The Coffee Cocktail: Murder on the Dancefloor

September 22, 2012

I am not a fan of flavoured coffees. Vanilla and caramel belong in ice cream sundaes in my opinion. If coffee must be tampered with, then let it be adulterated with liqueur.

My parents and their Italian friends loved a drop of grappa (grape brandy) in their short blacks. As a child, I couldn’t see the attraction of this “caffe corretto” except it was probably very warming in winter. Of course it was, it’s 40-60% alcohol!

Years later, embracing 1980s’ long working lunches, my arts festival colleagues and I developed a Sambuca habit with our post-meal short blacks. Sometimes drunk separately with the traditional three coffee beans* floating in the shot glass; sometimes set on fire to create a Flaming Sambuca … but mostly poured into the coffee to create a kick-ass finish to the meal. Happy days.

Move to September 2012, and the Italian Film Festival organisers have tampered nicely with coffee, inventing the Mocha Martini. Two nights ago I made the mistake of sampling one or two of these at the festival opening night party at Palace Cinemas in Leichhardt.

I have no complaints with the taste of the cocktail – an elegant mix of Lavazza espresso, Galliano Ristretto, vodka and Bols White Cacao. The mistake was sampling the cocktail after Prosecco sparkling wine and shiraz, the caffeine unleashing my inner dancefloor maniac.

A salsa tragic in the early noughties but now suffering from chronic dancefloor avoidance syndrome, I resurrected every Latin American move I’d ever learnt. My arms now ache from something called the Sombrero move and my arthritis got a wakeup call during the three piece combo’s version of Madonna’s Holiday.

The Mocha Martini hangover was not pretty but neither was my mother’s favourite headache remedy: half a cup of strong coffee with the juice of half a lemon. Imagine swallowing that and surviving. Perhaps I should have taken the Italian equivalent of the hair of the dog: an espresso with grappa alongside my breakfast croissant.

Shot glass with grappa* Supposedly, the garnish of the three coffee beans in the Sambuca represents health, happiness and prosperity. The beans floating in the glass are thought to resemble flies and chewed after drinking to enhance the flavour of the anise-based liqueur.

The Lavazza Italian Film Festival continues at Palace Cinemas throughout Australia until 28 October.

Photo top left courtesy Palace Cinemas

♦ I welcome your thoughts or retorts. The Comments button is only a click away…


  1. You’re a maniac, Sancin! Gunnedah’s Porchetta Day needs your input, I think. (Our 4th Annual Porchetta Day was on today – perfect weather, great crowds, but a sense of ‘seen it all before…’ New blood, new ideas, wild Italian alcoholic beverages needed next year, I think…’

  2. Thanks for the compliment. I think. Wow, the festival of the pig comes around all too quickly. Sure, happy to inject some ideas for next year. I’m envisaging a pink cocktail with lard chasers.

  3. I’m smiling from ear to ear and haven’t had a sip of Sambuca! Thanks for stirring my memories of Sambuca; pity there’s no pix of your Salsa moves!

  4. No pix of my salsa moves, thank god. I scare myself sometimes.

  5. I am a big fan of the Espresso Martini (similar to what you describe) but it should be your first drink of the night (as you clearly found out….). I am also a huge fan of caffe’ corretto and have one every Saturday afternoon (little ritual my husband and I have – it always perks up my Saturday). Enjoy the festival! Our opening night was on Wednesday and now there are lots of movies to come – good times ahead – and I might try one of those mocha martinis 😊

    • I just saw ‘Shun Li and the Poet’ at the Italian Film Fest. Loved it – a beautiful, understated story with fine performances. And it’s set in Chioggia, so the Veneto accents are quite familiar. Highly recommended!

      • Thanks Ambra, I have not seen that yet but saw Terraferma last night – it was fabulous, about the Iolian islands and illegal immigrants from Africa. I love fim festival time!

  6. Yes, in future will get my alcoholic coffee drinks in the proper order. Lots of Italian movies to look forward to, except they’re not screening the Carlo Verdone – and I’m a huge fan.

  7. Have to try that cocktail. Could beat zumba class.

    • It’s a good one! Very smooth but deceptively packs a punch.

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