Cocktail lovers, allow me to hook you up (Yente-style) with an appreciation for coffee as a cocktail ingredient at Manhattan's Amor y Amargo. This East Village bar, founded by longtime chef Sother Teague, is unapologetic in its focus on unusual spirits and flavor profiles–the name translates to “Love and Bitter“, which means no juices and very few sweeteners behind the bar. Mr. Teague's impressive ability to layer and blend flavors with his “brown, bitter and stirred” drinks has won the bar a loyal following amongst connoisseurs, and the bitter-forward profiles have been particularly popular with beverage industry folks of all sorts.
On weekends, Amor y Amargo puts on an innovative coffee-cocktail and food service called “Double Buzz”. The coffee side of things is headed by Natalie Czech, until recently the Head Barista at Chef Danny Meyer's Maialino (featured previously on Sprudge), who expertly prepares a selection of Counter Culture coffees. In my opinion, there's few more delicious experiences in lower Manhattan right now than pulling up a bar stool at Amor y Amargo – likely next to a “New York famous” barista or bartender – and putting yourself in the capable hands of Mr. Teague and Ms. Czech .
I recently did just that, and Mr. Teague and Ms. Czech were gracious enough to answer my questions while they whipped up some truly #deloshes creations for me, including a “Nyeri Sunrise”–Kenya Ndaroini, Tequila, Averna, Orange Citrate and Mole Bitters, topped with Pacifico beer–and a fried chicken & Eggo waffle with spicy honey butter, because why not? Between bites and sips I somehow managed to conduct the following interview.
What was the inspiration for Double Buzz? How'd this all get started?
Sother Teague: Well, Natalie had been a regular for quite awhile, and I hired her to paint some of our signs. [Ms. Czech does beautiful hand-lettered sign-work in addition to her beverage related talents.] She was in here in the afternoons painting and people kept stopping in and asking if we were open, and so finally we decided, “why not?”
Initially I wanted to do espresso, but Natalie stepped in and suggested we focus on brewed coffee.
What have you learned about coffee during this process, other than that doing espresso outside of a dedicated cafe is a bad idea?
Mr. Teague: Well, I haven't drunk anything but water and alcohol for the last nine years. Except for a few sips to build the cocktails, the last time I really drank coffee was when I was 19 and working at Waffle House. I learned everything I know about cooking eggs there, but I was working crazy shifts and consuming pots and pots of coffee just to keep going. I was burnt out on coffee after that, so I'd actually never been to a coffee shop before–Natalie took me on a coffee crawl when we first started thinking about all this.
I mainly learned that coffees can have unique flavors. I was also blown away by the thin margins on everything! Nothing on the menu more than $4.50. We do $3,500+ a night with two people here, up to $1,000 at Double Buzz in four hours, and some coffee shops do that much all day with way more staff? I don't know how coffeeshops do it.
A very good question indeed, especially in this city. So Natalie, what are some of the things you've learned in putting on Double Buzz?
Natalie Czech: When we first opened we just had the coffee cocktails on the menu, nothing else. People liked them, but you'd come in, and well, if you have a few regular cocktails you just feel good, but if you're having multiple coffee cocktails, you can start to feel uncomfortable with the buzz. So we expanded the menu, started offering some of our signature night-time cocktails, and added food as well. We started out with just quiche, but it's expanded from there.
In terms of the actual drinks, it's really been an extension of the bar's nighttime ethos.
Can you tell me a little bit more about the bar's ethos and how that relates to your perspective as a chef?
Mr. Teague: Well I've worked for 20 years as a chef, learning how to layer flavors, and how not to layer them.
When someone first comes into the bar, they may be confused when they look at the menu. They may look at the back bar and be lost because they don't recognize any of the spirits. At that point, I come over to them and say hi, and they may say “I just want a rum and coke.” And I'll make them something that tastes close to that, using just the ingredients that I have back here.How has that flavor perspective worked with the coffee component?
Ms. Czech: We make all the coffee on Kalita Waves, brewed hot onto ice. We serve a little bit of the coffee by itself next to each cocktail, so you can taste the flavor by itself. We build the cocktails from that base flavor. For example, the Ndaroini was tasting really clear and clean with distinct scotch and apple flavors.
Mr. Teague: Growing up my parents would always say “don't drink Grandma's tea” because she would put scotch or brandy in it, so we came up with this idea for “Grandma's Coffee” with apple brandy, Cognac, Cocchi Americano, Becherovka, Peychaud’s and apple bitters.
Ms. Czech: We want the coffee to really shine through, so we've found that about 1.5oz alcohol to 3-4oz coffee is a good ratio. Beyond that, I've been really surprised by just how well the bitter amaros work with coffee. It's almost like the two bitter components cancel themselves out, and you realize how sweetened the amaros are.
Awesome. Thank you so much for your time, and all this deliciousness.
Double Buzz is approaching its six-month anniversary, and as a frequent attendee, I think it's only getting better. The drinks are intriguing, inventive, coffee forward, and above all, really enjoyable. Combine great coffee, great cocktails and great food and you've got the perfect recipe for some Sunday convalescence. They've got plans in the works for an updated fall menu too, including hot drinks.