would have had the same we have now. But I agree with you that a Tawny port produces a more “coffee-like” color. I chose the ruby port because it was locally made here in Washington :->

Benjamin D. 14 Mar 2010
10:21 am


I’ve been to a bar that has something similar to this called the porto flip. Is there any difference? I suppose this is the original. Perhaps modern bartenders are reluctant to call anything without coffee a coffee cocktail.

oliver 24 Aug 2011
2:34 pm

But the chocolat cocktail in Kappelers “Modern American Drinks” include a dash of bitter. It just doesn`t include brandy. So to be precise your have to call your drink the chocolat coffee cocktail. But that sounds like starbucks.

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